This is Part II of an exploration into the nature of Demogorgon (or The Monster, as I prefer to call it) in the Netflix sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Stranger Things. You can read the first part here. Spoiler alerts will follow.
Rather than just tell you what it is, I am using the film and literary references made by the show to prove my case, step by step, fact by fact. I’m also going to explain how modern conspiracy theories, quantum physics, string theory and that sweet, sweet black magic all contribute to create the horror at the heart of the show.
MEET THE MONSTER
When we first encounter The Monster in Stranger Things, it is not in chronological order within the complete time of events leading up to the final showdown of the sci-fi/horror series. A scientist is running down a corridor within the Hawkins facility. He is trying to get away. A light bulb smashes down the hall as he looks out from inside the elevator. The scientist suddenly looks up, screams and gets grabbed, vanishing.
These are the first clues we are given about the nature of The Monster. The lights break as it gets closer. The Monster is rather large, and yet doesn’t grab the scientist as it enters the elevator. The light breaks and it grabs the scientist, who is suddenly able to see it. If the scientist could see his killer down the hall, he would have had different body language. Cowering in fear, gibbering in horror as he hid around the wall, hoping the elevator doors will close (in films the doomed protagonist will usually push the buttons on the elevator as fast as possible, hoping to save himself as the bad guy stomps down the hall). But he doesn’t act that way. He stands nervously, waiting, until he looks up and gets grabbed. This tells us that The Monster does interact with the environment around it in some way, which causes electrical lights to flare and explode. It also tells us that it moves through the environment, but isn’t entirely in sync with our reality.
Later, poor Will rides his bike, and the light on his bike blows up. He sees The Monster, but he can only perceive the outline of it. He is pursued relentlessly until he gets inside the shed in the back of the house. The light goes out and Will is grabbed.
This is not the first time The Monster first appears, however. The real story starts with Eleven. She is told she has to track down a spy from the U.S.S.R. Within “The Upside-Down,” she does so. As she gets closer to the spy, who is rather calm and completely unaware, Eleven seems pensive until something bestial is heard behind her. That is the first time The Monster is sensed, if not seen, in the chronological order of Stranger Things.
What is confusing is that we never see Eleven escape from the Hawkins facility. We know that she was wearing her white hospital gown when she did, because that is what she is wearing at the diner where she enters to steal some fries. When she first touches The Monster, she is wearing that kooky tan diving suit. This means that she did not escape at that moment. If she had done so, the Sheriff and his deputies would not have found the shred from her hospital gown, instead of the kooky tan diving suit, in the pipe outside the facility which indicates where she escaped from and what she was wearing.
For a short time I believed certain false things about The Monster, based on the show. I thought that it traveled through light bulbs and light sources. I also believed, for a brief time, that Eleven turned into The Monster when she was asleep. I was wrong. When the Sheriff and Winona Ryder are in The Vale of Shadows, the horrified teenagers watch as Christmas lights activate as the two adults walk through the hall in the house’s counterpart. Since the adults can’t travel through light, The Monster probably isn’t, either. When the scientist in the very first part of the show sees the lights flare up in the lab’s hall, The Monster is causing the lights to flare up as it walks. Eleven can’t be The Monster when she is asleep or whatever, because she confronts the demon that has been stalking her friends in the end, which is the climax of the show.
This is one of the reasons why the nature of The Monster is so confusing. When you see a movie with Dracula in it, there is going to be an expectation that Dracula is going to follow the usual rules. That also means that the characters opposing them are going to have to also follow the same rules to defeat the vampire. Garlic, holy water, fire, decapitation, LAW rockets…the usual arsenal. If the movie did not follow these rules, as an audience we would be unhappy because the formula was off, unless a suitable explanation was given.
Imagine if The Monster in Stranger Things was just a werewolf. Worse yet, imagine if we were given a complete explanation of what it was in the first fifteen minutes? It wouldn’t be as fun. We would feel let down. Watching the rest of the series wouldn’t be as intellectually challenging. The Thing seems to do this, because the scientists seem to figure out how their adversary works, and how to bring it down, somewhat midway through the film. This doesn’t ruin the fun because The Thing is so stealthy, cunning and capable of shifting shape. It is also so horrifying that every time we see it, there is something new that horrifies us. It is not the same Thing, every time.
I also have to admit to another theory I eventually threw away: I thought The Monster was a phantasm that could only be seen in the minds of its observers, similar to Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street or the horrifying stalker killing young kids in the very modern horror flick, It Follows. The Monster is real because, after the fight in the house with the teenagers who use bullets, fire and a kit-bashed spiked mace to fight it, the bat is covered in black goo and there is a definite meaty, bubbling residue on the bear traps the teenagers employed in the fight. So much for my theory.
