I love Stephen King.
You know who else does? Durham natives Matt and Ross Duffer, twins known professionally as the Duffer brothers.
I don’t know this through reading any interviews with them or watching their whole body of work. All I require to know they love Stephen King is to watch “Stranger Things,” their miniseries that’s been streaming on Netflix for a month.
One facet I love about postmodernist approaches to art is that the artist can openly flaunt their influences because, after all, there’s nothing new under the sun. In that vein, the Duffer brothers loaded “Stranger Things” with allusions, both direct and subtle, to the King of Horror.
Some references hit you right on the nose. The state trooper in the fourth episode reads a hardback copy of Cujo with King’s face on the back cover, a reference made clear when Chief Jim Hopper (played brilliantly by David Harbour) says, “Hey, I love that book! That’s a nasty mutt!”
But hell, deconstructing just that one scene leads down a rabbit hole of King’s influence.
The title of the episode, “The Body,” is the name of the King novella upon which the ’80s classic coming-of-age film Stand By Me was based. Stand By Me features four kids looking for a missing boy; that summarizes “Stranger Things” in and of itself. The kids are all lovable losers, and the idea of the loser-as-hero pops up constantly in King’s fiction. Chief Hopper also fills the trope, seeing as he’s an adept cop wracked by nearly debilitating substance abuse, quite like King himself while writing — wait for it — Cujo.
I could keep pointing out King’s oft-used tropes and literary devices: Unhinged parents (both Hopper and the mother played by the unparalleled Winona Ryder fill that role). Nascent sexuality. The sassy, sharp-as-a-tack action girl. The asshole as a dynamic, redemptive character. Use of a particular pop song as a recurring thematic motif. Supernatural evil invading Suburbia. Disparate investigations of a common problem uniting to defeat said supernatural evil.
I point them out not to condemn the Duffer brothers. After all, I love both postmodern creative appropriation and Stephen King.
I point these out to tell you what’s great about “Stranger Things.”
Instead of coming off as a hack job, the Duffers and their incredibly gifted cast have produced a stunning homage to King — and Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and the ’80s in general — somehow a well-executed and immersive period piece, yet timeless.
If the Duffer brothers keep creating such quality material, I may soon say I love them as much as I do King.