About a month ago when Netflix announced a price hike, I came this close to dropping it especially since it has become much more of a streaming service for crappy TV shows and B-Movies. I’m glad now that I decided to stick it out since the Netflix-produced series “Stranger Things” is the best damned entertainment I have run into in a long time. Season one consists of 8 episodes that can now be seen in their entirety. If you have Netflix, put it on your must-see list if you like me are fond of pop culture icons such as the X-Files, Stephen King’s “It” and “Carrie”, Spielberg’s “ET” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Poltergeist”, “Let the Right One In” and “Silent Hill”.
“Stranger Things” borrows liberally from all of these in a delirious mash-up that is both a tribute to the originals and an entirely new contribution to the supernatural/horror/fantasy/deep state paranoia they all incorporate to one degree or another. If Hollywood is committed to sequels and knock-offs from the standpoint of the accountant’s ledger, the Duffer brothers who produced the series come at it more from the standpoint of passionate fans.
The premise of “Stranger Things”, which is set in the 1980s, is that MK Ultra experiments with LSD on an unsuspecting guinea pig woman has led to the birth of a daughter called Eleven by her handlers who has telekinetic powers that a top-secret government agency wants to harness for military purposes against the Soviet Union.
In the course of experimenting with the girl, who has been seized from her mother, the agency inadvertently opens up a backdoor into a parallel dimension in Hawkins, Indiana, the village next to agency laboratories. The parallel dimension is a dark, dank, fetid, monster-ridden sinkhole that bears a resemblance to the normal world but only in the way that Mr. Hyde resembles Dr. Jekyll.
In the first episode we meet four boys, who are about Eleven’s age, playing Dungeons and Dragons in the finished basement of a house that will be familiar to you out of the Stephen Spielberg oeuvre or those films that emulate Spielberg like Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist” (the screenplay was actually written by Spielberg.) As Spielberg has mentioned in interviews, this was the kind of neighborhood where he grew up in Arizona and that he likes to evoke in many of his films. Their mundaneness is the perfect backdrop for the otherworldly happenings in his films.
In the first episode we also meet Eleven who has fled from the laboratories whose experiments on her have been physically and psychically damaging. She is also weary of the isolation that is imposed on her as a top-secret asset. Kept in virtual imprisonment, she lacks family and friendship.
As one of the four friends rides his bike home after the Dungeons and Dragons game has ended, he is pursued by a monster who has crossed over into his world from the parallel dimension and then hurled into that netherworld himself. Like the little girl in “Poltergeist”, he becomes the object of a desperate search by his three friends and his mother who has been nearly driven mad by his disappearance. When she discovers that he is in a parallel universe occupying the same space as her house, she begins to break down walls in an effort to penetrate into the dark space that has imprisoned him. In her bizarre efforts to weaponize her home, break down the walls between the two dimensions and rescue him, those closest to her begin to view her as having lost her mind in the same way that Richard Dreyfuss was deemed insane by his wife, children and neighbors for building a replica of the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
Also in the first episode Eleven crosses paths with the boys and is given shelter in the home of Mike Wheeler, one of the three, who keeps her a secret just like ET was kept secret. When Mike and his pals are being bullied at their school, Eleven steps in and teaches the bullies a lesson just like the vampire sweetheart of a young boy does in “Let the Right One In”. In fact, “Stranger Things” would be a great final exam for a film school class. Identify the borrowed material and get an A.