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erReaders, I beg you to look at two parts of this site that you may have missed -http://klausatgunpoint.weebly.com/100-sci-fi-classics. html klausatgunpoint.weebly.com/100-sci-fi-classics-2.html
They are the results of a project I undertook to watch every movie on a set of DVDs I got for Christmas one year. These were, for the most part terrible, terrible movies, several of which had been MST3Ked over the years, and some of which qualify in the race for Worst Movie Ever. That said, I suffered through them and I learned something: there are always nuggets of good.
If you listened to my 52 Episodes to Science Fiction Film Literacy piece on Robot Monster, you'll know that in the B-movies of the 1950s and 60s, producers had to call their shots. They might choose to put whatever money they had into a couple of good effects, or a costume, or paying a real composer to create their score, or getting one real, amazing actor. That was the methodology, and it's usually those elements that the Creature Features-era fans (myself included) held so dear, and the reason so many of us would defend films that are otherwise indefensible.
Watching the Netflix Original Stranger Things, I have determined that this is the end product of the breeding program of those films.
The story of Stranger Things could easily have come from one of the scripts for those terrible flicks. It's your basic "Government is trying to make a new killing machine, small town is accidentally in the way" stories, but the writing is incredibly smart. The story unfolds at an even pace, the small jumps that need to happen to make an individual episode seem important in the context of a longer story work perfectly, and the art direction, set design, costuming, and effects work are all really strong. All the elements that often hampered films like Horror High or The Crater Lake Monster, but it's managed to synthesize all of those elements. If those filmmakers had been given access to today's effects, and especially the budget that this obviously had, this may well have been what they came up with.
Many of the negative reviews I've read from folks have claimed that the only reason so many people like me like Stranger Things is the nostalgia factor. Yes, I was around and watching tons of VHS tapes of films that would have influenced creators The Duffy Brothers in the 1980s (I would be a little younger than the kids in Stranger Things in 1983) but at the same time, this isn't a nostalgia piece. It may explain the unbridled love of many many folks seems to have for it, but it's not all. This story works no matter what era you put it in (so long as it's after the Cold War...) and the 1983 wrapper is strong (though, apparently, somewhat flexible as there are a few out-of-time music choices) and gives it a sense of dislocation. In 1983, it was easy to make a movie that was set in 1983; in 2016, it's hard to make a movie set in 1983. They do it beautifully, and create a work that is not so much about being a 1980s work, but a work that utilizes the 1980s sensibilities perfectly within the production environment of today.
So many folks, including the writers/directors, I believe, say this is the end result of the 1980s works of John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King. Disagree. This series is the grandchild of directors like Don Dohler, the product of ingesting films like The Day Time Ended, Brain Twisters, and Bloodtide, only done with the resources that could have made those films great. Yes, there are marks of Carpenter and Spielberg all over the thing, and Stephen King is specifically called out in the series, but Stranger Things isn't an homage to them. Watch the somewhat under-rated Super-8 to see what an homage to Spielberg and the works of King looks like. Remember that the films of a lot of 1980s directors we consider great were influenced by B-Movies like Robot Monster, or any number of films that played as the second half of a double-feature. Carpenter, Landis, Dante, Spielberg, and so many others took those concepts and polished them, putting out their own version of those stories, but with then-modern sensibilities. Halloween owes much more to William Castle and Roger Corman than Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Powell. If you want to see what happens when you understand what the VHS-era of filmmaking meant, and the lasting positive influence, watch Stranger Things.
Klaus at Gunpoint
A Film Journal dedicated to all film.A segment of Office Supply Publishing.