Stranger Things, a spooky new eight-part series that premieres on Netflix on 15 July, is described as a “love letter” to ’80s supernatural classics. And not just one genre of ’80s supernatural classic. As co-creator Matt Duffer explains: “We follow three different generations: kids, teens and adults. We like to think of each of these generations as existing in a different ’80s universe. The adults are in a Spielberg film; the teens are in an ’80s horror film like Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street; and the kids are in a Stephen King novel, like Stand by Me or It: nerdy outsiders from a small town who have to band together to face this terrifying horror.”
So what’s it all about? Here’s our spoiler free preview of Stranger Things:
1 Stranger Things is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983, where a young boy vanishes into thin air. As friends, family and local police search for answers, they are drawn into an extraordinary mystery involving top secret government experiments, terrifying supernatural forces and one very strange little girl called Eleven.
2 Stranger Things stars Winona Ryder (Joyce Byers), David Harbour (Chief Hopper), Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), Natalia Dyer (Nancy Wheeler), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers), Millie Brown (Eleven), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), Cara Buono (Karen Wheeler) and Matthew Modine (Dr Brenner).
3 Dungeons & Dragons is thematic to the show, not just as a way the boys occupy themselves, but also in giving the audience a sense of nostalgia and a metaphor the kids’ search for Will. “For our kids, it’s like a real life Dungeons & Dragons adventure,” says co-creator Matt Duffer. “There is a gate to this evil dungeon – and it’s in this dungeon where their friend is trapped. Only unlike the game, the stakes are very real – potentially deadly.”
“In order to be as authentic to the game and honour the fans of the game, we really did a lot of research on D&D game playing,” says Lynda Reiss, propmaster for Stranger Things. “We visited a group that meets present day to play the game and even found some actual campaign books to replicate for the show, with drawings from a guy who was a kid in the ’80s and played the game. You’ll see some of his drawings in the campaign books and on Mike Wheeler’s bedroom wall.”
4 Executive producer and director of a number of episodes of the show is Shawn Levy, who helmed the films Night At The Museum and the excellent Real Steel. He was bowled over by the vision of co-creators, the Duffer brothers Matt and Ross, who also direct some episodes. The brothers “came out of nowhere,” according to Levy. “I got sent a lookbook that was kind of a combination of words and imagery that evoked the world of the show in their hearts and minds and I was so struck by how vivid it was.” He was sold on the concept saying, “it was the kind of thing I love, but somehow felt I hadn’t seen in a long time.” Levy was surprised how inspired he was directing the show. “I have never directed anything quite like this, and as a result, I’m as proud of these episodes as I am of any movies I’ve directed.”
5 Hovering quietly in the small town of Hawkins is the government facility, Hawkins Laboratory. According to Levy, “No one is quite clear on what they do there.” The townspeople assume it has something to do with the Cold War – being the early 80s. “It’s revealed that the testing there is not overall above board, nor is it within the parameters of what is known or considered acceptable or possible,” says Levy.
6 Overseeing the testing is Dr. Brenner, played by Matthew Modine who has good intentions but whose actions don’t reflect that. His experiments involve a strange girl known only as Eleven. “One of my favourite aspects of the show is the relationship between Dr Brenner and Eleven,” says Levy. “On one hand, you could view him as her jailor, but you also could see him as he views himself – as the only person who understands Eleven. The person who has raised her and possibly loves her.”
7 Playing one of the Dungeons & Dragons playing boys is Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin) who in real life does not yet have front teeth owing to a condition called Cleidocranial dysplasia, so the Duffers incorporated this into the character’s backstory.
8 Although set in Indiana, the show was filmed in studios in Atlanta and various nearby small town in Georgia. “Atlanta was actually quite the perfect location to play Hawkins because of its similar typography as well as the treasure troves of set décor we discovered at estate sales,” says production designer Chris Trujillo. “We’d freak people out! We’d find these amazing homes that look like time capsules from the late ’70s and early ’80s and go in and go in and basically buy everything, including what was in the junk drawers.”
9 Some of the kids in the cast were fascinated by the ’80s decor. Millie Brown, who plays Eleven, says, “It’s a lot more fun to work in the ’80s than modern day! I saw a record player on one of the sets and asked my dad for one for Christmas and he got me one and I love it!”
10 Having Netflix as the home for Stranger Things was the perfect fit according to the Duffers. “Working with Netflix has been an amazing experiencing. They’ve been incredibly supportive of our vision from the very beginning, and they’ve placed so much trust in us. We also just love Netflix as a platform, because it allows people to watch the show at their own pace. This story is not necessarily intended to be watched over eight weeks. The hope is that people will get hooked and the crescendo will feel even more impactful when it’s watched over a relatively short period of time. We want the audience to feel like they’re watching an epic summer movie,” says Ross.