What to Watch after Stranger Things
By now, you’ve probably exhausted the eight exquisite episodes of Stranger Things. Hungry for more? Here are some films and TV shows that might sate your appetite until series two comes along
You’ve probably already worked out many of the films that have directly influenced the Duffer Brothers when they were creating Stranger Things – some are impossible to miss, as demonstrated by Ulysse Thevenon’s killer video dissecting Stranger Things' 70s and 80s influences (below). As the video indicates, watching the likes of ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Poltergeist will definitely give you déjà vu. You'll also get a similar familiar feeling from Firestarter, The Explorers, The Goonies, Stand by Me, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing and Alien.
If you're looking to add more films to your post-Stranger Things watch list, here are some that aren’t being referenced directly, but certainly swim in the same gene pool.
Influences on Stranger Things: Stephen King making us shit our pants
The stuff that children’s nightmares are made of, there are definite shades of this 1990 mini-series based on Stephen King’s novel in the Duffer Brothers' show. The horrifying story begins with a child being attacked by a creature from another dimension (just like Stranger Things) and a bunch of middle-school geeks decide to take on the beast (just like Stranger Things). Their plan for killing it also involves a sling shot. It trumps Stranger Things with its monster, however. The 'demogorgon' without a face is scary and all, but can’t reach the pants-pooping terror of Tim Curry’s toothy clown Pennywise.
A military experiment opens up another dimension in a small town. Sound familiar?
Stephen King’s horror story, expertly brought to the screen by Frank Darabont (his third King adaptation after The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) ups the ante on Stranger Things, with not one monster but a whole plethora of malevolent beasties being unleashed. Another connection is that Stranger Things and The Mist (as well as Poltergeist, as pointed out in Thevenon’s video above) share very tense scenes in which characters go exploring in these dark worlds with a rope connected to their waist, only for the tether to be pulled to safety sans body and covered in gore.
Influences on Stranger Things: weird kids against the world
While Stranger Things pays loving homage to the sci-fi thrillers of the 70s and 80s, Monster Squad’s tribute to the Universal classics of Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman is far less reverential – “Wolfman's got nards!” The premise is pretty much the same, though.
The titular gang is a group of seventh-grade horror fanatics, who would have most certainly welcomed Stranger Things' Will, Mike, Lucas and Dustin into the fold if they all went to the same school. When they discover that Dracula et al are planning to unleash darkness upon the world, they take it upon their scrawny shoulders to stop him. The witty script, co-written by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Nice Guys), has earned this film a certain cult status over the years.
Another great movie about kids taking on monsters, this superior stop-motion animation follows Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a morbid 11-year-old boy who loves to watch gory zombie movies with his grandmother. Before you start questioning the grandparental guidance here you should know granny is a ghost. Yes, like young Haley Joel Osment, Norman can see dead people. Where ParaNorman really chimes with Stranger Things, however, is in its relationship between Norman and his older sister, Courtney (Anna Kendrick). Like Mike and Nancy Wheeler in Stranger Things, both realise during their adventure that their sibling is pretty badass.
Stranger Things is set in the fictional Hawkins, Indiana, and we assume Eerie – “the center of weirdness for the entire universe” – is a neighbouring town. There's a clear Lynchian suspicion of suburbia in this sharp little kids' TV show from the early 90s. We follow Marshall, who’s moved from the crime and trash-filled streets of New Jersey to the picket fence-lines streets of Eerie, Indiana – but he quickly realises his new home is not as boring as it seems. The town’s dogs are plotting to overthrow the humans, Elvis lives on Marshall’s paper delivery route and Big Foot eats out of his trash.
Joe Dante, who, like Lynch, is interested in suburban dread (see The Howling, Gremlins, The ‘Burbs), directed several of the best episodes. Like everything that Dante has ever been involved in, Eerie, Indiana looks even better with age.
Influences on Stranger Things: Kids with very special abilities
This underrated spy thriller-cum-family melodrama-cum-delirious horror from Brian De Palma is the perfect film to watch if the storyline belonging to Eleven, Stranger Things' pint-sized telekinetic heroine, is what gripped you most in the show. The film concerns two talented telekinetic teens, Robin (Andrew Stevens) and Gillian (Amy Irving), who are intended to be used as weapons by a secret intelligence branch of the US government, headed up by an evil federal agent (John Cassavetes). Gillian escapes and teams up with Robin's superspy dad (winningly played by Kirk Douglas); Robin, meanwhile, turns batshit insane with power.
We have to think that Matthew Modine must have had Cassavetes’s chilling turn in mind while playing Stranger Things’ nefarious bad guy. And Stranger Things’ final standoff between Eleven and the demogorgon owes more than a little debt to The Fury's explosive – in every sense – finale.
Another case of a very special child being pursued by some shady government agents, with Midnight Special throwing a religious cult in for good measure.
Writer-director Jeff Nichols evidently grew up watching the same films as the Duffer Brothers: both sets of filmmakers clearly had Steven Spielberg very much in mind when creating their respective work. They realise the genius of Spielberg is that he was able to blend the magical with the quotidian – ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are very effective sci-fi thrillers, but they’re equally compelling as family dramas. The same is true of Midnight Special, which has one of the most compelling father-son relationships put on screen, and Stranger Things, where the scenes of friendship are as memorable as the horror.
Influences on Stranger Things: Horned up Teens against the world
If the pent-up sexual tension between Stranger Things' older teen storyline was more your bag, then you’ll get a kick out of last year’s horror hit It Follows. The teens here are also being picked off one by one by a demon, but in this case it doesn’t move through the woods at night or slip through walls from another dimension; it’s out in the open and in broad daylight, relentlessly following its latest target very, very slowly.
Both Stranger Things and It Follows are hugely influenced by A Nightmare on Elm Street, and this can be most clearly seen in their respective showdowns, where both sets of kids scrap together a Scooby-Doo-style plan to lure the supernatural being into a trap (It Follows involves an abandond swimming pool and some electrical appliances; Stranger Things a bear trap and some petrol) and kill it... although not quite.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
As we mentioned, Stranger Things’ Nancy-Jonathan-Steve strand has echoes of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but its inventive second sequel, subtitled Dream Warriors, is perhaps the better fit with the Duffer Brothers' series.
First of all, the teens in Dream Warriors, all patients at a psychiatric hospital, band together to take on their tormentor, Freddy, just as Stranger Things’ gangs come together in the final episodes. Second, when the kids enter Freddy’s dimension (aka their dreams) they discover they each have super powers, not unlike Eleven. And while Wes Craven’s original film is a definite horror, Dream Warriors has more of the comic book-style pulpiness that makes Stranger Things so bingeable.
Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix.
If there's anything we've missed from this post-Stranger Things watch-list? Let us know on Twitter at @SkinnyFilm or in the comments below.