What separates Joyce from Dianne, and perhaps makes Stranger Things even more tragic, is Joyce’s lack of affluence. These are suburban Spielberg kids, a motley crew finding solace and wonder in Dungeons & Dragons, Tolkien, comic books, and their bikes, described by Stranger Things’ Jim Hopper as precious as cadillacs. Poltergeist can be read as an examination of the Perfect American Family’s fear of losing their many commodities in the Reagan era, whereas Joyce, divorced and raising two boys by herself, doesn’t have much to lose in the first place.
It was a time when storytellers told kids the world we lived in was fantastical and dastardly, filling our young minds with wistful longing and equally, laying fertile ground for nightmares. When Eleven flips over the D&D board to its blank side - The Upside Down - and places the Demogorgon onto its smooth black surface, they understand.
A time where we were told we could do anything if we set our minds to it, and we believed it. The Duffer brothers (directorial duo Matt and Ross) draw very obviously from The Stev(ph)ens - King and Spielberg - and lovingly illustrate a group of kids who are bullied, nerdy, or otherwise “don’t fit in”.
There’s an adult darkness the kids face in Stranger Things, too, that echoes the coming-of-age themes of seminal ‘80s flick Stand By Me. Stranger Things, the latest series to come out of Netflix’s stable, does a remarkable job at evoking the films of the era. A despairing moment that sees the kids look on as a body is lifted out of the lake suddenly snaps Mike, Dustin and Lucas into reality, their fantasy worlds shattered and their friendships thrown into stark relief. With its John Carpenter-esque synth score and blocky title font ripped right off an old Stephen King novel, it’s an immediate face-punch of nostalgia. The ghosts of Gordie, Chris, Vern and Teddy follow them as they chase their compasses down the train-tracks. The latter is strongly evoked in Stranger Things as a fear of safe, suburban, family spaces. In Stranger Things, Dustin is smart and makes everyone laugh; who cares if he can’t grow adult teeth? As unseen forces drew Carol Anne Freeling to an eerie, static-filled TV, so they draw Joyce to a radio that switches on by itself to blast out The Clash. While these kids’ obsessions are seen as worthless distractions by their baby boomer mums and dads, ‘80s storytellers pitch them as a way of navigating and understanding their worlds.
Dianne Freeling turns around to find the chairs are stacked on the kitchen table as Joyce discovers something (straight out of Cronenberg's Videodrome) trying to break through her living room wall. Stranger Things banks in wonder as much as it does in horror, as is the Spielbergian Way, through Eleven, an elfin waif with special powers. In The Last Starfighter, Alex’s skill at playing video games sees him become a starfighter for real.
The homages here come thick and fast: Mike showing Eleven his toys, Eleven wandering past Mike’s mother in plain view, Eleven putting on a blond wig. Unlike Spielberg’s creation, Eleven’s telekinetic abilities are dangerous, more akin to Charlie’s in 1984’s Firestarter (it borrows, too, the idea that the intensity of her powers would cause nosebleeds).
This is played with most overtly when, instead of lifting the kids’ bikes into the sky as a van closes in on them, Eleven simply flips the van and presumably kills everyone inside.



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