10 Strange Facts for Stranger Things

I love Stranger Things. And apparently, so does everyone else.

Despite its popularity, the rampant critical acclaim of Netflix’s Stranger Things was unprecedented upon its release. The initial script produced by the series’ creators, the Duffer brothers, had been repeatedly rejected by a string of cable networks. It was simply uncategorizable. The ensemble of children at the heart of the TV show—Eleven, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will—made producers question: was Stranger Things a children’s show? Would adults enjoy it? And if it was geared towards children, shouldn’t the tone be lighter? 

Thankfully, the Duffer brothers never changed their stride, and neither did the show. It was picked up by Netflix in early 2015 and here we are: a homage of 80’s synth pop, jean jackets, and sci-fi movies later, Stranger Things now sits atop Netflix’s most-watched series list, and boasts a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So what was it that pushed Stranger Things over the edge of indie film territory and into pop culture appeal? Was it the soundtrack? The stellar casting? Steve Harrington’s hair? Maybe, but the response might also have something to do with nostalgia, and Stranger Things certainly had plenty of that.

You might have caught some of them, but here are 10 references you may have missed in Netflix’s monstrous hit.

1. E.T.

Image from camiseteria.com

No surprise here; thematic shades of E.T. are all over Stranger Things. We see it in the cinematic shots of the series—kids on bicycles, anyone?—but it’s also stunningly prominent in the parallels between Eleven and E.T. As an “alien,” so to speak, Eleven and E.T. share a fixation on one type of food (leggo my eggo), have both dressed up in blonde wigs to blend in, and are both in hiding from shadowy government figures.

2. Dungeons and Dragons

Image from roebeast.blogspot.com

I think we all caught this one. After all, the series opens with a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, in which Will fails to kill a popular a mythical creature in D&D lore. This scene does two things: first, it foreshadows Will’s capture, which happens immediately after and drives the entire season one plot; and second, it contextualizes the creature in terms that the kids (and us as the audience) can identify. For the rest of the series, the unknown creature from the Upside Down is known as the demogorgon. 

3. Alien

Image from bustle.com

The demogorgon in Stranger Things has a few nods to Ridley Scott’s aliens. It leaves a lot of goo in its wake, and (spoilers!) it likes to incubate its victims with smaller creatures by forcing its victims to swallow them.

They’re kind of like…worms. Or snakes. It’s gross.

4. Stephen King

Image from stephenking.wikia.com

I’ve listed Stephen King as a category in a vague sense, because Stranger Things has multiple horror motifs typified by King during his prolific career as a writer. Mainly, Stranger Things takes its cues from King’s novels Firestarter and Carrie. In both cases, Eleven’s telepathic and occasionally erratic powers, along with her abusive and watchful upbringing, align her with Carrie White and Charlie McGee.

5. Star Wars

Image from heavyarmor.wordpress.com

This one is a bit more obvious, as the characters often voice the references directly instead of the Duffer brothers hiding them under cinematic quality. Eleven has “jedi powers,” Mike owns a Yoda action-figure and talks about the Force, and when Lucas thinks Eleven has betrayed the group he calls her “Lando,” after the Star Wars character who betrays Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back.

6. Nightmare on Elm Street

Image from elitedaily.com

Episode 8 of Stranger Things has Nancy and Jonathan trying to go head-to-head with the monster, luring it into Jonathan’s house with a brigade of traps and eventually setting it on fire. Sound familiar? It should—the climax of the 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street played out in a similar way.

7. The Goonies

Image from mentalfloss.com

Everyone loves a good ragtag group of misfit kids. And we see a lot of similarities in the playful and mischievous behaviour of the Goonies squad to the Stranger Things crew. The main rule: no adults allowed. (But as a lover of Stranger Things, I’m willing to point out that we do have Joyce and Hopper involved, but they act pretty autonomously for the majority of the show and are in their own separate ‘clique’).

8. X-Men

Image from comicvine.gamespot.com

X-men also has misfits, yes, but we’ll give that to The Goonies instead. A trickier reference to the Marvel comics actually happens in the first episode, when Dustin and Will are talking about an X-Men comic; the specific issue they argue about is volume 134, in which “Jean Grey mentally snaps…and inadvertently unleashes the Dark Phoenix, a cosmic force beyond her control,” which is a tip of the hat to Eleven later in the series.

9. The Thing

Image from culturecreature.com

The 80’s horror movie The Thing makes a few appearances in Stranger Things. This one is a bit like Star Wars, in that there are a couple of casual mentions you can spot if you’re looking for them. In Mike’s basement there’s a poster for the movie on one of the walls, and when Dustin calls Mr. Clarke for information on how to build a sensory deprivation tank (which is the most awkward and amusing thing on the show), guess what Mr. Clarke is watching? That’s right: The Thing.

10. Minority Report/Fringe

Image from movle.blogspot.com

Last but not least, I’m going to throw in a debatable one. When the characters on Stranger Things make a sensory deprivation tank for Eleven to heighten her telepathy and enter the Upside Down, some people got flashes of the 2002 movie Minority Report. Specifically, the scene when Spielberg’s pre-cogs lay in their own sensory deprivation tanks to get flashes of the future.

Now, as it’s Spielberg we’re talking about here (whose other movies are a big influence on the show), it’s probably a homage to him. But! For anyone who watched the hit TV series Fringe—did you not get flashbacks of psychic Olivia Dunham concentrating in a sensory deprivation tank? I did. I really did.

So, did we miss anything? Let us know if you caught something strange that we missed, and bonus points for the more obscure the reference is!

-Contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi


Anna Biller’s The Love Witch: A Feminist Approach to the Alternative Horror Genre

THE LOVE WITCH-illustration

Anna Biller’s faux-1960s alternative horror film, The Love Witch (2016), follows the narcissistic and eyeshadow obsessed Elaine in her search for the perfect fairy-tale romance. The self-proclaimed “Love Witch”, Elaine (played by Samantha Robinson) is a woman who uses home-made love potions, sex spells, and her own mysterious allure to seduce men until, of course, it takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

Aesthetics and visuals are central to the film. The costumes, scenery, cinematography, and soundtrack are all carefully directed and consulted on by Biller herself, a Cal Arts graduate. The sequences seem spontaneous, taking on a life of their own beyond the linear plot of the picture. These vivacious, colourful, and intrusive statements guide the film from the tropes of a mainstream horror flick to the unconventional features of an independent art film.


In the director’s statement for The Love Witch, Biller mentions, “While I am quoting genres, I am using them not as a pastiche, but to create a sense of aesthetic arrest and to insert a female point of view.” Although Biller takes influence from aspects of the alternative horror/thriller genre, she uses a perspective that twists the typical male gaze of that genre, and brings about a sense of female empowerment. By using her knowledge of what men want, Elaine controls her own sexual agency.

This feminist concept is intermingled with the rules of witchery and the occult within the film. This is evident when the members of Elaine’s cult discuss how the strength of a woman’s sexuality both excites and challenges men’s patriarchal position in society, and how this makes men feel inclined to “put women in their place.” It is the figures of magic who bring attention to this, and the concept is juxtaposed with Elaine’s controversial behaviour regarding her lovers. Elaine uses her attractive persona to seduce men, but with her potions and her high expectations of romance, she “loves them to death.”

In a twist, Biller presents the dichotomy of Elaine’s lack of concern regarding her lovers with their increasing emotional attachment and eventual toxic separation from her affection. Elaine lacks any moral conflict in her actions, believing that the tragedies that result are simply a shame.

Biller borrows from the trope of the 1960s femme fatale, utilizing their hatred of betrayal by former lovers and twisting it so the woman gives the man what he wants physically but uses magic to separate herself from the emotional response he desires. Here, Biller references the social ideology in which men are thought to lack an emotional response in relationships. The moment Elaine denies her lover an emotional response is the moment that he starts to long for her love and support.


Another vital aspect of the plot is Elaine’s obsession with fairy-tale romance. Despite the contrary ways she exhibits this, she greatly desires a relationship in which her love is fully requited and without complications. While Elaine presents herself as imposingly stern and careless, she fantasizes about a pseudo-medieval scene in which she rides off with her prince charming, away from the difficulties of a mundane life.

When Elaine’s curious landlord Trish (played by Laura Waddell) snoops around in her apartment, we are exposed to the hyper-erotic drawings and paintings that cover the room. These depict explicit scenes in an artistic style that is unexpectedly harmless and bubbly. This seems contrary to the darker erotic aspect of the film’s visuals, but its absurdity and spontaneity are central to the alternative rhythm of the plot, and play on the extreme paradoxes in Elaine’s character.

Overall, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch explores the rhetoric of the ill-fated search for a perfect love affair. In unison with the occult genre, this results in over-the-top dramatic sequences, stunning visuals, and a soap-operatic flair. Although the film is identified as a horror/thriller, it most definitely isn’t the type of film that has you at the edge of your seat in anticipation. Rather, the overly dramatic acting, quick-cut sequences, and flashy and comical costumes leave you with a smile plastered across your face.

-Contributed by Mia Carnevale

When the Living Are Dead

The Others.jpg
Illustration by Margarita Gladkikh

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers.

The Others is a skillfully crafted horror movie that’s worth watching because of its ending. The film seems like it’s going to be your typical dose of contemporary horror: isolation, a large estate drowned in fog, religious themes, and children. Director and screenwriter Alejandro Amenábar keeps his piece expertly free of the cheap scares that we’ve come to expect from contemporary horror. He keeps his audience waiting in the dread of not knowing what’s going to happen. Why are the children kept away from light? Why are the servants so strange? Why does the gardener cover gravestones with leaves?

The movie swiftly develops an air of mystery through unnerving the audience with the dusty mansion, Grace’s nightmare, the disappearance of the old servants, and their peculiar replacements. The Stewarts believe that there are ghosts in their house because the piano plays itself and footsteps without attached bodies thunder around upstairs. However, the genius of the movie arises when the audience realizes the Stewarts are the ghosts, haunting the mansion that the new family occupies.

The Others is one of those movies that seemingly reveals the plot to the audience in the beginning. But the audience only realizes upon viewing the movie for a second time that the servants were in on the secret that the Stewarts are dead from the beginning of the movie. However, the audience is not aware of this and neither are the Stewarts. Clearly something is off throughout the film, but the audience struggles in putting together the subtle clues left behind by Amenábar: the servants disappearing after the deaths of the Stewarts, the absence of the postman, and the new family viewing the house.

It is rather tough for an audience to pinpoint a specific antagonist in this film. Could it be Grace, her devious daughter Anne, or the strange housekeeper Bertha Mills? For some time I wondered whether Grace was mentally stable because of her increasing frenzied behaviour, devoutness, and need for control.

The audience knows something happened “that day”, which was when Grace gave in to her mental instabilities, smothered her children, and shot herself. In the end, the audience is finally able to piece the clues together and we understand that Grace went insane from the grief of her husband’s death at war, which was exacerbated by the fog that kept them isolated from the rest of the world. Amenábar points out through Bertha that “grief over the death of a loved one can lead people to do the strangest things”. This is clearly aimed at Grace, who did what she did to escape from the bottomless pit of pain she was imprisoned in. But it also presents the effect that war has on families that were torn up by loved ones who went to fight and never returned.

Religion is a prominent aspect of the film, especially since the only thing the children do is read the Bible. However, in the end, the devout Grace is devastated by her broken faith because, to her, it is impossible for the dead and the living to exist in the same realm. The Stewarts are stuck in some sort of limbo or purgatory. Perhaps because they didn’t die naturally, their souls weren’t ready to ascend to heaven, thus leaving them trapped in the house.

Amenábar doesn’t overuse background music, but when it’s present, it’s the classic, bloodthirsty sound of violins in pain. The absence of background music emphasizes the isolation from the lack of sight to the lack of sound. Weather is used to reflect the mood of the film through the heavy fog that is prominent throughout the movie except for two scenes. One scene depicts Grace’s husband Charles return from war and the other scene at the end of the movie, when the family accepts their deaths.

The Others is an intelligent piece of cinematography that raises the bar for future supernatural/psychological horror movies. Amenábar twists everything we’ve come to expect from horror and delivers this masterpiece. This is the rare horror movie that genuinely shocks and impresses the skeptical, jaded viewer who has lost their faith in good scares. When the audience realizes that the Stewarts and the servants are ghosts, we’re horrified. The job is done. Granted, Amenábar fell short when it came to characterization, though he had great control when it came to building up to the twist. Overall, the pacing of the movie was well thought-out to maintain constant suspense. What really stands out about this movie is Amenábar’s talent for directing and storytelling, and the brilliance of the movie can only be appreciated when watching it for the second time.

-Contributed by Chindu Palakal

Crimson peak: A Gothic Romance

cpGhosts are real, that much I know.

Well, okay, I don’t know, but Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) can certainly tell you a thing or two about ghosts.

Crimson Peak is Guillermo del Toro’s newest gothic romance film, and it possesses all of his trademark film-making techniques but with a distinctive late-1800s twist. The plot seems like something out of a gothic novel, with the basic premise being reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

Edith Cushing, an aspiring American author and the daughter of a successful businessman, falls in love with the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet. Their romance is complicated by the pointed glares Thomas’ older sister, Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), keeps sending their way. Throughout the Sharpe’s estate, which seems almost alive, there is a permeating feeling of wrongness, which the audience feels as well, given how fast Thomas is taken with Edith.

And therein lies the main weakness of the film.

Perhaps the plot is too Romantic. Thomas Sharpe plays the stereotypical role of the dashing male hero who woos the female protagonist, despite her somewhat humble origins. From the moment the two meet, the speed at which Thomas reads and takes an interest in Edith’s manuscript is astounding. Perhaps Thomas can teach me his ways to aid me in my readings for class?

He then proceeds to stare soulfully into her eyes, notice her presence in every frame, and even stand outside of her house, in the rain, waiting for her father to leave in order to catch her alone.

All that within just hours of meeting her.

Although this does successfully give the audience a sense of foreboding and even foreshadows the tragic nature of their relationship, the love story between the two seems to exist only to drive the plot forward.

However, del Toro must be commended for his brilliant use of coloured lighting to build upon the tension and suspense of the plot. The constant interplay between amber and cool turquoise lighting reflects the conflict between Edith and Lucille, and by extension the conflict between the mortal and supernatural.

Edith and her American home are painted in warm orange tones that liven up the atmosphere, whereas Lucille and the Sharpe mansion are both drowned in a cool dark turquoise that infringes upon yet emphasizes Edith’s glow. The bloody red colouring of the ghosts is a nice horrific touch. But more, the colour adds significance to the purpose of the ghosts as figures caught between the light and the dark. Red is a warm colour, but its connotations are gory and chilling, like the turquoise, and the very opposite of the benign cast of orange. The ghosts are frightening in form, too, but once you reflect on their function and true purpose, are they really the antagonists here?

Crimson Peak’s cinematography also stands out in its combined use of sound and timing to create anticipation. The visual and auditory cues are predictable at times, but they call back to the style of old horror flicks. The close-ups on characters, the slow crescendo, the introduction of a horror element, the breathless pause, the abrupt zoom straight into the maws of a ghost—are all inexhaustibly thrilling in the way roller-coasters are. The fun isn’t lost despite the routine.

Overall this film was a worthwhile watch, even for someone who is deathly afraid of anything horror-related (i.e., me). Before entering the cinema, my biggest concern was that the film would be a simple translation of “The Fall of the House of Usher”, but instead it brought its own cinematic magic to the table. Watch, if not for del Toro’s imagery-laden visuals, then definitely for a few glorious moments of a view of Hiddleston’s bum.

-Contributed by Stephanie Gao

Emily Carroll’s Horror Spectacle: Why I Checked Under My Bed That Night

carroll header

“Unsettling” is a common word used to describe Emily Carroll’s graphic fiction these days, though perhaps it is given unjustly. “Unsettling” seems to skim the right word, but it ultimately lacks the punch her work delivers. Is there a definition for the sound of nails scraping a chalkboard? Or a word for the feeling of curling your toes anxiously, repeatedly bracing yourself in squeamish anticipation?

Is it uneasy? Queasy?


In Through the Woods, Emily Carroll takes her readers on a splendid adventure of fantastical, yet highly disquieting, horror. Through the Woods builds on a great deal of Carroll’s previously established literary voice and visual footprint. This collection of five short graphic stories is her debut work in print, published in 2014, alongside her long-standing website of comics. Her writing, often characterized by a mix of lyrical verse and truncated, quick-impact sentences, is nothing shy of a master-class in how plain language can express, and incite, the most fear.

A Lady's Hands are Cold
A Lady’s Hands are Cold

The potency of Carroll’s horrific effect comes in large part from the way in which she delivers it. The “creepy factor”, so to speak, in stories like His Face All Red, The Nesting Place, and A Lady’s Hands are Cold, derives from their simplistic, often rhythmic, childish language. What may begin as deceptively lighthearted and unsophisticated often turns out to be disturbingly grim. And you discover a couple pages in that this is exactly the intent.

Much like the Grimms, it appears that Carroll understands the age-old wisdom that anything horrific told innocuously enough becomes doubly horrific.

The more Carroll’s prose and illustrations resemble a crude, childlike form, the more unsettling they become. Strangely, it is the frankness of her drawings that delivers the most nuance, because there is nowhere to hide in it. Much of her work is presented as upfront; visually speaking, Carroll suppresses a reader’s ability to hide within the vague by denying it in the first place. The lines are sharp, the colour is bold, the contrast is high, and the font is creepy.

And, while we’re on the topic—should you ever want a lesson on how colour can impact an atmosphere, this book is it.

Seriously. It is.


Now before I close, I’d like to give a personal note from myself to any readers newly delving into Carroll’s creepy world: please, watch out for the teeth. I have yet to name it, but there is something highly unnerving about the way Carroll draws teeth, and I would bet good money that she knows it.

Read The Nesting Place, and you’ll see.

– Contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi

On The Babadook and What Truly Terrifies Us

When I was a kid, there was one book on my shelf that used to give me nightmares. It was called The Ugliest Dog in the World and it was supposed to be a funny children’s book. The story itself wasn’t what frightened me; rather, it was the book’s back cover, which featured the portrait of a screaming girl. There was something profoundly disturbing about her expression, and I will never forget it.

Jennifer Kent’s magnificent debut film, The Babadook, plays on all of our childhood fears and the traumatic aftershock of nightmares. Intensely perturbing and psychologically terrifying, Kent has truly mastered the art of horror. The film belongs to a mature subset of the horror genre, one that is more subtle, psychically perverse, and nuanced. Despite the lack of jump-scares or gore, The Babadook chills down to the bone, and leaves you unsettled for hours. Deftly incorporating excellent writing with suspenseful timing and brilliant acting, Kent has crafted one of the best horror films of this decade.

Amelia and Sam, equally troubled mother and son, are both broken by the death of husband/father, and this loss subsequently manifests as the Babadook, a physical reflection of their grief. One night, Sam asks his mother to read him a nighttime story, choosing a new book that has mysteriously appeared on his shelf. An interactive, hand-drawn, inky fable about a boogeyman of sorts, each page of the tale becomes increasingly frightening and violent. Sam becomes obsessively scared of this creature and Amelia throws the book away only to have it appear again on her doorstep with added graphic pictures.


Like a grown-up nightmare from which one cannot wake up, the audience is thrown into the calamity of their situation, which engulfs the individual in a sort of melancholic paralysis. Unlike most scary movies that I have seen—and I have seen a lot—the lightness of the next morning does not bring forth temporary repose in The Babadook, and we are never given the chance to feel the calm of a new day. Here, Kent takes our deepest-seated anxieties, our fears, our insecurities, and exploits them to the fullest degree, breeding a sense of uneasiness that only grows stronger with each coming day.

The physical depiction of the Babadook itself does not get a lot of screen time. In fact, the monster only appears once. But as Amelia reads, “If it’s in a word or in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” This phrase appears in the storybook and not only aptly summarizes the nature of the Babadook, but is at the very heart of what makes the movie horrifying.

While The Babadook is delightfully sinister and will give you quite the scare, the film is also impressively insightful. Kent really plays up the book aspect of the story, and at one point Amelia even vomits out ink. On a broader level, the film is exploring the impact of words, the impact of narratives, and the debilitating darkness that can eat away at you if you allow the bitterness of your grief to consume you.

We are all haunted by the Babadook—haunted by our imperfections, our weaknesses. The Babadook is in the words that cut us, in the unkind looks that we see and cannot unsee. It terrified me. It will terrify you, too.



Such a Terrible Room: Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung at the Canadian Opera Company

0102 – John Relyea as Duke Bluebeard and Ekaterina Gubanova as Judith in the Canadian Opera Company production of Bluebeard’s Castle, 2015. Conductor Johannes Debus, director Robert Lepage, revival director François Racine, set and costume designer Michael Levine, and lighting designer Robert Thomson.  Photo: Michael Cooper Michael Cooper Photographic Office- 416-466-4474 Mobile- 416-938-7558 66 Coleridge Ave. Toronto, ON M4C 4H5
Image from http://www.coc.ca

There is without a doubt something about opera that lends itself to otherworldliness. The magic of music and stage has, since opera’s inception in the late sixteenth century, often drawn on mythology and folklore for subject matter. The Greek myth of Orpheus and his descent to the underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, has been retold countless times in operas by Monteverdi, Gluck, Offenbach, and others. The four operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle involve characters from Norse and Germanic myth, including gods like Odin and Thor and mythical creatures like valkyries, giants, and dwarves. And these are only the best-known examples of fantasy in opera.

The Canadian Opera Company’s 2014-2015 season ends with a speculative work: a double-bill of Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung, a remount of a COC original that first premiered in the early nineties. Both are early twentieth century operas with similar psychological themes. They complement each other well: Bluebeard, through the discoveries made by Judith, can easily be classified as horror, and the plight of the woman in Erwartung is one of pure terror.

Bartok was a prominent Hungarian composer, musician, and collector of folksongs in the early twentieth century. His contributions to the field of ethnomusicology, particularly in Eastern Europe, were particularly significant, and his love of folk music and tales comes across in many of his compositions. Bluebeard’s Castle comes from a French folktale in which Bluebeard’s young wife finds the bodies of her husband’s former wives locked in his castle.

The COC’s production begins on a dark stage surrounded by a golden frame. Bluebeard enters at the front of the stage, solemn and foreboding, followed by Judith, his new wife. He doesn’t seem like he really wants her there, suggesting she leave and return to the life she had before, but she insists.

The music moves them into the set and the story as Judith enters the dark castle. Its walls weep, but if she’s second-guessing herself it doesn’t show. She asks why it is so cold and sad; she wants to heal Bluebeard, to  fix him. He may want the same. They come to seven doors lining a hallway and she requests they be opened to let in the light and the truth. The castle groans in pain at her suggestion; it is almost a character in itself, a part of Bluebeard that needs to be cared for by Judith as much as he does. “Are you afraid?” asks Bluebeard. “No,” Judith replies. Her white dress billows and trails around her like a ghost as she moves across the stage. It becomes steadily more bloodstained with every door she opens.

Bluebeard gradually opens the first three doors. The first burns like a furnace or like hell and the castle bleeds as she looks upon his torture chamber. The second, blaring white light and brass, reveals  his armoury, and the third, his treasury, burning like pale fire. But there are bloodstains through these doors and darker secrets still. Perhaps he sees her as a saviour: someone who will bring light into the castle and onto his dark past.

Bartok’s score moves between complex, all-out motion to a single bassoon line throughout; a reflection of the edge the characters stand on as well as the mood of the weeping castle. The fourth door reveals a garden and some of the softest, loveliest music in the opera. Judith has some hope that perhaps it’s not all bloodshed and violence, and picks a flower. The set at this point is really incredible, using a projection on the stage to show the trees and setting a moment of peace. But the illusion is shattered when she picks a flower and finds it covered in blood. “Who has bled to water your garden?” she demands, but he knows she won’t like the answer and keeps quiet.

The fifth door shows his vast kingdom before them, clouds, lakes, and land that will all be for Judith. The music at this point is an amazingly loud brass choir so glorious it made my hair stand on end. In gazing proudly at his realm, Bluebeard seems, for a moment, truly happy. But Judith cannot share his emotion, as she sees only rivers of blood and stained earth before them.

As the sixth door is opened, downstage slowly fills with water; a lake of tears. He avoids her initial questions about his former loves, but when she confronts him about their bodies, which she believes she will find behind the last door, he gives her the final key. At the seventh door, his three former wives come up silently out of the bloody lake. They look like ghosts, but Judith says they are still alive. They are his queens of morning, noon, and evening, and Judith will join them in night. They dress her in robes and jewels and lead her back into the seventh door. Darkness falls on the bloodstained stage, and Bluebeard sings of eternal night while the castle shines behind him.

The opera is light and dark and covered in blood, endlessly creepy but also very emotional. Bluebeard is not exactly sympathetic but he is hardly depicted as just a murderous tyrant; the characters, both of them, have more depth to them than first appears. Written in an age when it was first really taking hold, there are strong psychological themes at work in both this and Erwartung, the second act.

Erwartung, by Schoenberg, similarly works with themes of women, weird relationships, and psychology. The opera only lasts half an hour and the plot is simple: the woman, the only real character, wanders through the forest seeking her lover, whom she eventually finds dead. The COC’s production shows everything through a white screen upon which handwriting is projected; the woman is in a psychiatric hospital relating her story to a psychiatrist, whose notes are what we see on the screen.

As she recounts her story she removes her straight jacket like an angelic escape artist to reveal a white gown similar to Judith’s. A bright moon shines above like an operating light. At one point, shadows carry off her hospital bed like pallbearers.

At one point she thinks she’s found her lover in the dark forest, and her singing and the effects at this point genuinely instilled fear into the audience. We felt her terror and her anger as she accuses her missing lover of infidelity, and we felt her hopelessness when she finds him dead and wanders off into the night of the hospital. Branches and blood move across the stage as in Bluebeard, and it’s no wonder these operas are often performed together.

 -contributed by Risa Ian de Rege