You don’t even see The Monster in Stranger Things, most of the time. It is there, but not there. Why doesn’t it stomp around visible all of the time? How does it get into our world? Keep reading, Young Grasshopper, there is more to your universe than you can see or imagine.
Some people have said that The Goonies is a big influence on the show. I disagree because a) the adversaries in the film are not monstrous and b) there is nothing really supernatural going on in The Goonies, although Sloth kind of looks like a post apocalyptic mutant cannibal. Who are, of course, people, too. So don’t judge. Observers probably make the comparison because the teenagers and children all team up to explore One-Eyed Willy’s trap-laden cave, but beyond that there is not much to work with, for our theory on the film.
Alien, however, is a big reference. Almost too much so. The Monster we are discussing seems to devour people whole and then barf up a big egg. This egg seems to extrude a long tentacle which is inserted into another victim’s mouth, after they have been tied up in some ectoplasmic goo, similar to the xenomorph in Alien but also like a wasp that constructs a nest with a similar gooey material which hardens into matter that can hold eggs. You’ve already seen Alien, you already know what happens and understand the obvious parallels to Stranger Things, so we can move on.
Spoiler alerts, everyone. The Entity is an 80’s horror film based on a real-life event that is more horrifying than the film it became. I believe this film is a reference to Stranger Things, like Poltergeist, even though the audience never sees a poster for either movie anywhere in the show, just like E.T., which is also an influence. You’ll notice by now that as we study the films that influence the show, we are also studying the chaotic elements that make up The Monster. The Entity, like Poltergeist, deals with science trying to study the paranormal and basically getting its ass kicked.
A young woman with children living in a house in the suburbs starts to become haunted by an invisible, monstrous poltergeist that doesn’t just throw stuff around, it beats her up and rapes her. Yup, straight up, as evil as hell. This goes on and on until she brings in a team of scientists to study what is happening. This culminates with the woman volunteering to live in a fake house within a large lab that has a chemical solution above it similar to liquid oxygen, to freeze her invisible attacker in place. Eventually, she is assaulted, but she jumps out of the house as the scientists spring the trap. What they see is a huge, demonic-looking spectral shape that is able to affect our reality, but is invisible and impervious to physical harm. It escapes, but everyone in the lab knows there is another evil place out there, and the denizens within are not our friends.
More spoiler alerts! Yet another damn reference for Stranger Things, The Mist is a short story by Stephen King that is a reference to the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, who is also a gigantic influence on the show. It was later made into a terrible film with the guy who played Punisher in the kind of bad film by John Travolta. What is important is that in The Mist (literary or otherwise) nobody really knows what is going on when their small town is hit by a serious case of Call of Cthulhu WTF?
There are tentacles and beasties and long-leggedity ghoulies and all manner of odd, freakish monsters, but what the good, normal people of this small town figure out is that nearby, scientists have been performing dark experiments using radiation, electromagnetic energy and Satan-knows-what to try to punch a hole in the fabric of reality. When the group of intrepid townsfolk reach the lab, all of the scientists have committed suicide because the experiment worked.
No explanation as to why the town has been invaded is given, except that very intelligent people understood the ramifications of their actions and whacked themselves to avoid the future. Yup, Stranger Things makes a reference to this work as well, although the scientists in the Netflix series don’t entirely understand what they are doing because after the portal opens up to our world (replete with all of its slimy, tentacle-waving otherworldly biological weirdness) they can’t close the portal, and don’t even know where it goes.
TIME FOR A MONSTER
As I’ve mentioned before, Eleven encounters The Monster when she is about to kill the Russian spy, who is probably also psychic. The Monster appears with a growl behind her. Later, the scientists in the lab, led by her father, induce the young girl into confronting The Monster in the Upside-Down. As she approaches, it is creating some sort of egg. They were not in The Vale of Shadows. There were no slugs or tentacles or trees or ectoplasm. It was just pure, reflective black.
The Monster seems to devour its prey whole (with a head shaped like a tulip with teeth the point inward, it certainly seem capable of doing so) which means we can safely say that the egg is the Russian spy, or what was left of him. This also tells us that after The Monster devours people, it also barfs up the leftover matter as the gooey ectoplasmic substance Will was trapped by when the Sheriff and his mother find him at the end of the show. Yes, this is another reference to Alien.
What happens next? We'll talk about it, next time! Until then, sleep tight, and don’t let the bogeyman under the bed bite!