Stranger Things – What To Watch Next

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Ante K. Lundberg guides you through a personal list of films that inspired and informed Stranger Things, plus some his own choices, just for fun. 

So you’ve finished the latest season of Stranger Things, and you’re looking to fill that hole in your heart it’s left you? Well, you’re not alone. As a child of the 1980s, I find myself in the middle of a resurgence of film, television, video games and music made by my generation that is inspired by the 80’s. And it’s beautiful.

I was born in 1985, the year of a certain summer in the town of Hawkins, as seen in Stranger Things 3. Notable cinema releases that year included true classics such as Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, Day of the Dead, Weird Science – and many more.

As requested by the ancient editor of Out of Dave’s Head, I’ve gathered a list of recommended films for viewing if you, like me, just can’t get enough of the ‘80s love that is happening right now. Some of the films on here have inspired the Duffer Brothers in creating and writing Stranger Things, others are just perfect examples of wonderful ‘80s cinema. These are the real deal, friends, so put on your Walkman, rewind that tape, and let’s get to it!

Stand by Me, director Rob Reiner, 1986

A group of young friends discovering who they are, the meaning of friendship, and life lessons? Check. Walking along a railway? Check. Small town thugs terrorizing our teen heroes? Check. While set in the 1950s, Stand By Me is an ‘80s film through and through, with a cast including young Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, John Cusack and Kiefer Sutherland! Based on a novella (The Body) by legendary author Stephen King, Stand By Me is a genuine, grade A classic, full of character, fun and heart.

The Lost Boys, director Joel Schumacher, 1987

There’s hardly a more ‘80s-looking and sounding film than The Lost Boys. This is the whole package; the music, the costumes, the hair. It also has Tim Capello shaking his sweaty, muscular hips and saxophone, and a healthy dose of teenage vampires living forever, led by (there he is again) a young, menacing Kiefer Sutherland, the hilariously bad vampire hunters the Frog Brothers (featuring that other ‘80s Corey… Haim), and a cracking, fast pace. Trust me, you won’t be bored by this one.

Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, director Sam Raimi, 1987

I’m not in any way saying you shouldn’t see the original Evil Dead, but the sequel not only (kinda sorta) recreated the first film in the intro, it went way beyond the original with a fantastic combination of fear, blood and laughs. If you’re looking for one of the most hilariously over-the-top splatter comedies out there, Evil Dead 2 simply set the bar. Bruce Campbell’s performance is one for the ages, with some of the most amazing physical comedy ever put on film. It’s not without reason his wonderfully awkward-yet-badass leading chin Ash Williams got more films and recently a series, Ash vs Evil Dead – which is also well worth a watch! In addition, fans of Stranger Things 3 will find the cabin-under-siege setting nicely familiar!

Aliens, director James Cameron, 1986

James Cameron has made two of the finest sequels ever in Aliens and Terminator 2 Judgment Day (and I haven’t even mentioned Stranger Things 3’s HUGE homage to The Terminator… oh wait, I just did). It’s common knowledge that in Aliens, the tight spaceship corridors first established in Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien are expanded to play host to some of the best action sequences put to film.

Aliens is a perfect mix made up of one part great production design, one part a superb cast of character actors playing a ragtag group of soldiers (including Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn – who would be a great addition to the Stranger Things cast!), one part body horror and huge parts action, all flavoured with a beautiful mother/adopted daughter relationship.

Add to that mix a scheming Paul Reiser (none other than Stranger Things 2’s Dr. Sam Owens), on great form as the company man more ruthless than the titular Aliens could ever hope to be, you’ll be hooked before you can say “game over”.

The Thing, director John Carpenter, 1982

I mean, really, John Carpenter in general, but in particular….

One of my favourite films is John Carpenter’s The Thing. Another claustrophobic body horror, set in an isolated location the characters can’t escape (see also Aliens, above), the mood in The Thing is unrivaled thanks to Carpenter’s direction and Rob Bottin’s incredible, practical animatronic work on the title creature.

Another great contribution from Carpenter, too often overlooked, is In the Mouth of Madness (1994 – yes, I’m cheating to include this, I know!), a horrifying Lovecraft-inspired film with lots of potential friends for Stranger Things’ Demogorgon.

In fact I would bet several films in Carpenter’s catalogue have inspired the Duffer Brothers in some way, as his body of work is chock-full of classics that I implore you to seek out and watch, including Escape from New York, Halloween, The Fog, Christine, Prince of Darkness and more.

