‘Stranger Things’: You’ll Never Guess What Inspired This Show

Stranger Things logo | Netflix
Stranger Things logo | Netflix

Netflix’s Stranger Things may have its heart in the ’80s, but that’s not the only thing that has influenced the show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer. Everything from anime to fiction to video games has been cited by the creators as a major jumping-off-point for everything from the show’s look to the way its characters are treated. Here are 10 more Stranger Things inspirations that you may have missed in your first run-through of the series.

1. Stephen King’s writing

Stephen King's It
It | Warner Bros.

The Duffer Brothers have continually pointed to the writing of Stephen King as probably the biggest core influence in the series, and we could easily write another list just on the specific King novels that run through Stranger Things’ veins. From Stand by Me to Carrie to It — the latter’s upcoming adaptation, which stars Stranger Things’ Finn Woldhard — it’s clear that the work of King runs deep. Even the title style of the show was created by demoing multiple covers of classic King novels.

“It is obviously a huge inspiration for the show. That’s probably the biggest [influence],” Ross told The Hollywood Reporter. “We just devoured [it]. I remember reading The Running Man in like one night. We just devoured his stuff when we were little.” And the respect is clearly mutual as King recently tweeted:

2. The Silent Hill series

Silent Hill: Downpour
Silent Hill: Downpour | Konami

Aside from the influence of ’80s films on Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers have also pointed to video games as a huge inspiration for the show with one series in particular rising above the rest: Konami’s long-running horror series Silent Hill. “That’s the thing: it’s not just ’80s films that inspired us,” Ross told The Daily Beast. “There’s a lot of Silent Hill in the Upside Down, which people have noticed.”

3. Elfen Lied

Elfen Lied anime series
Elfen Lied | Arms

While Katsuhiro Otomo’s classic animated film Akira has been cited as one of Stranger Things’ key influences, it’s actually a much lesser known anime series that the Duffer Brothers say inspired some of their story. As Matt told The Daily Beast:

More recently I had seen an anime called Elfen Lied that is clearly inspired by Akira. And that was really influential. When I watched it I thought it felt like an ultraviolent E.T. There were a lot of things in there that I really liked and that made their way into the show, particularly related to the character of Eleven.

4. H. P. Lovecraft’s writing

The Call of Cthulhu
The Call of Cthulhu | H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society

When it comes to the literary influences of the series, after the writing of King, comes the stories from horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. The father of cosmic horror — a sub-genre that emphasizes the horror related to the unknown cosmic forces in our universe and beyond — you could say that Lovecraft’s mark comes in Stranger Things’ desire to keep its scares in what isn’t shown rather than what is or what the implications are of the Upside Down.

Matt explained to The Hollywood Reporter, “If you were to encounter some inter-dimensional being, it would be beyond comprehension.” He added, “So we want to explain, we want to reveal more of it, we want characters and the audience to understand more about it, but you’ll never understand everything.”

5. Clive Barker’s writing

Hellraiser | Entertainment New World

The Duffer Brothers point to Clive Barker as another writer who very much follows in the footsteps of Lovecraft’s writing and has influenced the horror elements of the series. Barker, of course, has also had a successful film career to go along with his novels with such cult horror hits as Hellraiser, Candyman, and Nightbreed to his name.

“We talked a lot about Clive Barker and his stories,” Matt told Variety. “They’re very weird, and the weirder it is, the more inexplicable it is, the scarier it is.”

6. Under the Skin

Under the Skin
Under the Skin | A24

If you haven’t seen Jonathan Glazer’s phenomenally weird sci-fi film Under the Skin (which you probably haven’t considering its lousy theater run), all you need to do is look at the above still to clearly see the similarities between the film and the scenes in which Eleven explores the Upside Down via a sensory deprivation tank. In general, Under the Skin and Stranger Things could not be more different, but there is something to be said about the intangible oddness of Glazer’s film that feels similar to things the Duffer Brothers explore in the show.

7. The Last of Us

The Last of Us
The Last of Us | Sony Computer Entertainment

Another of the video game influences, the recent PS4 hit The Last of Us directly impacted some of the Duffer Brothers’ visual cues from the series. When asked by The Daily Beast if they had played the game, Ross said:

Yes, we have, that’s another one. And The Last of Us is probably, in terms of storytelling, the best story-driven game I’ve ever played. It took a giant leap in terms of character development and how the story was unfolding. But also with the divide and all that, Last of Us I’m sure influenced us.

Matt added that Neil Druckmann, the creative director of Naughty Dog (the developer of The Last of Us), had tweeted about enjoying Stranger Things, which he said was “awesome,” adding that he is currently playing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End — another video game series by Naughty Dog.

8. The creature designs of Guillermo del Toro

El Laberinto del Fauno
Pan’s Labyrinth | Picturehouse

While H.R. Giger’s fingerprints are all over the design of Stranger Things’ Upside Down, the Duffer Brothers have also pointed to the person who might be our greatest living creature designer: Guillermo del Toro. “We’re big fans of Guillermo,” Ross told The Daily Beast. “In the company Special Motion that built our monster, the dudes who designed it were the ones who do a lot of Guillermo’s stuff.”

Part of what they got from watching del Toro’s work is that they knew they had to make the show’s monsters practical and not CGI. “To delve into our own monster was a lot of fun. It was fully animatronic, so all of those — we call them ‘petals,’ the parts that open up — Special Motion designed them in such a way that when the petals move, they never repeat themselves, so it was really creepy that way.” Matt explained. “It seemed very real.”

9. Films by John Hughes

Pretty in Pink
Pretty in Pink | Paramount Pictures

When it comes to parts of the plot in Stranger Things that strayed from sci-fi and horror — specifically Nancy’s sub-plot of trying to get in with Steve and the cool kids — it’s impossible to not see the connections to some of John Hughes’ films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. In particular, Pretty in Pink tells the story of the budding relationship between a working-class high school student and a rich, preppy senior, chronicling the fallout from their respective social circles as a result.

10. Altered States

Altered States
Altered States | Warner Bros.

In the sci-fi horror film Altered States, Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) experiments with various psychotropic drugs in a sensory deprivation tank in order to expand his consciousness and discover the true nature of the universe. Sound familiar? All you have to do is look at the above still from Altered States to see that the film also appears to be a visual influence for the look of Eleven’s tank in Stranger Things.

And from that starting point, Altered States continues to go into frequently crazy and inexplicable directions making it more than deserving of a watch.

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