Film Preview: “Stranger Things” — Haunted by the 1980s

The Brattle Theatre has come up with a specially-curated slate of films that honors the cinematic underpinnings of Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Winona Ryder stars in the Netflix series "Stranger Things."

Winona Ryder stars in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

By Peg Aloi

This week’s premiere of the second season of Stranger Things has been a subject of much speculation and anticipation. Uppermost in our minds: Is Eleven still alive, and if so, where is she? Is Hopper working for the evil Feds? Will the Gang of Four continue their weekly Dungeons and Dragons campaign? Is Will gonna be okay? Does the hardware store have enough Christmas lights to get them through the season? Are Will’s brother and Mike’s sister ever gonna make out? And WHAT ABOUT BARB?

Yes, questions abound, but many of us are just really looking forward to immersing ourselves in this excellent series, which seems lovingly designed to appeal to those of us who came of age in the early to mid-’80s. The music, the clothes and hair, the cars, the slang, and other details ramp up the show’s nostalgia factor without it ever feeling like ostentatious product placement. And the series pays tribute to many movies of the period, themselves pop culture milestones that still impact how we look at the paranormal, aliens, and horror in general, not to mention the coming of age genre.

The Brattle Theatre is offering “Strange Inspirations: The Cinematic Origins of Stranger Things, a specially-curated slate of films to honor Stranger Things and its cinematic underpinnings. Some of the offerings are rarely seen in theatres (like Prince of Darkness, Explorers, and Scanners), while others are popular classics, so be sure to check out the schedule so you can plan accordingly. Some of the films selected are fairly obvious choices, given the prominence of their references within the series; these include Alien and The Thing, which open the program on Friday night (the same night of the Stranger Things Season 2 premiere! But hey, you can binge watch that anytime). Also featured are E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (those frequent bike chase scenes and Dungeons and Dragons references are definitely an homage), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (although the alien status of the creepy monster is not all that clearly defined in the first season), Stand by Me (clearly inspiring the quaternity of friends at the story’s heart), Firestarter (Eleven’s telekinetic abilities are akin to Stephen King’s other tale of Girls Who Move Things with Their Minds, Carrie) and a host of others, including Ghostbusters, Nightmare on Elm Street, and the cult films The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

Even without this film program’s connection to one of the hottest shows on Netflix (it picked up several Emmy Awards in its first season), it stands alone as a fantastic selection of horror and weird classic films from the 1980s. While rewatching the series recently I found myself thinking of additional influences on the show drawn from television, like Freaks and Geeks, a 21st century Judd Apatow creation set in the early ’80s (in particular, Barb’s character reminded me a bit of Lindsay’s nerdy, prim friend Millie the Mathlete). And the camaraderie of the groups of friends, pre-teens and teenagers, who join forces to fight evil in Stranger Things is certainly reminiscent of the rag-tag alliances of demon-fighters in Joss Whedon’s ’90s cult hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the boys’ dogged determination to outsmart secret military technology, we get a taste of Wargames, the thriller starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.

Peg Aloi is a former film critic for The Boston Phoenix. She taught film and TV studies for ten years at Emerson College, and currently teaches at SUNY New Paltz. Her reviews also appear regularly online for The Orlando Weekly and Diabolique. Her long-running media blog “The Witching Hour” has recently been moved to a new domain:

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