By now, if you’re anything like us, you will have binge-watched Netflix’s new supernatural drama Stranger Things, and will be sitting in a warm and fuzzy glow of nostalgia for the movies and shows that the Duffer Brothers lovingly homaged/pastiched/cribbed from.
So, what’s next? How is eight episodes of anything possibly enough to satiate that craving?
Well, here’s a list of ten films and TV shows that will allow you to stay in that glorious King/Spielberg/Carpenter haze for a little longer…
Obviously, Stephen King’s It is the next logical step. Admittedly, Tommy Lee Wallace’s miniseries may not be as brilliant as King’s doorstop novel, but it’s still fantastically creepy, and the first half, with the characters as small children, holds up very well indeed. And what about Tim Curry as Pennywise? He’s the granddaddy of scary clowns and he is etched into the walls of our nightmares.
We’d argue that It, with the Losers’ Club of young kids banding together to fight an evil that threatens to consume their small town completely, is probably the biggest influence on Stranger Things, along with that little Spielberg film…
ET: THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL
There was originally a long paragraph here explaining why ET is a great film and a clear influence on Stranger Things, but what’s the point? We all know this. We knew it from the moment those kids hopped on their bikes. And they’re being chased by government forces. And there’s a magical new arrival that needs to be kept secret…sorry, we’ll stop. Let’s all go and watch ET again.
Joe Dante’s brilliant series, created by Jose Rivera and Karl Schaefer, was cruelly cancelled after one season, leaving us with a small but perfectly formed work of wonder. It’s the story of Marshall Teller (Omri Katz), who moves to the titular small town and begins investigating all the weird things that happen there. That includes kids being kept forever young in Tupperware contains, orthodontic braces that allow/force the wearer to hear what dogs are thinking (the uprising is coming, btw), and a bizarre Masonic lodge called The Loyal Order Of Corn.
It’s scary, funny, brilliant, and it’s available on DVD and we urge you to revisit this 19-episode classic. See also: Round The Twist.
Another one season wonder, this is slightly more adult in tone than Eerie, Indiana but captures that same sense of small-town evil and mistrust. Trinity, South Carolina is a great place to live as long as you stay on the right side of the local Sheriff (Gary Cole), who happens to be the Devil himself. After a tragic event leaves young Caleb (Lucas Black) an orphan, Sheriff Lucas Buck and reporter Gail Emory (Paige Turco) enter into a battle for the boy’s soul, while his sister (Sarah Paulson) appears as a ghostly warning.
It can be a bit hit and miss, but there’s a brilliant sense of creeping evil and Cole is absolutely incredible in the lead. There’s someone at the door…
Looking for something a bit more…dimension-y? So good that Stephen King remade it, Lars Von Trier’s original Danish TV series The Kingdom (Riget) is a blackly comic horror set in a hospital that is built on the site of a terrible tragedy. The foundations are crumbling, and the spirits are reaching out…
It’s completely barking mad (all of the stuff with Udo Kier as a monstrous newborn baby is something else), but there’s a fantastic atmosphere that seeps through, and hypochondriac medium Mrs Drusse’s journeys to find the unquiet spirits are genuinely scary. The King remake does have its charms (Antibus, the opening music, Ed Begley Jr) but this is far superior.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS
Stranger Things’ lead teen is called Nancy, there’s a monster that pushes through walls like rubber…Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street is obviously an influence on the Duffers. However, we’d point you towards the brilliant third movie in the franchise, in which a group of teens must band together to defeat Freddy on his own turf. If the original is about the final girl standing up to evil, Dream Warriors is about the importance of knowing that you’re not alone. That, and exploring the fun the filmmakers can have with a world of tailored nightmares.
There’s even Will the Wizard Master, who lays out the rules, and tries to treat Freddy like he’s some kind of D&D villain. Although things don’t work out well for him…We would also point out that David Harbour’s Chief Hopper has a lot of John Saxon’s Sheriff Thompson about him.
And we’re back to King. Honestly, we could fill this list with Stephen King movies and miniseries, but this 1985 movie about a small town under siege from a werewolf feels like a big influence on Stranger Things. There’s the small community reconciling themselves to the idea that there’s something monstrous in their midst, and there’s Corey Haim’s young hero Marty Colslaw, who must confront the lycanthropic menace. It may not be the best King adaptation, but it’s one of the most underrated. Also, Everett McGill is great as the preacher with a secret…Damn, we want to rewatch this now.
Halloween may be an obvious point of reference with its small town setting, but John Carpenter’s 1984 sci-fi showed the world the legendary horror master’s heart. Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen are wonderful as the visitor from another world and the woman who is trying to get him across the country to his rendezvous point, while Charles Martin Smith is the government scientist increasingly uneasy with his country’s interest in their special guest. It’s recently been lovingly homaged in Jeff Nichols’ brilliant Midnight Special, but this is far superior: a sweet, tender love story with just enough Carpenter grit to keep the chase going. Also, his synth soundtrack is superb, and we all know how much Stranger Things loves John Carpenter music.
A second appearance for Joe Dante on this list, and it’s well deserved. The classic tale of a small town overrun by rampaging monsters, Gremlins gets the balance between horror, comedy, and adventure exactly right, somehow managing to keep its status as a film for children despite all the carnage. And, like Stranger Things, it’s riddled with Christmas lights. Ah…we’re in the same situation as we were with ET. What are we telling you about Gremlins for? Go and watch Gremlins again! But finally, let’s remember…
THE MONSTER SQUAD
Yes, The Monster Squad. A group of kids teaming up to fight monsters? We refuse to believe that Fred Dekker’s classic wasn’t lurking somewhere in the back of the Duffer brothers’ minds. In the 1987 classic, a group of horror loving youngsters are the only ones who can stop the classic movie bogeymen who arrive in the present day. Wolfman’s got nards, indeed.