Stranger Things: The Upside Down – Aliens and It (Review)

Jonathan, Joyce and Nancy

What a season finale.  Stranger Things threw every horror/sci fi reference possible into their last episode. “The Upside Down” had shades of Aliens, It,  Silent Hill,  Nightmare on Elm Street, and even Christine.  (And the hospital bed scene with Will could be a nod to Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz, which throws fantasy into the mix.)

Will has a tentacle down his throat, like Newt in Aliens. Lucas shoots the monster with a wrist rocket, a’la Beverly Marsh in Stephen King’s It. The upside down is Silent Hill sans the fog, in Stranger Things the world is dark but has the falling ash from the film.

Just like the protagonists in King’s Christine, despite Jonathan and Nancy battling the monster, with a little help form Steve (redemption with a nail studded baseball bat) and going through so much together, they do not end up as a couple. Nancy gets back with rich kid Steve. Very disappointing.

By the end of the episode, Will is back, but he is a bit different. Something has hitched a ride back with the boy.  (There is another Silent Hill moment where the bathroom suddenly changes.  The video game has  numerous instances of normal restrooms and bathrooms suddenly turning all, well, Silent Hill-ish.) There is a specked slug and along with the hopeful note of  El possibly surviving there is a stomach clenching one where Will coughs up that bit of nasty from his own throat.

The finale of Stranger Things was a brilliant action fest.  Everyone was busily trying to defeat the monster, save El, retrieve El, or find Will.  Mike and Eleven share a first kiss and naughty Dr. Brenner (“Bad Poppa”) gets his face bitten off by the monster.

Eleven shows how powerful she really is by killing a slew of villainous government employees in one fell swoop.

We learn how Hopper’s daughter died, just one of many tissue box moments, and the police chief shows a deeper shade of brave when he stands up to Brenner’s associates.  Although it looks like he made some sort of deal as they come back for the chief later.

Granted, the scientist believed that both Hopper and Joyce would die in the upside down. Or at the very least never return, which amounts to the same thing.

The battle between Nancy, Jonathan, and eventually Steve, and the creature  was brilliant. It could have been scripted by Stephen King (who will, according to a number of sites, be writing the new season) and it was a show stopper.

(Sidenote: It was all “Nightmare on Elm Street” this bit.  Replicating, to a huge degree, Nancy’s battle with Freddy Krueger.)

Steve turns out to be a good guy after all. Sadly, his two douche-y friends are not gobbled up by the monster.

Eleven destroys the upside down monster and disappears.  This is a major downer except that Hopper seems to have some sort of inside info going. Why else would he drop off Eggos for the girl in a box, in the woods?

Stranger Things was a brilliant series.  It blew up on social media and has generated enough articles already to guarantee instant classic status.  Netflix have already greenlit a second season and the young actors have earned star status for their work in the show.

Brit actress Millie Bobby Brown is beyond adorable and the kid can act her little cotton socks off. The rest the youngsters are no slouches in the acting department either.

It has been a great ride with the protagonists, and the villainous Dr. Brenner, and despite the urge to binge the entire season, doing one episode a week worked out very well in the end.

As far as the Internet and television are concerned, the series has been over for some time. The “kids from Stranger Things” were on Jimmy Fallon’s tonight show and did a skit, an interview and a silly string game.  It looks like Dustin (Matarazzo) may be enjoying his fame a tad too much.

We leave you with the “Barb Returns” segment from Jimmy Fallon while we wait impatiently for season two of Stranger Things.

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Stranger Things: The Bathtub – Spielberg and Carpenter (Recap/Review)

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Stranger Things “The Bathtub” has Lucas as Paul Revere “The bad men are coming,” and starts off with a full on attack of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter. (Before going into the episode, does anyone else see that scrap yard and not think of Stephen King’s Uncle Otto’s Truck?)

The episode begins with Eleven and Mike sharing a moment and almost kissing.  Dustin arrives and interrupts this tender moment with news of Lucas’ incoherent transmission.  Lucas is excitedly telling his friends that all the bad men are coming.

Cue a Spielberg “E.T” moment where the kids escape on their bicycles. In this instance, however, the bikes do not fly, an oncoming van does. All the kids meet up and the van attempts to head them off.  El flips the thing right over the bicycles and the trio escape from Brenner and his heavily armed men.