Carpenter’s scores, often written and performed by the man himself, are also a huge inspiration for the Stranger Things soundtrack composers, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.

Pretty much everything John Hughes had a hand in during the 80’s

Yeah, you heard me. John Hughes had an incredibly creative output, and most of his stuff really is the beating pulse of ‘80s cinema. Writing and/or directing classics like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science and Pretty in Pink, he leaves us quite the legacy of movies that nicely illustrate the trials and tribulations of the teen years.

Although time has not been perfectly kind to all these films (especially in the female characters department), the look and feel are true ‘80s, unbeatably so. I recommended starting with The Breakfast Club, where you will at least have seen the gif of a totally ’80s tough guy raising his fist victoriously in the air, from one of the film’s many classic moments. “Don’t you forget about me” indeed…

Day of the Dead, director George A. Romero, 1985

George A. Romero pretty much invented the modern zombie (sans the running) with his slow, lumbering packs of dread in Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead. All three should be considered classics in their own right and can be watched separately or as part of a saga where – not really spoiler alert – things do not bode well for mankind.

In Day of the Dead, odds are not in our favour, as the zombies outnumber us and the remaining human population hide in shelters, trying to find a way to survive. Romero’s zombie films are part visceral horror, part social commentary (stop teasing the zombies, really!) and, as usual, it seems our biggest threat is each other. Day’s opening sequence also plays a big part in the opening episode of Stranger Things 3.

The Goonies, director Richard Donner, 1985

Personally, I’m not a big fan of The Goonies but it’s considered by many as an essential watch, and certainly is a Duffer Brothers touchstone for their Netflix show. If you’re after a “kids on a mission” film filled with adventure, treasure and danger, then look no further, and it features Sean Astin, Stranger Things’ lovable Bob, years before he was a Hobbit for Peter Jackson.

E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial, director Steven Spielberg, 1982

Tonally, Stranger Things owes a lot to Steven Spielberg’s lovable ET. The little guy is stuck somewhere he doesn’t belong, and is just trying to get home, despite the government suits doing their best to stop him. Cue the brilliant and inventive 80’s kids (see an ongoing motif here?) doing their damndest with what they have by hand. The film also includes that legendary bike sequence, glaringly referenced in the first season of Stranger Things.

The Deadly Spawn, director Douglas MacKeown, 1983

A fabulous and fun creature feature starring young Charles George Hildenbrandt (the son of one of the Hildenbrandt Brothers, who painted the legendary fantasy-style poster for Star Wars in 1977, as well as the poster for this movie).

The plot concerns a crash-landed alien that finds refuge in the basement of a house and grows to monstrous proportions, and the plucky band of teenagers who do battle with it. The many ghastly teeth of the monster here sure do look a whole lot like the ghastly teeth of the Mind Flayer from Stranger Things 3.

Altered States, director Ken Russell, 1980

All Ken Russell films are worth your time, but Altered States, Russell’s adaptation of the Paddy Chayefsky novel, will particularly resonate with fans of Stranger Things 3, as it runs with the idea that sensory deprivation tanks (as used by Eleven in the show) can activate hidden parts of the brain. But boy, Russell takes things in a totally wild direction that will blow your mind.

Ghostbusters, director Ivan Reitman, 1984

I don’t really need to over-explain this one, right…!? Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Sigourney Weaver, proton packs, bustin’ makes me feel good, Zuul! Stranger Things 2 crosses them streams.

A Nightmare on Elm Street, director Wes Craven, 1984

I can only imagine the feeling of seeing this particular nightmare in a cinema in the 80’s (Editor’s Note: It was pretty darn good!). The now iconic Freddy Krueger was an inescapable foe, terrorizing the dreams of poor teens with knives-for-fingers and a serious case of bad skin day.

I was late to the Elm Street party and, seeing it at an older age, I found myself really digging the over-the-top scenery chewing performance from Robert Englund as Freddy. Definitely worth a watch, even though “you’ll never sleep again!”

IT, 1990

I can’t really recommend Tommy Lee Wallace’s IT miniseries from 1990, which time hasn’t treated well. The acting is wooden (Tim Curry not included, he is great), the pacing is slow and the effects are completely outdated (Editor’s Note: this calls for fisticuffs in the pub later, Lundberg). But it does have the loser’s club camaraderie seen in Stranger Things and, I’m willing to bet, was a childhood watch for the Duffer Brothers.

