Every season of Stranger Things has been 80’s influenced to say the least. A combination of Stephen King style horror and the films that raised my generation, this season has set a record number of views on Netflix. It’s also packed with so many references to the summer of 1985 that you may not have caught them all. Well, I was 13 in the summer of 1985 and I didn’t have that many friends, so I saw just about every movie there was to see in the theaters or rent. Hopefully, my lack of dating and personal contact will be able to inform you in 2019.
Here are ten things that I found this season. Some are obvious. Others — not so much.
If you haven’t watched this season yet, do it. Or don’t complain when I ruin everything for you.
1. Grigori the Russian is obviously indebted to The Terminator (1984): I’m not saying that this Russian enforcer is a cyborg or robot. But the way that he keeps coming back over and over and, well, over again is very much like James Cameron’s initial T-800. Even at the end, when he’s battling Hopper next to the high powered laser beneath Starcourt Mall, he gets facial wounds exactly like the Terminator did when it battles Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese.
2. The laser that opens the gate works much like Oscillation Overthruster from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension: The Oscillation Overthruster is “a miniature colliding beam accelerator which creates intermediate vector bosons from the annihilation of electrons and their antimatter counterparts, positrons.” This device enables Buckaroo’s jet car to open a gateway from the solid matter of a mountain range into the eighth dimension and then back. However, our hero soon learns that alien organisms make the return trip along with him, stuck to the bottom of his car. The way that the Stranger Things Russian — and American — laser systems that open the Gate to the Upside Down work look incredibly similar, along with also taking a cue from the Flux Capacitor from Back to the Future.
3. The big bad of season 3 works totally like The Blob (1988): Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont’s visceral remake of the original 1958 classic takes the basic form of The Blob and goes completely goretastic with it, infusing the pink form of this monster with the bodies of the dead inside it, pretty much exactly like the monster that dominates season 3. Those that played too much Dungeons and Dragons — or still play too much — may also recognize the influence of monsters like the gibbering mouther, the chaos beast and the xorn on this monster as well. Regardless, the idea of multiple bodies being consumed to make one big creature is at the heart of the ’88 remake. After being hard to find for years, Shout! Factory is re-releasing this underrated classic so you can compare for yourself. PS – the idea of the rats all converging within an abandoned mill comes directly from Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift movie adaption, but there are so many lifts from King in this story, one more doesn’t spoil the broth.
4. The re-introduction of Billy inverts Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1984): Phoebe Cates dramatic pool scene — set to The Cars’ “Moving In Stereo” is when nearly every 12-year-old boy achieved puberty en masse in 1982; trust me, I was there. The fact that that same feeling can overwhelm the mothers of Hawkins upon the sight of Billy walking to his lifeguard post proves that The Cars and slow motion are the tropes of sexual discovery. There are Phoebe mentions throughout season 3, as she shows up when Steve stumbles into her standup at a Family Video and Dustin uses her as shorthand to describe his mythical girlfriend Suzie.
That’s not the only Fast Times reference. Steve’s descent from most popular guy in school to getting stuck working at Scoops Ahoy mirrors Brad Hamilton, who must suffer the indignity of wearing a pirate hat while working at Captain Hook Fish & Chips. Luckily, Steve never has to endure the indignity of Robin catching him on a date with Rosie Palmer and her five sisters.
5. The logo for Hawkins Memorial Hospital looks like Haddonfield Memorial Hospital in Halloween 2 (1981): There’s no mistaking the fact that the inspiration for the hospital scenes, particularly when the possessed staff of the Hawkins Post stalks Nancy Wheeler. The lighting, the hallway, the frantic elevator button pushes — I was waiting for someone to throw an oxygen tank at a demogorgon and have it bleed out of the eyes.
6. Obviously, Nancy being menaced by the mindflayer is directly lifted from Aliens (1986): It’s an iconic moment — plucky heroine just seconds away from the jaws of an unstoppable beast. James Cameron should be getting royalties for everything that he contributed to this show!
CORRECTION: The face to face xenomorph and Ripley moment is actually from 1992’s Alien 3. Thanks to Aaron Click from The Horror Drive-In community on Facebook for noticing this.
7. The entire show starts off by featuring Day of the Dead (1985): The Hawkins kids sneak into a sneak preview of this film — nice cover, Duffer Brothers, as Day didn’t open until July 17, 1985 and the show is over the Fourth of July — and the image of Lori Cardille filled my TV. I cheered — suddenly, people all over the country will be reminded of one crucial fact: all modern horror was born right here in Pittsburgh, PA. While Day of the Dead isn’t the zombie epic that Romero truly wanted to make, it’s packed with palpable fear and the feeling that death has finally come with no escape. It was also shot in my hometown, so each day, students would skip class and have Savini and the young KNB guys make them up as extras. Romero’s even better film, Dawn of the Dead, also has great influence on this season, as the idea of the supernatural intruding into the commerce of the mall also starts right here in Pittsburgh (well, Monroeville).
Want to know more about Lori Cardille? She was interviewed in the new issue of Drive-In Asylum and I painted her portrait! Grab that issue here!
8. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is also owed way more than a thanks: A critical and commercial failure upon release, Carpenter’s goo and gore-drenched epic has gone on to be revered. Any movie that elects one of its characters to utter, “You gotta be fucking kidding!” when confronted by its monsters is going to stay in your brain. Nearly every creature in Stranger Things can trace its slimeline to this film. Want proof? What poster is in Mike’s basement? Also, how great is this poster by Gibbs Rainock?
Want more references to this film (and another sentence that starts with what)? When the kids are in Big Buy, Lucas compares New Coke to the remake. And when Billy is trapped in the pool’s sauna, that’s exactly how MacReady tried to kill the monster in Carpenter’s masterwork.
9. You’ve heard the song before that plays on the horse ride that ended up on the Russian hidden message. Yep, that’s “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two).” I only know two movie characters who have ever sung or hummed that song: HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher. Neither of those folks was very nice.
10. There are a whole bunch of movies on that marquee and those posters. If you ever need proof that 1985 was a banner year for movies, just watch Stranger Things. You’ve got Back to the Future, which is all over the last episode. D.A.R.Y.L., a movie all about a robotic kid with special powers being chased by the government. Cocoon, which promises nice aliens. Return to Oz, which transforms everyone’s favorite movie into a world of sheer nightmare starring Fairuza Balk. Fletch, which has Chevy Chase right before he became a racist unfunny pod person. And The Stuff, which proves that consumers will eat anything for dessert, even aliens that cause them to explode.
There are so many more, like Hopper pretty much saying Martin Brody’s line from Jaws, “I can do anything I want, I’m the chief of police,” as well as the whole idea of a mayor hoping that a Fourth of July celebrates deflects from the death that has visited his tiny town, to “We’ll Meet Again” being used to the same horrifying effect that it was in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and the hall of mirrors fight between Grigori and Hopper taking cues from Game of Death, The Lady From Shanghai and The Man With the Golden Gun. Hell, you could write a book from all the Goonies and Gremlins references.
What did you catch that I didn’t? Let me know!
PS – When Robin and Steve got interviewed at Family Video, her three picks — The Apartment, Hidden Fortress and Children of Paradise are even more fuel for the fire that in geeks’ hearts for her. I could only imagine getting that interview and having to figure out which of the thousands of movies in my head are my three favorites right now!