You have to hand it to Lucas. He only really accepts Eleven after she saves their bacon by blocking their pursuers with the van.  Lucas also makes up with Mike. He shows his friends what he found on the other side of that fence as  Brenner’s helicopters start sweeping the area for El.

The kids hide out in the scrap yard school bus as the choppers fly overhead.

Joyce and Hopper arrive at the police station and she is furious to find Jonathan in handcuffs.  The chief is shown the articles in Jonathan’s trunk and the two have a talk.  Mike’s house is invaded by the Brenner “men in black” and they begin to question his mother and father about Eleven.

They tell his worried parents that he is in danger.  Brenner asks that they trust him.

Joyce tells Jonathan off for trying to fix things on his own. The mouth-breater; Troy (Peyton Wich) is brought into the police station by his irate and overbearing mother. He describes Eleven to Chief Hopper and he realizes that she is hanging out with the boys. 

Steve (Joe Keeryhas a falling out with his two jerk friends.  (Sidenote: The makeup on Harding’s face is brilliant.  The blood looks real and his entire face looks sore.)

Backed by  music that is evocative of an entire catalogue of ’80s horror films (Like The  Night of the Comet, for instance), Hopper enlists the help of Nancy to track Mike down and help the kids to escape Brenner and his men.

(Speaking of music, the use of  a John  Carpenter type score, during the school bus scene   – i.e.  the two bass notes used in “The Thing” – sets up Hopper’s almost comic rescue perfectly.)

The kids meet up with Nancy, Jonathan and Joyce. Mike explains the flea and the acrobat. Hopper recognizes the description of the lab and Eleven agrees to find Will and Barb. She cannot.

El suggests they  build a makeshift isolation chamber and Dustin  gets some guidance from Mr. Clarke.

(Amusingly, Clarke is watching “The Thing” with his girlfriend, or wife, when Dustin calls about building the sensory deprivation tank, “for fun.”)

The group make their “tank” after taking the town’s de-icing salt supply and Joyce’s wading pool.  Eleven is given a set of goggles covered with duct tape to help her in the tank.

Mike and Nancy lie to each other about how they feel toward Jonathan and Eleven. During the entire process, Joyce is the quintessential mother, soothing El before the experiment. Later, when Eleven finds Barb dead, Joyce calms the girl down.

After El finds the slime covered dead body of Barb,  she  then finds “Castle Byers” and Will. He does not have long left and the alien thing discovers the building, Eleven and Will before everything dissolves.

Heartbreakingly, when El finds Will, Joyce tells her to tell the boy she is coming for him. Will murmurs, “Hurry.”

Hopper starts to leave. He plans on heading to Castle Byers, it is in the woods behind the Byers’ house, and Joyce forces the chief to take her along. Nancy tells Jonathan that they have to get their monster gear from the station.

Nancy  tells Jonathan she wants to kill it.   As Hopper and Joyce enter the fenced off area the two older kids grab their stuff from the station.  The chief and Joyce are caught and Will is being hunted by the creature in the upside-down.

In this penultimate episode, everything has gone spectacularly wrong. The grownups have been caught and Will has been found by the alien predator.  It looks like it may be up to Jonathan and Nancy to save the day.

Stranger Things is a Netflix series available to watch all in one go. If you have been watching  the show one episode at a time, there is one left to finish up the season.   The series has proven wildly popular with audiences and has already been greenlit for a second season.

Kudos, once again, to Winona Ryder and Millie Bobby Brown for creating yet another tissue grabbing moment, or two.  Mad props to the entire cast are in order as well. The talented actors all bring this meta horror series to living breathing life.

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Stranger Things: The Flea and the Acrobat – Welcome to Stephen King Land (Review)

The flea and the acrobat explanation

Stranger Things “The Flea and the Acrobat” slipped fully into “Stephen King Land.” It was  a welcome move as this show has managed to pay homage to more “classic” films  and video games per square inch of footage than any other series on offer.  King has been referenced from the start.

Although there are glimpses of Silent Hill and   Firestarter (amongst others)  this episode gave a huge nod to Event Horizon.  (In that 1997 film, Sam Neill’s character explains traveling between worlds by folding a piece of paper in half and then punching a pen through it.  In episode six,  Mr. Clarke does the same demonstration but with a paper plate.)

Heading back to Stephen King Land again,  we only have to look at the main characters to see a mirroring of KIng’s worlds.  The main protagonists are children.  There are some adults  who get it, or get being kids, (like Clarke’s understanding of Dungeons & Dragons).  But ultimately we know that it will  be the youngsters who save the day.

