For someone born in the mid-eighties, with marked nerdy and introverted tendencies, those years, with all their fluorescent clothes and synthesizer-filled music, were a treasure chest full of the best horror and science fiction movies.
During the 1980s, monster movies, filled with special effects that splattered blood and other excretions upon the viewer, proliferated. That decade gave us the slasher subgenre, where Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees messily killed teenagers in film franchises that seemed to multiply to infinity. Sam Raimi and others took the Italian Giallo of the 1970s and combined it with gore horror and slapstick comedy in movies like The Evil Dead and Night of the Creeps.
The 1980s also brought us sci-fi feel-good classics such as E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Back to the Future and the final two films in the Star Wars trilogy.
Not only that, during those years a variety of geek fundamentals, like fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons and the first video game consoles, were developed and flourished.
The 1980s defined a generation of nerds.
Stranger Things, the latest series produced by Netflix, draws from the inexhaustible well of 1980s nostalgia, which are now more popular than ever.
Matt and Ross Duffer, born in 1984 and always credited only as the Duffer Brothers, offer in Stranger Things something that is both a love letter to the 1980s and a highly calculated product that knows how to press the right buttons of the audience‘s nostalgia.
A young boy named Will Byers disappears in the seemingly idyllic town of Hawkins, Indiana. His mother and brother seek the help of the local sheriff, an alcoholic and drug-addicted police officer, who thinks it’s a simple case of a runaway child. Will’s friends are a trio of nerd archetypes (they play Dungeons and Dragons, are part of the high school A.V. club and are the target of two older bullies) who decide to investigate the mystery on their own.
The situation becomes dire with the appearance of government assassins, a secret research facility and the possible presence of a monster who stalks the characters. In addition, an enigmatic, almost mute girl with psychokinetic powers named Eleven joins the band of outcasts.
Stranger Things could maybe be described as a typical Stephen King coming-of-age story directed by Steven Spielberg and with a soundtrack written by a synthesizer-obsessed John Carpenter. Maybe.
The series is chock-full of winks and references, but it is not a simple homage or pastiche. Through these winks, Stranger Things builds a lovable story and characters. For example, Jim Hooper, Hawkins’ sheriff, may at first seem a caricature of the tough and hardened police officer who solves any problem with his fists, but we also learn, through a measured use of flashbacks, the tragic reasons that led him to abandon the city and retreat to a small town where no major crimes had happened in decades.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. But Stranger Things is no mere imitation: it is a labor of love that draws deeply from the themes and movies that shaped the earlier years of a sizable part of those born in the 1980s and proof that Netflix continues to outdo themselves with each consecutive production.