In the 1980s, Hollywood witnessed a growth in a genre of films that is somewhere between horror and science fiction, films that went on to become cult hits. Back in the day, a film that included a demonic possession or eerie presence of the dead were mostly classified under the horror genre. Psychological thrillers categorised under horror happened much later, minus a few exceptions like Vertigo or Psycho. But 1984 saw movies such as Friday The 13th, Children of the Corn, Firestarter, The Terminator, A Nightmare in Elm Street, Body Double, Gremlins, and Ghostbusters and the genre became a favourite among those who craved a mix of everything and more. Directors like James Cameron, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, David Lynch, and Steven Spielberg made use of the changing times, where teen romances with horror made a good watch.
Bearing this in mind, Stranger Things season two pretty much continues with their tribute to the 80s. To the fans of the show, the wait has been long but duly paid off. Albeit just nine episodes, the makers of the show released it on a Friday just so fans could binge-watch it during the weekend.
The setting, the clothes, the hair (because the 80s really were obsessed with bouffant hairstyles, mullets and lots and lots of hairspray), the language, and the heart all set in the right place, the show’s first episode of the second season opened quite… strangely. *Spoilers ahead.
A bunch of deviants in outlandish clothes and funky hairdos are trying to escape from the police. A car chase begins with the police bringing in more back-up to catch their trailer. Meanwhile, inside the trailer, Kali (Linnea Berthelsen) is the ring leader who instructs the driver when to take the turns. There comes a moment when the trailer goes into a tunnel with police almost catching up with them.
“Boom,” she whispers, and the tunnel starts to collapse behind them. The police car crashes with one officer screaming at the other who stopped the car. “What is wrong with you?” he yells, pointing at the same spot that collapsed just seconds ago. No destruction, not even a crack.
Cut to Kali inside the trailer, she wipes the blood off her nose. Something Eleven used to do after using her powers.
Apart from the bizarre intro, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the titular character, survives, we learn. Being secretly fostered by Chief Jim Hopper, she everyday tries to communicate with the ‘party’ comprising Mike, Dustin, and Lucas. Particularly Mike, considering the two were very close and even had a budding romance set in the last season.
The new season is admittedly darker, heavier on the emotional side with the introduction of characters from Eleven’s past. There’s also a new girl in town, ‘Mad’ Max who eventually joins the ‘party’.
With Eleven being the crowd favourite, watching Max furiously being in and out of the party leaves you almost apprehensive. Feisty and a wild child, who silently suffers taunts from her abusive step brother, Max is just as badass as her other female counterpart. She does have her emotional side but she stores that for later, eventually fitting in the group as though she were a part of it for years. If anything, one grows to love her character, just like how the group did apart from Lucas of course.
And other characters like the investigative journalist who wants to expose what’s happening at Hawkins and Joyce Byer’s new nerdy boyfriend Bob are brilliant additions to the show, equally important for carrying much of the story forward.
Season 1’s ending showcased that Will Byers wasn’t exactly quite free from the Upside Down. Just when audience thought the world was destroyed with Eleven disappearing, things would be alright. However, Will still suffers from shocks and PTSD from what he endured in the dark, dark world. The scientist running Hawkins’ lab is more sympathetic and tries to get to the bottom of this, unlike his predecessor Dr Brenner.
Initially looking wide-eyed and freezing in front of what appears to be a vision of the Demagorgon, Will’s condition worsens. He begins to convulse in fear and eventually becomes a “spy” between the real world and the Upside Down. The possession of his body starts appearing more like a nightmare coming true, eerily reminiscent of the exorcism scene in The Exorcist. The sweetest boy from the group, usually the physically weak one, who endured a whole other level of trauma in the first season doesn’t seem to get a break in this season either.
To Will, although he and his friends dress up as the Ghostbusters (a popular film back then), everyday is Halloween for him with people referring him as the ‘Zombie Boy’, the boy who came back from the dead. His true story is something even Max doesn’t believe until she meets the demodogs herself.
The season this time were underwhelming in parts, particularly when they chose to devote enough time to focus on Eleven and her reunion with her mother and discovering her sister Eight aka Kali. But brief introductions later, the makers chose not to dwell on how their background. Kali is ring leader of a group of outcasts but we never learn how she met the other outcasts and formed a gang of her own. We never learn if she genuinely liked Eleven or just wanted to use her for her gains.
But while the characterisation on Eleven’s story faltered, the other characters grew better and better.
Joyce, who perpetually sports the worried look since last season, decided she has had enough. Even if it causes Will a bit of pain, she does not stop at trying to get him back to normal. She’s done crying and there’s a tinge of anger we see in her. An anger that it isn’t fair that Will is never cut some slack. But also perseverance, replacing the desperation from last season. Even her son, Jonathan, is unable to watch his younger brother tortured, but not Joyce.
Another character who gets better and more profound would have to be Steve. After getting his heartbroken when Nancy drunkenly tells him that their relationship is bullsh*t, Steve instead of brooding or trying to teach her a lesson, something typical of men on-screen, he gives her enough space. Upon meeting her later, he admits that he understands and doesn’t make things ugly. And while he’s nursing a break-up, he becomes an unofficial member of the party when he helps the boys (and girl) in their task to take the demodogs down. The coolest boy in school gets along better with the nerds. Who would have thunk?
The show releasing days before the Halloween weekend couldn’t be more timely, with everything in store for the festival enthusiasts. The timeline in the show, too, begins with pre-Halloween and ends with Christmas, just like the last season. Several scenes were an ode to the 80s, too. Like when Eleven, bored with being on house arrest, dresses up as a ghost by putting on a bed sheet so that no one would know it was her, just like what Eliot does to ET in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. Or when Eleven, at the end, closes the gate using all her powers, almost mirroring a scene from the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Firestarter. And be sure to think of Indiana Jones whenever the characters dug deep inside the Upside Down.
Oh also, Barb is still dead and the fact that she’s never coming back is a Halloween nightmare in itself.