“Stranger Things” is a nostalgia machine for anyone who grew up on the slashers and sci-fi of the ’70s and ’80s, a bloody love-letter unafraid to wear its influences right on its spandex Halloween costume sleeve. From Steven Spielberg to Ridley Scott, Freddy Krueger to John Carpenter, “E.T.” to “Elm Street,” here are the series’ most notable nods, winks, and hat-tips to the horror classics that inspired a Netflix phenomenon.
Showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer arguably owe their biggest debt of gratitude (and possibly a royalty check) to Steven Spielberg, whose trademark sense of childlike awe at the otherworldly basically served as a blueprint for the Netflix series’ tone. “Stranger Things” is filled with homages to the director; Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) using a set of twinkling Christmas lights to communicate with her lost son Will calls to mind the alien contact conclusion of Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi hit, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
The conclusion of “Stranger Things” itself is a Spielberg-ian bicycle chase between government hoods and a crew of pre-teens protecting their supernatural friend reminiscent of 1982’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
Of course, when you talk about influential Steves, you can’t forget the king. Stephen King, the world’s best-known horror author, offered no shortage of inspiration to “Stranger Things.” The novelist’s children-against-clown-demon story “It” and novella “The Body” (later adapted into Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me”) are the archetypal small town kids’ bike adventures that “Stranger Things” so often emulates.
The psychic abilities of Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown) also combine the science-experiment-gone-wrong telekinesis of King’s “Firestarter” with the coming-of-age story of his first published novel, “Carrie” (with less disastrous high-school dances, at least so far).
‘A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’
Episode six of “Stranger Things” sees Eleven entering a sensory deprivation tank to unconsciously travel to “The Upside Down,” a nightmare world where a monster is waiting. If things go south, Eleven’s friends sit bedside to pull her out again.
Give or take a claw or two, this is basically the premise of “A Nightmare On Elm Street,” Wes Craven’s 1984 classic that introduced the world to Freddy Krueger and spawned one of the most famous horror franchises of all time.
The general sliminess of “The Upside Down” and the creature within (dubbed “The Demogorgon” by the series’ “Dungeons & Dragons”-playing main characters) is reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” most notably the drooling terror that gives the 1979 outer-space thriller its title. It helps that the Demogorgon’s oozing, four-part flower petal mouth is nearly identical to the alien-incubating eggs in Scott’s creature feature. Plus, the “Stranger Things” finale sees Will Byers coughing up an oversized “Upside Down” slug; not quite as graphic as an alien bursting from John Hurt’s chest, but no less squirm-inducing.
The back-alley tussle in episode six between local outcast Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and high-school golden boy Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) is half sendup, half homage to one of the greatest — and lengthiest — fight scenes in horror history. Jonathan and Steve don’t quite make it five minutes, which would still mark a minute less than the epic showdown between Roddy Piper’s ass-kicking, gum-chewing John Nada and Keith David’s Frank Armitage in John Carpenter’s 1988 cult-classic, “They Live.”
‘THE EVIL DEAD’
The references to Sam Raimi’s 1981 micro-budget bloodbath basically start and end with the poster hanging on Jonathan Byer’s bedroom wall, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a controversial choice. The question: What are the odds of a small-town Indiana high schooler even seeing the little-hyped horror flick in 1984, much less hang a poster on his wall? Hard to say. After all, in the town of Hawkins, stranger things (ahem) have happened.