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Hell is for Children

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We finished watching Stranger Things last night, and I really enjoyed it, I have to say.

Then again, for some reason, I've been on a nostalgia kick lately.


Stranger Things is an incredibly well done homage to the 1980's; particularly in comparison to Free Form's also 80's set horror series, Dead of Summer, which we abandoned because it was so badly done. Dead of Summer attempts to pay homage to the great teen horror films of the 1970's and 1980's, but as Paul said, very early on, "This is set in the 1980's because the story won't work if they have cell phones." He was absolutely right, and there were many other thing about the show that made it very clearly a 2016 production merely set in 1989 for convenience. (Modern views in films/books/television shows set in a different era is a topic for another essay and another time; suffice it to say I had a serious problem with the fact that in 1989 the camp counselors in Dead of Summer had absolutely no problems with a gay kid sharing their cabins and showers and so forth with them; not one--and no parent had an issue with a gay teen being their child's camp counselor. Sorry. This was the time of AIDS; the horrifically homophobic Republican National Convention of 1992 was three years in the future. I appreciate the inclusion, but just no.)

Stranger Things hit almost everything about the 1980's right; from the clothes to the cars to the music to the hairstyles (I did have a few quibbles with accuracy; "Hazy Shade of Winter" by the Bangles was recorded for the soundtrack for Less Than Zero, which wasn't released until either 1986 or 1987, and I don't think the concept of 'stalking' or calling someone a 'stalker' was a thing yet in 1983) but that's just pedantry. Other than those few things the show was pitch perfect, down to the casting of two stars of iconic 1980's teen movies (Winona Ryder from Heathers and Matthew Modine from Vision Quest) as adults. It was like stepping back in time; it looked like a lost mini-series based on a book by Stephen King produced by Steven Speilberg with a screenplay written and directed by John Hughes: four nerdy kids who like to play Dungeons and Dragons become the focal point of the story when one of their friends disappears; there's a mysterious kid who may or may not be an alien and has strange powers/capabilities that they hide from the adults and the 'bad guys' who are looking for her; they have two bigger and stronger bullies who pick on them all the time and eventually get their comeuppance; and they eventually save the day--so many homages to Spielberg films here as well as Stephen King novels--there's even a scene where they are walking along the railroad tracks in the woods that could have been shot for shot lifted from Stand by Me. There's also the paranoia and fear of the government that was interlaced throughout so many 80's movies and books. The story of the older teens could have been a John Hughes movie if John Carpenter was also involved.

There are also scenes at a flooded quarry that reminded me of either a book or a movie, but I could never quite put my finger on which one.

In another scene, the boys are trying to escape the bad guys on their bikes...and I wondered if they were going to start flying, a la E. T. The Extra Terrestrial.

Even the title cards were done in an 1980's font and style mean to evoke Stephen King:




look an an awful lot like




Frankly, the rhythm of words are even similar: Stranger Things/Stephen King.

The soundtrack was pitch perfect; I even mentioned to Paul at one point it sounded like it had been done by Tangerine Dream, who did so many amazing soundtracks in the 1980's, like Risky Business and Thief.

But talking about all of this does the show a disservice; it wouldn't have held my interest no matter how accurately it paid homage to the period had it not been well written, well acted, and well done. The suspense plays out beautifully; I was never bored, always on edge, always wondering what was going to happen next. Eight episodes was the perfect length for character development as well; we got to know and care about the characters so that we cared what happened to them.

And, as I said the other day about Megan Abbott, the best work inspires me and makes me think about things. Watching this made me think about the development of young adult movies and novels in the 1980's; how the 1970's were a transitional decade for those, and how they really came of age in the 1980's. It made me realize that, sadly, the decade of my twenties was now the decade of nostalgia and period pieces for our current decade, much as in the 1980's it was all about the 1950's and early 1960's. It made me think that the time might be right for a book exploring young adult culture of the 1980's as reflected in the books and movies of that time (I recently read a wonderful essay about how problematic the iconic John Hughes movies of the time are now; watching this made me think about the ones outside the John Hughes oeuvre--Risky Business, Red Dawn, Dirty Dancing, All the Right Moves, War Games, Real Genius and so forth). It made me think that maybe it was time for someone to write a compelling novel--maybe horror, a la Stephen King's It--that flashed back between the 1980's and the present (although Alison Gaylin's superb What Remains of Me does this very thing; you should read it if you haven't already, Constant Reader).

There is going to be another season of the show; I don't know if it will be a continuation of the story just done, or if it will go the anthology route that seems to be growing in popularity. But I do recommend the show.

I love things that make me think.

And now, back to the spice mines.
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