Wynona Ryder’s character is a savvy mum who knows the mind of a child, probably the real reason she and the boy’s father do not get on, and while she “sees” things correctly she has only just now found a champion.

Chief Hopper, who obviously has cojones the size of Texas, has become a one man investigator and is Joyce Byers’ knight in shining armor.  Unlike her parasitic ex-husband Lonnie (Ross Partridge) who turns up for the funeral as a prelude to a payday. (We are not talking about a candy bar here.)

The older kids, Nancy and Jonathan; Will’s brother, are also “in” on the problem. Although it looks like Nancy could well turn out to be the creature’s  next happy meal at the end of this episode.

Things are not looking too good  for the younger members of the “Upside-down Club” either.  After a brilliant homage to the Stephen King film version of “The Body” (Stand by Me)  the quartet have a major falling out. Lucas attacks Mike when he realizes that El was messing with the compasses all along.

El flings Lucas off of Mike and it knocks the angry boy out. When he comes to, Lucas stomps off and Eleven goes missing.

In many ways the children in Stranger Things are ethereal twins to King’s   “Losers Club” in It. The gang is smaller, El has special powers and there is no  Pennywise the Clown. There are  no “floating” moments here. But there are other worlds and they are dark, scary and  deadly. This small group of kids will be the ones to save Will.

Hopper, who discovers the entrance to the upside-down world, is spared and returned to his home by the lake. His house has been bugged, as has the school and, presumably, the Byers home.  Big brother is doing more than watching, he is listening in.  Brenner knows that the kids are close to figuring this mystery out.

What his next move will be is uncertain, but thus far manufacturing a fake child’s body to cover up a disappearance has not presented a problem for the good doctor. The scientists, aka  the government, have also moved Barb’s car to make it look like she ran away from home.

The parallels between Stranger Things and Stephen King abound. The physical discomfort and nose bleeds of El when she uses her “powers” is very much like Charley’s father’s reaction to “pushing” in Firestarter. Nancy being a better shot than Jonathan is similar to Beverly’s ability with the slingshot in “It.”

Mainly though it is the kids. A number  of KIng’s tales deal with the children  as protagonists. “It,” “The Shining,” “Firestarter” and “The Body” to name but a few.  This series with a group of kids who are using Dungeons & Dragons as a way to face the monster  is as close to a King story as one can get.

This last episode brings a new level of disturbing to the series. Children, it seems, are expendable and easily gotten rid of; a fake body, a moved car.  Adults, as we saw earlier with the cook/eatery owner, are as well but in a different way.

Hopper, when he wakes up in his trailer is surrounded by empty pill containers and beer bottles. Brenner and his crew know enough about the local lawman that they have set him up. It will not be surprising at all to see the chief “knocked off” via an overdose later on.

By the end of “The Flea and the Acrobat” we see that Hopper and Joyce have become allies.  Mr. Clarke is a pretty cool teacher, Nancy has discovered a way into upside-down world and Lonnie has been chased away by Will’s mother.  It is also revealed that Brenner and his team are listening in to the entire town.

Stranger Things is streaming  on Netflix and fans are welcome to watch the entire series in one sitting.  For those who do not want this brilliant show to end too soon, it can be watched one episode at at time.

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Stranger Things: The Body – Hopper Digs (Review)

Jonathan and Nancy in The Body

Stranger Things “The Body” aka Chapter Four, follows the aftermath of finding Will’s body in the quarry.  Hopper tells Joyce and she explains that she talked to her son two hours ago.  Joyce explains about the thing in the wall (with no face) and both Hopper and Jonathan believe she has “lost it.” Later Hopper digs deeper and learns that Joyce is not crazy after all.

Michael is snappy with El as she tunes the short wave radio.  He tells her off. Then El “finds” Will on the radio, he is singing The Clash song. Once again, as Eleven concentrates her powers, her nose bleeds.

Joyce grabs an axe from the shed and in the morning thinks she can hear Will’s voice. Michael stays home from school and he contacts Lucas.  Later Dustin, Lucas and Mike meet at his house and he tells them about El’s contacting Will  on the radio.

Joyce and Jonathan go to see Will’s body. Hopper learns that Gary, the coroner for Hawkins, was sent home and that the state are doing the autopsy. As the body is uncovered, Jonathan lurches out of the viewing room.