Rather, DO give the book a read, even if it is a long one, or see Andy Muschietti’s new two-film version that is in turn set in the ’80s and inspired by the same palette as Stranger Things. You can watch the trailer for IT Chapter Two here.

Mullets, big-haired teens in pastel and neon clothes, muscle cars and BIG songs might have defined the decade, but the ‘80s have so much more going for them in terms of entertainment. And if Stranger Things has left you with a hankering to revisit those years, this list will be a good place to begin!

About the author

Ante K. Lundberg is a movie and music buff from the fjords of western Norway. Living with his wife and two small children, he longs for the day when he yet again will be able to binge watch a series.

He wrote this essay on a straight regime of pitch black coffee, Meteor and Gunship on vinyl, and several (imaginary) training montages.

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What The Devils is Wrong with Warner Bros.?

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It’s easy to understand why Warner Bros would allow Ken Russell to film a lavish adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s book, The Devils of Loudon. It’s less easy to understand why the studio that produced the film seems so reluctant for audiences to see it today.

Russell rode the incredible wave of British film directors that still impresses today, along with the likes of Nicolas Roeg, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson. So, coming fresh off the success of Russell’s adaptation of D H Lawrence’s Women in Love for United Artists in 1969, with critical praise, good box office and an Academy Award (for Best Actress, Glenda Jackson), Warner Bros were keen to climb on-board the Russell train. When Russell pitched the idea to make his screenplay – originally written for U.A. before they pulled out of the project, based partly on Huxley’s book from 1952 and partly on the 1960 play The Devils by John Whiting – the studio agreed to give the project the greenlight.

The book, play and Russell’s film, all dramatise real life events that took place in Loudon, France, in the 17th century. Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII were attempting to stem the power of Protestant towns such as Loudon, and found themselves in conflict with the town’s very earthly priest, Father Grandier, and decided to turn to their advantage a series of supernatural possessions which seemingly afflicted the town’s Ursuline convent, presided over by the sexually obsessed Sister Jeanne des Anges.

Russell delivered a bold, profound and outrageous movie, with astonishing set design from Derek Jarman, a dissonant score from Peter Maxwell Davies and blistering performances from stars Oliver Reed, as Grandier, and Vanessa Redgrave, as Sister Jeanne.

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The studio’s love affair with film and director ended harshly. Both the British Board of Film Censors and Warner Bros. itself demanded heavy cuts for its sexual, violent and religious content before granting an ‘X’ certificate in the UK and further drastic cuts were inflicted by the studio for the film’s release in the USA. The publicity for its American release clearly showed the studio’s discomfort over the film, defensively exclaiming, “The Devils is not a film for everyone” on posters and in trailers. This severely truncated edit would be the only version deemed acceptable by the studio for the following decades, at least in the countries where it wasn’t already banned. In fact, the film has not received an official release on home video in the U.S.A. since a VHS issue in 1995.

In 2002, journalist/broadcaster Mark Kermode (who cites as influence an important article by Tim Lucas detailing the various cuts imposed on then extant home video versions of The Devils, from the September 1996 issue of  Video Watchdog magazine) uncovered footage cut from the film that had long been considered lost, including the infamous Rape of Christ sequence (in which the hysterical nuns sexually assault a statue of Christ), and in 2004 a restoration of the film reinstated much of this footage. Over the next few years, this fullest, uncensored version ever assembled since Russell’s original cut in 1971 was shown to great acclaim on many occasions at public screenings around the world, with the hope that Warner Bros would respond to the call for an official release.

After much negotiation with Warner Bros., the British Film Institute was allowed to release a disc of The Devils in 2012. Despite having access to the 2004 restoration however, Warner Bros refused to hand over any original film materials for a new high definition transfer and instead presented the BFI with a digi-beta tape of the original British X certificate version, meaning they could only release the 1971 cut and only on DVD.

Hell on Earth: The Desecration and Resurrection of The Devils, the Paul Joyce documentary presented by Mark Kermode that had screened on the UK’s Channel 4 in 2002 complete with the Rape of Christ sequence, was included on the disc’s supplementary features. Warner Bros refused permission for the sequence to be used at all on the disc and so even the documentary had to be cut. The uncut version of the documentary remains viewable on YouTube as of this writing, and despite being hobbled by Warner Bros, the features-packed disc remains an essential purchase. These bizarre restrictions certainly raise the questions of why Warner Bros would not furnish the BFI with appropriate materials, and why the studio still considers the Rape of Christ sequence off limits.

