I’m a big fan of the 1980s. More specifically, I’m a big fan of 1980s pop culture, especially the films of the period, many of which rank amongst my all time favourites.
I grew up watching the iconic films of directors like Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and John Hughes amongst many others. These films occupy a special place in my heart. It is these films that allowed me to experience excitement, fear, heartbreak and happiness, helping me to survive the pop culture vacuum that was the late 1990s and early 2000s of my childhood, when iconic films and heroes were in painfully short supply.
The last few years, however, have seen something of a 1980s pop culture revival, which I have been revelling in.
A revival that has brought us new cult classics like House of the Devil (2009), Drive (2011) and The Guest (2014), a revival that has ushered in an explosion of 80s influenced “retrowave” music which harkens back to the musical scores of films that defined the decade.
This revival has now spread to the small screen in the form of Netflix original series Stranger Things, a show that is nothing short of a dream come true for an 80s fanboy like me.
The series is set in 1983 in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, from which 12-year-old Will Byers has mysteriously vanished. As the boy’s mother and brother, as well as the authorities, look for him, Will’s friends come into contact with a mysterious girl named Eleven, who may possess the secret to finding Will and combating the sinister forces threatening the town’s inhabitants .
The performances from the ensemble cast are nothing short of brilliant, with every cast member nailing their respective characters.
Winona Ryder is especially brilliant as Joyce, the mother of the missing boy, perfectly conveying the sometimes manic determination of a mother desperate to find her missing child.
Also on fine form is the always reliable David Harbour as Hopper, the local police chief. Always quick with his fists and the wise cracks, yet lying hidden behind his heroic exterior is a grief-stricken broken man, which Harbour brilliantly captures in the quieter more emotional scenes.
The real stars of the series, however, are undoubtedly the young actors portraying Wills friends. A charismatic and funny bunch, they are an all round joy to watch, with the chemistry between the young cast members feeling authentic.
You believe that these kids have been best friends for years, from their playful insults between each other to their dogged sense of team spirit whether searching for their missing friend or embarking on a long fought quest during a game of Dungeons & Dragons.
Millie Bobby Brown is a fascinating protagonist as the mysterious Eleven, a mysterious girl with a dark past, in which she was forced to take part in barbaric experiments, seemingly designed to turn her into some kind of weapon.
The scenes she shares with Mike (played by Finn Wolfhard), who takes her under his wing, are particularly strong, with the budding relationship between the two feeling incredibly natural, as he attempts to help her adjust to her new surroundings, all the while trying to comprehend their feelings for each other.
As I said in the intro, this series is like a dream come true for a 1980s fan like me, with the series proudly wearing its influences like medals on a soldier’s chest.
The young friends hunting for Will are an unashamed tribute to the likes of The Goonies, Stand By Me, E.T. and Stephen King’s It; stories where best friends decide to take on the world to help one of their own. The character of Eleven is clearly influenced by the characters of Stephen King’s Carrie and the often overlooked Firestarter. The use of lights as a source of communication being similar to Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with the characters attempting to communicate with someone thought to be on “the other side” being very reminiscent of Poltergeist.
The series even finds time to reference lesser known 80s works, such as Ken Russell’s cult 1980 film Altered States, and even more recent works like 2013’s Under the Skin, with Eleven seemingly wandering the same black void that Scarlet Johansson used to lure men to their doom.
The throwback feel of the series is aided by an excellent 80s-esque musical score, courtesy of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of synth group S U R V I V E. The music feels like a perfect recreation of the music of that you would hear in films from the period, with the opening theme of the series sounding like it wouldn’t be out of place in a John Carpenter film.
The score is also complimented by the use of songs from the period, although they are used much sparingly than most 80s set works, with the use of songs like Joy Division classic Atmosphere or Peter Gabriel’s stirring cover of Bowie’s Heroes mainly being used to punctuate the series more emotional moments.
Funny, scary, moving and incredibly addictive, Stranger Things is a beautiful love letter to the 1980s, brimming with innumerable tributes and nods to the pop culture kings of the period, all creating a sense of joy and wonder that brings back to the emotions I felt in my childhood.
I could write another thousand words talking about the sheer wealth of homage’s to 80s pop culture that the series has hidden within its 8 episodes, but to do so would make this review absurdly long. Plus, it would spoil the fun of watching it and spotting all the references yourself.
Get yourself onto Netflix and just immerse yourself in what is easily one of the best television shows of the year and easily the best thing that I have watched this year so far.
[rating=5] | Graeme Robertson
Drama, Horror, Mystery | USA, 2016 | 12 |Netflix UK | TV Series | Creators. Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer | Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard , Matthew Modine | Watch: Stranger Things