Will’s mother comes rushing out and tells the temporary coroner that whatever that is under the sheet, it is not her son.

At the school, Nancy and Steve talk about the faceless “man”  that may have taken Barb.  Steve wants her to drop the whole thing.  Nancy is furious with her new boyfriend and she storms off.

Jonathan confronts his mother on the street and shouts at her. He tells her he plans to bury Will.  Joyce tells Jonathan that Will is not at the morgue and she will find him and bring him home.

The boys watch El try to find Will on the radio. Lucas, as usual, is “Doubting Thomas” and Mike believes that Will is alive. He also thinks that Eleven is channeling him somehow.  They decide to smuggle El into the school to use the new stronger ham radio.

Cue the lads playing dress up with El and turning her into a “normal” girl.  Michael says she looks “pretty” before changing it to “pretty good.”  El looks into the mirror and whisper’s “pretty…good.”

The deputies question Nancy about the party. They reveal that Barb’s car is now missing. By the end of the Q&A Nancy’s mother works out that her daughter and Steve had sex.  Hopper talks to Gary and learns more about when the troopers brought Will’s body in.  He also finds out which trooper  found the boy; O’Bannon (Ron Roggé).

The boys try to get El into the ham radio room when their teacher catches them. He asks them to attend the school memorial service for their friend. Afterward, he says, they can use the radio.  The boys explain that “Eleanor”  is Mike’s cousin from Sweden.

As they enter the gym every one stops and looks. Dustin whispers, “Abort” and attempts to leave.  At the Wheeler home, Nancy and her mother argue.  She storms upstairs and puts the torn picture of Barb back together. The faceless creature is on the edge of the photo.

At the lab, the volunteer who went into the wall is still not responding. (Note: This was mentioned in the previous review.) Finally the volunteer explorer, ironically named Shepard, says that there is something in there with him. The line goes dead and  the cable attached to the man begins to whip back and forth as they reel him back in. Suddenly the line goes slack. The cable is then pulled back into the room and  the man is gone.

At the memorial for Will, Mike’s two “mouth breather” bullies laugh and giggle during the ceremony. Mike confronts Troy who calls Will a fairy. Mike pushes the bigger boy down. Troy gets to his feet, intent on hurting Mike, and El forces the bully to wet his trousers.

The “mouth breather” is humiliated.

Will looks at El who does a thumb flick of her nose a’la  “Bruce Lee.”

Jonathan is looking at coffins when Nancy shows up with the repaired picture. They both describe the thing she saw at Steve’s place together.

Hopper questions O’Bannon about finding Will’s body. The chief  catches the state trooper out in a lie and things turn physical. Hopper learns that the other cop was told not to let anyone get too close to the body.

Joyce tries to “summon” Will as the kids use the ham radio to channel him. El has another flashback to the lab. As Joyce makes contact with Will, El channels the missing boy.

Joyce rips away the wallpaper and can see Will in the wall.  Something is coming and the children at the school can hear both Will and the approaching thing.  Joyce tells Will to run and she fearlessly attacks the wall with the axe.

The wall seals back up as the ham radio catches fire at the school. El has exhausted herself and the boys have to wheel her out of the building. Joyce hacks a hole in the side of her house.

Jonathan and Nancy bond in the developing room and find a better rendering of the faceless “man.”  Hopper goes to the morgue and after knocking out the state trooper left behind, examines Will’s body.

Joyce was right all along, the corpse is made of plastic or latex and stuffed with cotton wool. It is not Will.

Lonnie Byers (Ross Partridge) comes to see his ex-wife and Hopper starts cutting an hole in the fence surrounding the research facility. 

This episode of Stranger Things has a Poltergeist feel to it.  But  leaving aside all clever homages and nod and winks to other works in the genre, the plot is definitely about parallel worlds. The E.T. element is still there, that bike scene with the “alien” El on the back was a clear allusion to the Spielberg classic.

Stranger Things is easily the best drama/horror show on at the moment.  It is tempting to race through and watch the entire series in one long sitting but why rush through something so good?   Brilliant telly and excellent performances all around.

The scene between Joyce and Will, behind the wall, was a tissue grabber.

Netflix is offering the entire season right now. Head over and check this one out.