In May of 2013 I screened the X certificate cut of The Devils to a full house at my own Dave’s Movie & Music Nights in Volda, Norway and I’m proud to say that in over four years of screenings I have never seen an audience quite so affected by a film. Afterwards people stayed in their chairs, wanting to process what they had just seen, eager to discuss it. Certainly, they were shocked by the film, but they were also astonished, moved and stimulated by it. And this rather, is the point here: The Devils is not a film you can watch passively, love it or hate it this is a film which invites (…actually, demands) a reaction from the audience. Once viewed, it will not easily be forgotten. Can we ask more from a film?

Not long after the screening, while discussing the film with Russell’s last wife, Lisi Tribble (who had written a beautiful and personal introduction for me to read to attendees) the idea was hatched between us to start a campaign to help secure a release of the restored, uncensored director’s cut.

With Mrs Russell’s blessing and active participation, we have managed to get a number of high profile organisations, culture sites, directors, producers and writers to support the campaign on social media, tweeting and retweeting the hashtag #FreeTheDevils and generally voicing their wish for the film to be released. The campaign page on Facebook, Free Ken Russell’s The Devils, now has almost four and a half thousand followers.

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In October 2015, a high profile screening of a beautiful 35mm print of The Devils took place at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, as part of Beyond Fest, to a sold out and hugely appreciative audience who were treated to an introduction and Q & A session by director and campaign supporter, Bernard Rose (Candyman, Immortal Beloved, etc.).

Rose is hardly alone in his love for The Devils; Guillermo Del Toro has spoken publicly and forcefully on many occasions on his lack of comprehension at Warner’s stonewalling. At a 2014 masterclass given by Del Toro in Toronto, the director said of the film’s lack of availability, “It’s not an accident. It’s not because of lack of demand. It’s a true act of censorship. It’s extremely blatant,”

While the film is challenging and divisive, it also inspires great passion in those who see the sincerity and anger of the film’s themes, and the humour and boundless creativity at work.

With a film that clearly inspires such depth of feeling and such a vocal following, why then does Warner Bros make such harsh demands on the few home video releases it receives? Why do they not recognise the commercial possibilities in a respectful release? If it is true they hold their film in such disregard, why not license it out to a boutique label such as Criterion or Arrow to release?

Of course there are many films still awaiting release on home video in any form, but The Devils is not some half-forgotten B film with a handful of cult movie fans clamouring for its release, it is instead a prestige production from one of cinema’s most controversial and acclaimed directors. It seems bewildering that Russell’s film has received such spotty releases around the world, and remains virtually invisible in the USA.

Rumours persist that one or a number of Warner Bros executives were deeply offended by the film and its message in 1971, and that this remains at the core of the film’s relative lack of visibility over the years. If there is any truth to these rumours, that offense must have been powerful indeed, as few of the same executives still work at the studio. Of course, American culture still faces a great deal of resistance from its deeply fundamentalist states, so it is almost certain that Warner Bros is fearful of religious and moral opposition if they were seen to support Russell’s film, but this fact alone cannot account for their attitude.

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The strange truth is that Warner Bros has yet to make any kind of definitive public response or statement on the years of calls for the film to be released on home cinema in a manner accorded to its status. This silence naturally raises many questions on the reasoning behind Russell’s film receiving such poor treatment. For a studio to neglect a forgotten gem is hard enough to understand in this age of multiple digital platforms, but to wilfully ignore a bona fide classic that has such strong support is unforgivable.

When so many movies that hit the multiplexes today are bland, morally vacuous or assembled by corporate committees to sell lunchboxes and toys, Russell’s film should be lauded, now more than ever, as the extraordinary and extraordinarily powerful, fiercely intelligent and boundary breaking piece of work it is. The studio that made The Devils should not be ashamed of their production, but instead should celebrate it with the release of a prestige presentation in an optimum format.

It is time for Warner Bros to do right by their long neglected masterpiece, to show due respect to this wildest, most savage, outrageous and courageous work by one of cinema’s true and much missed original voices.

* This article originally appeared (in a slightly modified version) in Z filmtidsskrift magazine #1 (2016), translated into Norwegian by Ingrid Rommetveit, and the issue editor was Helene Aalborg