Stranger Things, the gigantic horror sci-fi mega hit Netflix show that has entertained millions of viewers across the planet, is a retro wonder to behold but difficult to entirely understand. One of the reasons why is because Demogorgon, the xenomorph that is killing and kidnapping the characters throughout the film, is never completely explained. In most horror flicks featuring cryptozoological monstrosities, there is a point where a scientist (or some other qualified expert) finally tells the audience what the hell is going on. For your edification and entertainment, I’m going to do my best to do just that. Spoiler alerts!
It will be neither simple nor quick and by the time I am done, you may not want to know about the original nature of the creature in the Netflix original series that many viewers adore but fewer totally understand. Like the cosmic horrors unleashed by understanding too much about the evil alien gods in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, the dark truths revealed by what you will be told may really, really screw you up mentally, forever, similar in the way that confronting your own personal demon without appropriate therapy could render you insane. You have been warned. Continue at risk to your own mental health.
WHAT IS THE MONSTER?
Although there have been a lot of videos on YouTube about Stranger Things, not too many people have tried to break down the origin of The Monster on the show. It is one of the primary foes throughout the story, but as I’ve mentioned before the audience really isn’t told exactly what it is, where it came from, what is going on, or what it is up to. There is no real point in the film where a character like a doctor or scientist says, “I’ve figured it out! The Monster is a mutant child living at the bottom of the lake!” It never happens, unlike films like Jaws (we already know what a shark is) or Predator, where the Latin American woman’s soliquoy about legends regarding the alien gives the audience at least some clue as to what the antagonist is. In The Thing, scientists eventually figure out the biology of their opposition, and illustrate it for the ears of the audience. The Monster is frequently called “The Demogorgon,” but I personally don’t like that description. Why?
Because in the role playing game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the demon known as Demogorgon is nothing like what The Monster is in Stranger Things. In the game, Demogorgon is described as being sentient, intelligent, and can even speak many languages. Heck, it has tentacles for arms and can cast spells, too. In a short story from The Dragonlance Chronicles, a hobbit-like creature known as Tasslehoff Burrfoot ends up encountering Demogorgon, who has been captured by an evil wizard. In the story the demon is more like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mephisto from Marvel Comics, devious and capable of conversation. The Monster in Stranger Things is a ravening beast, seeking prey, turning them into eggs as a part of its bizarre lifecycle, and then constructing portals around it to grab more prey. Not exactly Mrs. Personality.
The Demogorgon as a reference is still important, however, because that is what the characters on the show use when talking about The Monster. This is because it is a clue to the audience that Eleven and The Monster are the same. She even says so when she tells the boys that she is The Monster, and that she also opened the gate. What is Eleven talking about?
WHAT'S OLD IS NOW
Something to consider when thinking of the show is that the creators didn’t want to give you the same old monsters you grew up with. Old skool Hollywood horror consisted of a series of cinematic archtypes that were based on ancient mythology found throughout the planet. Werewolves, vampires, golems, zombies, witches, insane killers, ghouls, mummies at demons are the main villains in numerous fictional creations across time and space. If, by the end of Stranger Things, we had been told that The Monster was just a lycanthrope, it would have been disappointing. Being given the whole truth would have been less entertaining. As viewers, we want to be surprised. We want to figure it out for ourselves. We also want a reason to watch Season 2.
Stranger Things is a superb conglomeration of horror and science fiction that draws influences from previous films, modern conspiracy theories, and ancient mythology. As a result, The Monster is similar to all of these other, modern monsters. Alien was about a xenomorphic creature that hunted, infected and bred with humans. Jaws is about an underwater monster that hunts instinctively, and so cannot be reasoned with or logically influenced. The Thing was about an alien from outer space, or perhaps another dimension, that behaved the same way. It infected humans, replicated itself (a form of procreation), and murdered other entities. There is even a scene in The Thing where its head splits open, forming a mouth that eats another doomed, screaming person, similar to how The Monster operates. This poster appears many, many times throughout the show, like an eerie warning.
These movie posters are no coincidence. The director put them in the scene for a very good reason. In films excruciating attention is given to everything in a scene you are looking at, especially if it is symbolic and subliminal. Everything in the background, including words and images, matters. If you are constructing a scene where two characters are getting married, newspaper clippings that are lying around saying, “DEATH,” or “MURDERED,” or paintings on the wall depicting sorrow, violence and war would indicate to the audience that things aren’t going to work out for the couple. Stanley Kubrick was a master of this. Watching films like The Shining absolutely require a viewer to examine the background and the images that subtly communicate to the viewer the true story, in order to understand some of the deeper themes in the film.
The Dark Crystal is one poster that appears in the film. Evil Dead is another. These posters appear to remind the viewer of previous movies & monsters, but the references in the show go far beyond film. For example, Stephen King’s It is also a massive influence, although we don’t see a poster for the book, which is about several young children that confront a demon, only to find out that the beast it actually an alien, of sorts. They eventually learn that It can really only appear as something the viewer has already seen, and is afraid of. To one person, it is a werewolf. To another, it is The Creature from the Black Lagoon. While The Monster in Stranger Things is not nearly the shapeshifter Stephen King wrote about, the mysterious nature of its origins, and the nightmarish aspect of its existence, is very important to the story we are studying now, because all of these film and literary references merge to make the threat our protagonists face in the show.
Firestarter is also a huge influence. In the book (also by Stephen King) a young girl who has pryokinetic abilities because her parents were experimented upon by the government (who used drugs as part of the process) escapes from a military laboratory and eventually destroys her aggressors with the power of her mind. You never see a poster for Firestarter in Stranger Things. You also don’t see a poster for the 80’s Spielberg sci-fi smash hit, E.T., although that film is also an influence. The technocratic menace of the Department of Energy is similar to the dread inspired by the scientists pursuing Elliot and his extraterrestrial counterpart in the film, and the children escaping from government forces scenario repeats itself with unabashed adoration.
THE DARK CRYSTAL
The poster for The Dark Crystal is a big clue. When Eleven recognizes Will Byers after seeing his picture on a wall, she proceeds to explain that he is lost in what she calls, “The Upside Down,” and is being pursued by The Monster, which she symbolizes using a statue of Demogorgon. The Dark Crystal is a film about how evil reptilian scientists damage their dimension by performing an experiment on a massively powerful, crystal structure. The experiment cracks the crystal, causing a shard to fall loose from the structure. The entire point of the film is that the protagonists must place the shard back into the crystal it came from, repairing the fracture and fixing the dimension. As this happens, the evil reptilian scientists are reunited with their peaceful counterparts, merging to form brilliant, glowing entities that vanish spectacularly. Sounds kooky, but why is that story important to Stranger Things?
Please return to this website in a few days, and I shall continue to tell the tale of what The Monster is. Next time we’ll continue, examining the visuals, studying the clues, exploring the legion of conspiracy theories, literary references and other films that are the modern inspiration for Eleven, The Monster, and other dark experiments that have spawned the dangers which threaten the lives of our intrepid protagonists in this very original, and highly horrifying, Netflix show.