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Stranger Things Chapter Three: Holly Jolly – Silent Hill-ish (Review)

Finding Will...in Stranger Things

Each episode of Stranger Things appears give a sly nod and wink to existing horror films and/or video games. In this instance “Chapter Three: Holly Jolly” thrusts the viewer into a Silent Hill-ish environment at the very start of the episode. It is also evocative of Stephen King’s  “From a Buick Eight,” not the overall plot but the subplot or plot device  of an alternative world. Something  that King’s book and this  series, also have in common with Silent Hill.

(Fans of the game Silent Hill will recall that the alternative world was in James’ head, for all intents and purposes, but that is still  a parallel or alternate setting nonetheless)

It would not be surprising to find that Will has been taken into a parallel world. Take away the falling ash, a’la Silent Hill the 2006  film and the theme is of another dimension. A place where Will is hiding from the faceless creature who chased the boy to his home and took Barb.

(Speaking of nods and winks in relation to Stephen King: Look at  the scene where the explorer goes into the alien looking entrance with a cable attached to his suit.  Just as the brave chap discovers some growly thing is in there with him,  the cable begins to whip back and forth and whirl about in circles.  Dr. Brenner orders the man reeled in and the cable suddenly goes limp.  At the end of the cable, instead of the explorer there is a bloody bit of suit. Who did not think of  Stephen King’s “The Mist?”)

It is all too tempting to watch Stranger Things just to find out how many loving homages the Duffer Brothers have included.  However, the storyline itself is the main attraction here. In this installment, for example, more is learned about Eleven.

We find out  that the girl’s powers are enormous. She kills  the two technicians who take her to the room, after refusing to kill a cat.  She also suffers nose bleeds, or leaks blood from her ears, when she uses her power.

*Sidenote* The funniest bit in the series thus far was Dustin holding the Millennium Falcon model up and releasing it so Eleven could  make it fly.  The thing drops to the floor twice as the girl looks blankly at Dustin. Later, when she is on her own, the model is floating in the air while she fiddles with the handheld radio. Very funny indeed.

Joyce Byers learns that she can talk to Will via the lights.  Her son Jonathan believes that she is having a breakdown. She puts up Christmas lights and uses them to communicate with her missing son.

Eleven explores MIke’s house while he is at school. (Another funny bit has Mike frustratedly bellowing at his mother when she tells him to hurry up, again.)  This is used to tell us more about Eleven.  Some things are not clear, such as her emotional reaction to the music box and the pictures on Nancy’s wall. Her interactions with things in the house peel back more layers.

MIke’s mother, along with his little sister Holly,  bring Joyce a casserole. The little girl goes into Will’s room and the thing in the wall reaches for her.  Joyce realizes that Holly actually saw the creature in the wall as well.  She sends the two away.

Steve and his friends rip up Jonathan’s pictures of the party  and break his camera.  Nancy is not impressed and she starts to help Byers pick up the torn photos. Later, when she expresses  concern for  her missing friend, Steve turns out to be a bit of a douche.

Eleven re-lives the cat episode, triggered by the cat she sees behind Mike’s house.  We learn that the child was monitored and observed. She was put through trials and forced to use her powers.  (Once again, a little reminiscent of another King book and protagonist;  “Firestarter” and Charlie McGee.)

Nancy goes to Steve’s house and finds Barb’s car. She goes into the woods behind his pool  and sees the faceless creature that took Will and her friend.  Joyce speaks to Will using the Christmas Lights. Eleven takes the boys to Will’s house and as the boys argue, the police and an ambulance zoom past.

Will tells his mother that he is “right here” and then tells Joyce to “run.” The faceless thing claws its way out of the wall and chases Joyce into the night.  The three boys and Eleven follow the police to the local quarry.

They watch in horror as Will’s body is taken from the water. Mike is furious with Eleven and accuses her of lying about his missing friend.

Stranger Things is clearly about parallel worlds or universes.  The clues are all there. Take for example the name of Dr. Brenner’s testing facility  and the town it is located in – Hawkins. This is very close to “Hawking” as in Professor Stephen Hawking, who touts the theory that black holes may lead to parallel universes.

Just a thought…

Kudos to Winona Ryder and Millie Bobby Brown. When the Emmys roll around for this year, both these performers should be getting gongs for their performance.   Ryder and Brown managed to evoke laughter and tears in Chapter Three alone.

There are five episodes left of this Netflix series and many viewers have already binged the entire season. For those who cannot bear for this to be over just yet, join us as we watch one episode at a time.

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