Beware of Stranger Things SPOILERS ahead!
It’s no secret that the first season of Stranger Things was heavily influenced by the pop culture of the 1980s. Creators Matt and Ross Duffer pay tribute to the movies of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and James Cameron throughout the series, while the work of Stephen King also clearly casts a shadow over proceedings.
And Stranger Things 2 — which hit Netflix today — is no different, the above trailer channelling Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and the likes of Stand By Me, Dragon’s Lair, The Terminator, Friday the 13th, Mad Max, Dig Dug, Halloween, The Karate Kid, Firestarter, Punky Brewster, Indiana Jones, and The Goonies all featured, referenced or alluded to.
But there’s a handful of titles that play a much more prominent role; movie classics beloved by kids of the 1980s, which have stood the test of time, and help shape the second season of Stranger Things.
Early images from Stranger Things 2 showed the boys in Ghostbusters uniforms, while the trailers also featured them walking round town in the instantly recognisable get-ups. It makes for one of the show’s funniest scenes — when Mike, Will, Dustin and Lucas are the only kids dressed up at school, and mocked accordingly.
They also wear the outfits while trick or treating. But then one of their number actually gets to do some ghostbusting. Kind of. When Dustin stumbles on a baby Demogorgon outside his house, he uses his makeshift ‘Ghost Trap’ to catch the little fella and transport it into his house. Which is a nice way of turning homage into something that actually plays into the plot.
Gremlins — the 1984 horror classic about a cute creature that spawns murderous monsters when you feed it after midnight — is all over Stranger Things 2 via Dustin and his slimy new pal. Dustin takes the wee thing in and befriends it, much like Billy Peltzer and his mogwai in Gremlins. And where Billy named his new buddy Gizmo, so Dustin calls his Dart. After Musketeer D’Artagnan. Both owners even bring their new pets to school, with disastrous results.
But the similarities don’t stop there. Thanks to being doused in water and fed after midnight, Gizmo births a bunch of evil gremlins, but ultimately helps Billy destroy them. In Stranger Things, Dart grows up big and angry. But while the other Demogorgons want to kill Dustin and his friends, Dart recognises his old buddy, and having been gifted chunks of a Three Musketeers bar, let’s them pass, thereby saving their lives.
This is a big one. ET was definitely an influence on the first season of Stranger Things, with Eleven a little like the confused extra-terrestrial, being hunted down by shady company men for reasons that were unclear. And there are echoes of the Steven Spielberg classic throughout Stranger Things 2.
When Dustin is having trouble with Dart, he ends up trapping him in the shed, and nervously waiting outside. A bit like when Elliot is nervously trying to lure ET out of his own shed.
Then we’ve got the bond between Will and the Shadow Monster, which is reminiscent of Elliot’s connection with ET. In the Spielberg movie, it’s played for laughs early in proceedings, with ET getting drunk at home causing Elliot to be plastered in school. But then ET gets sick, resulting in Elliott falling dangerously ill.
In Stranger Things, the monster attaches itself to Will like a virus, seeing what Will sees, feeling what Will feels, and even sending him messages. The connection works both ways, however, so that when the monster becomes hot, Will burns up. And when Will’s mother heats him up — in one of Season 2’s most shocking scenes — so the monster feels his pain.
So where that interdependence was played for comedy and then tragedy in the Spielberg film, here it simply brings horror.
We’ll start with the obvious first – in Stranger Things 2, Paul Reiser plays a Hawkins Lab employee who is reminiscent of Carter Burke, the dodgy Weyland-Yutani employee that Reiser plays in Aliens. Indeed, the Duffers told EW that one of the reasons they cast Reiser was because of that baggage potentially causing audiences to mistrust him from the off.
Also, in the Alien movies, the ‘Queen Alien’ is chief antagonist, and mother of the drones in her hive. In Stranger Things 2, the ‘Shadow Monster’ seems to have a similar relationship with her own drone Demogorgons.
Finally, when Hopper finds himself underground, the monstrous entity wraps him up in a cocoon that is reminiscent of the cocoon that Burke finds himself trapped in during one of Aliens‘ deleted scenes. Harking back to the past, but also rather marvellously brings us full-circle.