If you are a fan of all things 80s pop culture, if the names Stephen Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King make your heart sing like there’s a choir of angels living inside of your chest, then stop everything you’re doing and get thee to Netflix to binge the eight-hour first season of Stranger Things.
The series, created by “The Duffer Brothers,” Matt and Ross, takes place in 1983 in a small, unassuming town plagued with an unspeakable horror, AKA horror-masters John Carpenter and Stephen King’s shared sweet spot. A middle-school-aged boy goes missing, and his motley crew of friends (who very much resemble the group of kids in both King’s It and Stand By Me) are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Like Super 8, a contemporary take on a group of small town misfit kids in the 80s dealing with the supernatural, Stranger Things not only nods to Carpenter and King (King especially with the opening credits that look like the credits of every King movie Stanley Kubrick didn’t direct), but is absolutely a love letter to the Spielbergian 80s. Characters trying to convince skeptics that the supernatural has invaded a local community is straight out of the Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and a mysterious girl that eventually joins up with the boys of Stranger Things is scarier riff on E.T.
The music is a particular 80s treasure trove, with songs from the first few episodes including tunes from The Clash, and Toto, and a score that feels lifted directly out of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.
In addition to the tropes of 80s horror and the abounding pop culture references (about eight seconds in we find ourselves eyeballs-deep in a game of Dungeons and Dragons), the casting is also a perfect nod to the era. Winona Ryder plays the mother of the missing boy, and she slays with the role like (prepare for another 80s horror reference)the actress version of Michael Myers. It’s so fun to see Ryder, an icon of the 80s with her dark and edgy roles in Beetlejuice and Heathers, return to an era that treated Ryder and her dark edginess so very well.
Ryder’s had a tentative relationship with the spotlight in the 2000s, with notable exceptions including 2010’s Black Swan and last year’s HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero, and her star turn in Stranger Things feels like a serious comeback if ever there was one. It’s also a nice 2010s twist on 80s tropes that women who would have been relegated to the background in the past (Ryder’s mom character as well as Natalie Dyer, who plays the older sister of one of the boys) stepping out front and center.
We are living in the Golden Age of Nostalgia, but if Stranger Things teaches us nothing else, it’s that we can love the past and still find the necessary places to tweak conventions.
Now get thee to Netflix, and binge away, my friends! Check out the trailer below: