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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Passably Psychotic: A Review of Psycho-Pass

I have never committed a crime (well, I’m not counting that one time when my six-year-old self treated Bulk Barn as though it was a buffet). If I did, I have no doubt I’d be caught. I say this not out of any particular confidence in the police, but because I am an awful liar. My guilt would doubtless be written all over my “who, me?” expression.

How long would I last, then, in a world where people are condemned simply for their ability to commit a crime? It would not matter whether a law had actually been broken; I would be arrested for the passing thought, that idle admiring of a Corvette and the accompanying Thelma and Louise flash of criminal intent.

Such is the basis for the anime Psycho-Pass.

Writer Tow Ubukata, of Ghost in the Shell: Arise and Alternative Architecture, obviously draws from popular American science fiction in the creation of Psycho-Pass. In the first few minutes of episode one, the visual style strongly echoes that of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The world design is eerily similar, with flashy visuals and gorgeous backgrounds. Kudos must be given to the artists for their dedication to making the aesthetics of every set piece match the incredibly dark tone of the story. In a market with anime like Tokyo Ghoul, Steins;Gate, or Sword Art Online, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve a distinct visual style. Blade Runner similarities notwithstanding, Psycho-Pass succeeds in spades.

With his 2009 anime series Phantom: Requiem for a Phantom, writer Gen Urobuchi was introduced to popular culture. He has been writing ground-breaking anime ever since. With shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, and Aldnoah.Zero under his belt, Urobuchi began writing for Psycho-Pass. He, like Ubukata, also openly draws from science fiction, namely Philip K. Dick’s novel Minority Report.

In Psycho-Pass, the main characters are all part of a task-force designated to find and detain those with “cloudy” psycho-passes. These people either have criminal thoughts, or their psyche has been warped to the point that their mental stability is compromised. Sybil, an omniscient AI, reads the stability of people’s minds and assigns a number rating. The higher the rating, the more the mind is compromised. Depending on the rating, a person is either taken to be “rehabilitated”, or, in more extreme cases, is subjected to the Dominator, a gun tied directly into the Sybil system. If Sybil determines a person “irretrievable”, the Dominator activates and quite violently destroys them.

Conflict arises in the form of the show’s antagonist, Shogo Makishima, a man responsible for committing numerous horrible crimes and yet somehow able to remain undetected by Sybil. His character, unabashedly evil and yet scarily relatable, is one of the best villains in my recent memory. Despite limited screen time, he manages to grow as an opposing force while acting as a conduit for the show’s deeper themes. These themes, it must be said, have been explored before—but never quite in this context. Psycho-Pass brings novelty to a genre that has recently been weighed down with watered-down copies of older, better stories. The storytelling and visual style remain with the viewer long after the series has ended, as we keep finding snippets of references and understated metaphors that result in many a “Ha, look at this!” Tumblr post.

Psycho-Pass, though slightly imitative, embraces its origins. Fans of older science fiction will see flashes of beloved tropes, but with a modern and stylistic twist. It mainly serves as a vehicle to give new life to the science fiction and cyberpunk genres, while reminding us of why antiheroes are awesome.

-Contributed by Rej Ford

Mind Games: Deconstructing the Heroic Death in Eternal Sabbath

This review contains spoilers.

For the ordinary person being a hero is a compelling notion, as it represents the apex of humanity: saving others at the risk of your own well-being. It is often considered unattainable, for one may lack the skills, or the intellect to save the world. Most importantly, one may be overcome with fear of the inevitable component of self-sacrifice.

How is it that heroism has become must always end in self-sacrifice?

The paradox of heroism is hinted in the “death positivity bias” theory. Essentially, this means that we love heroes most, and we treat heroes greatest when they’re gone. Especially when they die for the “greater good”.

However morbid and unfortunate the inclination, I have to admit there is something romantically tragic about heroic sacrifice. It is a special phenomenon, an example of extreme behaviour that is rarely seen in everyday life.

The rarity of the heroic sacrifice makes us respect the hero more, enhancing their unattainable “god-like” status. At the same time, we appreciate the fact that they are not totally inaccessible because they too have flaws.

Now heroic sacrifice is losing meaning rapidly, frayed with overuse. Ironically, what was meant to put more meaning into the character, is now taking away from it – death used to mean something.

When Lightning Lad died fifty years ago battling Zaryan the conqueror it had dramatic weight, and created emotional impact.

Perhaps it is my overexposure to bad films that has worn away my love for heroic tales. In my defence, most of the time cinematic heroic sacrifices have an inherent alternate solution, but the author chooses to turn a blind eye on logic to either create the “bittersweet effect,” or to go against the expected “happily-ever-after” ending entrenched in culture by Disney. By doing so, the writer simultaneously creates the idea that this character is too great for this world, and too cool to fit cookie-cutter endings.

So what separates the meaningful from the senseless versions of heroic sacrifice?

I recently re-stumbled upon a sci-fi manga called Eternal Sabbath by Fuyumi Soryo. Eternal Sabbath is the name of a gene created by scientists who strived for immortality. The basic function of the gene is to immunize the body against all strains of viruses. It was tested out on several genetically engineered humans.

After several experiments, results determined that the gene was so aggressive that it targeted the body of the carrier, killing all of the test subjects except one, who, once developed, was named “Shuro.” Joyous from the single success, the scientists cloned him, producing Isaac – who was essentially a back-up just in case the original, Shuro, needed another organ or something as equally as horrific.

The important distinction between the two that sets up the plot for the rest of the series is that although Shuro and Isaac are clones, Shuro was the only one who experienced the full range of human emotions, as he was not trapped inside an artificial womb like Issac was.

The two get separated, and Fuyumi Soryo presents a distinct dichotomy right from the beginning – the dichotomy of good versus evil, ironically stemming from the exact same root.

Shuro is obviously the main character, as the aloof hero who eventually softens when he meets Mine Kujo, a neurology researcher. They develop a mutual goal: to put an end to Isaac, who has become corrupt and ruthless. Nearly every supporting character dies by his hand.

In a way, Soryo desensitizes and habituates readers with the ongoing deaths that occur in the first seven volumes while developing the novel’s darker themes. I flinched a bit at a particularly gruesome murder, as the emotional ties with the characters flew out the window. Oh, there goes the little girl. And her mother. And her father.

However, since it is a Josei manga I knew there was bound to be a turn-around somewhere. And there is, although not one I expected.

At first I thought it was all just a part of the author’s intention of creating a specific atmosphere for the series – dark, almost apocalyptic, heavy sci-fi. Maybe Soryo’s point was to show Isaac’s insurmountable power and lack of morality. Or, to emphasize the good vs. evil dichotomy, ironized by the fact that they are clones of each other.

That is, until the series reached volume eight, when Shuro dies in a single page. It was so sudden and was so implicitly stated that even Mine had to take in a moment to fully comprehend what just happened.

The effect to which Soryo creates this moment is absolutely amazing. Shuro’s death was as quick as any other death in the story, but it was right after a battle with his counterpart Isaac – a fight, which ended too suddenly, and one everyone thought Shuro won.

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This is the moment everyone (both fictional and real) has been waiting for, yet it is oddly anticlimactic, continuously floating in mid-air, buoyant with hanging ellipses. Something has gone awry, but what? We (readers and Mine) only realize this when Shuro responds to her uncharacteristically.

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In the whole sequence Mine is so stone-faced and unresponsive, we know something is wrong, but no one wants to voice it – not even Mine herself.

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We discover that Isaac displaced Shuro’s mind into his own body, took over Shuro’s body, and murdered his (Isaac’s) own physical body with Shuro inside of it.

The battle and the focus shift to Mine versus Isaac, which is an extremely powerful one because it is an internal one, a mental struggle. Their fight literally occurs in their minds.

The meaning Soryo embeds in Shuro’s sacrifice is a significant one, as she shows us that although battles do not necessarily end because the hero gives up his or her life for it, their sacrifice does not have to be a meaningless one. In fact, I feel as though Shuro’s death was more meaningful than the deaths of heroes whose sacrifice resulted in their side’s victory, because Shuro’s sacrifice initiated Mine’s heroism.

The heroes who sacrificed themselves and bring an end to struggles become revered and unattainable, but Shuro proved that it doesn’t matter who you are and what your limits are. Supernatural or human, no matter where your roots lie, heroism is not unattainable; rather, it is merely a kind of potential that just needs ignition.

-contributed by Ariana Youm

Objects in Your Mind May be Larger Than They Appear: In Praise of a Psychic Adventure

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Have you ever wondered what the inside of your friend’s mind looks like? How about your enemy’s? We all see the world differently, but what about our inner worlds?

Perhaps if we could see inside others’ minds, we could learn what makes them tick—or what’s holding them back.

In the action/adventure video game Psychonauts you get to do exactly that. You play as Rasputin (known to his friends as Raz), a circus-raised psychic ten-year-old. Raz runs away from home and sneaks into Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp in hopes  of honing his psychic abilities and training to become a psychic secret agent—a Psychonaut!

After completing the training missions in the camp instructors’ minds, Raz must thwart the conspiracy that looms over all the psychic campers. His adversary is formidable—but sometimes you’re your own worst enemy. In order for Raz to stop the vile plot to take over the world, Raz must first get help from the only reliable adults around: the inmates from Thorny Towers Home for the Disturbed, the literally twisted (read: warped and crumbling) insane asylum that’s located across the lake from the camp.

Every one  of the inmates is as much a prisoner of their pasts and thoughts as they are of the evil, brain-stealing Doctor Loboto, who rules the asylum with an iron claw. (He tells his first victim not to worry, because the brain-removal procedure will be covered by his medical insurance.)

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The mad doctor at work, IGN.com

And so the mental adventure begins!

The storytelling of Psychonauts is beautifully woven into the game level design. Each mind is a different world that reflects the personality, thoughts, and feelings of the owner. And while the game centres on exploring the experience of being “crazy,” it tells a very empowering story about facing your fears. Each asylum inmate, with the encouragement of Raz, conquers their personal demons—and these personal demons, if left unattended, will literally blow up in your face! They are spiteful, psychic-seeking time bombs that must be defeated before they explode and wipe  out all of your health.

Wouldn’t we all love to have a precocious psychic acrobat to fight off our inner demons for us and help us to move on from the negative events in our lives? It’d be more fun and cheaper than therapy! (And if having someone explore your mind sounds terribly invasive—psychics are nosy, it seems— remember: the fate of the world is at stake.)

Every neurosis or delusion that a patient is trapped by—and consequently, causes them to impede Raz’s progress in saving the world—is tied to a very negative, very human experience. For the conspiracy-theorist, it’s the memory of losing the job that defines his life. For the actress who suffers dramatic mood-swings, it’s the memories of a lonely childhood and a tragic loss. And for artist with unmanageable bursts of anger, it’s the memory of adolescent shame that has festered for years. All these doubts grow out of proportion and can turn a healthy young mind into a hellish carnival of nightmares. But, in the words of Raz, “you can’t let the Junior Varsity Pep Squad ruin your life.” And, just like the inmates of Thorny Towers, we can all face our pasts and fears. We must if we want  to order our inner worlds.

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Of course too much order can be a bad thing. When Raz shuts down one part of his mentor’s mind, the Censors, who violently enforce all order and eradicate anything out of the ordinary (such as a psychic’s presence), the repressed self-censoring energy morphs into a hideous monster. Likewise, we cannot totally hide our dark thoughts. In the mind of another camp instructor, it’s all party all the time—unless you find the room that’s tucked away in a corner. This hidden room holds all of the instructor’s secrets: the painful memories and aching guilt that scar her psyche. Such thoughts can only remain hidden if you make a point of repressing them, but we all know how hard it is to forcibly forget something you wish you couldn’t remember.

At the risk of a mild spoiler (turn away now!) the final boss fight is against warped figments of Raz’s own imagination. What more formidable foe can you face than your own worst nightmare?

If the extended metaphors for personal growth and psychological healing aren’t enough for you, the way the game draws on mind-related idioms and ideas is charming. In addition to having to fight personal demons and self-Censors, each level includes a scavenger hunt for various entities that clutter up the minds you explore. Raz must sort through each mind’s personal baggage (literally bags, hat boxes, trunks, and satchels that are weepy and sad until you find their shipping tag), figments of imagination (hazy half-images of objects and people), and nightmares (scarier versions of personal demons). Towards the end of the game the Collective Unconscious opens and you can visit the minds that you were previously in to collect the last few items and finish off the level. (Fortunately, there aren’t any obvious Freudian references in the game…but then, maybe I’m only seeing them subconsciously.)

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Psychonauts is a smart, funny, and tremendously fun game that will have you replaying it to discover more and more. It is available on Steam and for PS3 and Xbox.

 -contributed by Miranda Whittaker