WARNING: SPOILER ALERTS
Some of the strangest things on Stranger Things aren’t very strange when compared to the events that inspired the show. Reality is often stranger than fiction, and the events that inspire the stories occasionally exceed the expectations of the legends. Big and small screens can dazzle with special effects, but nothing is stranger than being there. Anyone who hasn’t seen the series will be reading this at their own peril. Paranormal phenomenon occurs in every episode of the show, including the conclusion, and there will be spoilers throughout.
The series was the most popular streaming show in the world in February 2018, according to Observer writer Brandon Katz who found an audience of about 23.4 million, a numerical synchronicity in itself, that demanded to see Stranger Things across all ten markets. Not to feed into any budding conspiracy theory, but major streamers like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu don’t disclose viewership data. So, Katz looked it up on Parrot Analytics, something the Nerds on the series – Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) could appreciate, though Lucas’ sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) would scoff at all the extra effort. No one scoffs at Eleven, played by British actor Millie Bobby Brown, who probably calculated it in her head long before cameras rolled.
Stranger Things season 3 is set in the summer of 1985 with a new monster coming straight from the surprisingly resilient Mind Flayer. The new creature is impossible to kill because it’s made of Hawkins residents who are already dead. When it assembles into its truest form, it looks like a graphically modern version of the creature in The Blob. The 1957 science fiction classic starred Steve McQueen as a teenager who couldn’t get the grownups to listen to him unless he got pulled over for drag racing backwards. The kids in Stranger Things are similarly written off, or at least heavily edited, as Nancy Wheeler, played by Natalia Dyer, learns when she tries to file a story as an intern at “The Hawkins Post.” The kids aren’t only chasing down monsters and mutating rats this season, but also facing down the Soviets in an 80s propaganda caricature which would make Red Dawn director John Milius proud. The Russians want to reopen the gate to the Upside Down, the alternative dimension recently sealed below the town, but we’ll have to wait until season 4 to find out why.
Stranger Things series was the sleeper hit of summer TV when it debuted in 2016, and its popularity seems to grow exponentially as it continues. That’s pretty good for a show which initially got rejected by “15 to 20” networks which didn’t think an adult story starring four children would work. The brothers who concocted the supernatural series never lost their belief in the unbelievable.
The Twin Connection
The idea of psychic connections between twins goes back at least as far as the 1844 novella, “The Corsican Brothers,” by Alexandre Dumas, best known as the author of The Three Musketeers. There have been reports of conjoined twins who get separated at birth but continue to share physical sensations and mental awareness throughout their lives. Good, bad and mad scientists consistently experiment on twins to study the potential for telepathic connection. Ordered built by Heinrich Himmler on April 27, 1940, Auschwitz Concentration Camp consisted of three main camps and 45 sub-camps, according to a synopsis on History.com. One of those camps was reserved for twins. Nazi doctors Carl Clauberg and Josef Mengele conducted numerous medical experiments on twins, some as young as 5 years old. Twins were separated, kept in isolation, and tortured to measure for psychic links. Identified by numbers, they were injected with various substances which caused severe pain, illness, or death. Mengele had twins sewn together to create Siamese twins, usually killing both. After death the twins would be dissected for analysis. By the time Auschwitz was liberated, Mengele experimented on as many as 1,500 pairs of twins.
Stranger Things was created by twins. Matt and Ross Duffer, both born February 15, 1984, are known professionally as the Duffer Brothers. Before their Netflix experiment, they were best known for writing and directing the 2015 horror film Hidden, and writing episodes for FOX series Wayward Pines. The pair, who were mentored by the master of the false ending M. Night Shyamalan, work on all of their projects as a duo.
Stranger Things‘ first season centers around the 1983 disappearance of a young boy, the appearance of a strange young girl, a small town’s unwitting involvement in secret government experiments, supernatural forces, and a rip in the time space continuum. Will Byers is abducted by a creature and brought into an alternate dimension after playing Dungeons and Dragons with Mike, Dustin and Lucas. Barb Hollands, who is best friends with Mike’s older sister Nancy, is also abducted. Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) catches it on camera. Will’s mother Joyce Byers, played by Winona Ryder, notices the electricity in the house is acting funny and believes her son is trying to communicate with her. He is.
The second season opens on October 29, 1984 and explores the repercussions of the events of season 1 when “terrifying supernatural forces once again begin to affect the town,” according to the season synopsis. The season opens in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where members of a gang called Kali are fleeing a murder scene with squad cars in pursuit. Their van gets trapped in a tunnel when rocks fall and block any chance of escape. The boulder barricade turns out to be a vision in the mind of the lead cop. It was put there by a girl in the van with the number 008 tattooed on her wrist. The season introduces Maxine Mayfield (Sadie Sink), a transfer student from California who, under the name “MADMAX,” beat Dustin’s high score in “Dig Dug” by over 100,000 points. Will experiences flashbacks of the shadow monster from the first season and is being studied by the new head scientist at Hawkins Lab, Dr. Owens, played by Paul Reiser. The third season is set in the summer of 1985 when a new mall opens in town.
In the earliest scene of the very first episode of Stranger Things, Dustin and Will have a bike race with a comic book chosen by the winner as the prize. Will wins and claims Dustin’s X-Men #134, the issue where Jean Gray becomes Dark Phoenix, who has powerful but unstable psychic abilities. This foreshadows the arrival of Eleven, who recently escaped from Hawkins National Laboratory, located in a secluded nearby forest, a top-secret government facility which is researching a variety of paranormal phenomena. She also has advanced but erratic telekinetic powers. She shows up at a diner in town on the same night Will goes missing near the lab.
A Safe Place to Be Creepy
The fictional town of Hawkins is located in fictional Roane County, Indiana. Twelve minutes into the first episode the camera pans to a Roane County School bus. America only has two states with a Roane County. One is in West Virginia. The other is in eastern Tennessee. After a search party turns up nothing on Will, Chief Hopper (David Harbour) reports they looked “all the way to Cartersville,” which is a community in the town of Mount Carmel in Hawkins County, in eastern Tennessee. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is nearby, played a major role during the Manhattan Project, which designed and built the first atomic bomb. They also conducted experiments on unwilling participants. An African-American cement worker named Ebb Cade checked into Oak Ridge Hospital on March 23, 1945, with a broken leg from a traffic accident. He was secretly injected with the radioactive chemical element Plutonium 239 and labeled “Human Product 12.” While the search was on for the missing kids in Stranger Things, Eleven injected herself into the Hawkins community. By the third season, she breaks out of her quarantine in the woods and enjoys normal community activities like the retail therapy of makeovers. The girl who rose from the underworld falls into the Gap at Starcourt Mall.
Stranger Things begins in 1983, and the decade’s pop culture runs through the soundtrack, the visuals and even the gustatory senses as the kids crack open a New Coke. Joy Division, Cyndi Lauper and Devo are on the radio. Phoebe Cates is the standard of hotness. The nerds appreciate Japanese anime, and play Dungeons & Dragons, Dragon’s Lair, and Pac-Man. Even the name Palace Arcade is a wink at the 20 Grand Palace arcade from the 1983 film WarGames. The series also owes a considerable debt to Stephen King. 906 boys and 307 girls auditioned for the lead roles. For their auditions, they read scenes from the Rob Reiner movie Stand By Me, based on King’s story “The Body.” For the initial artwork the series team slapped the word “stranger” on the paperback cover of King’s Firestarter novel, with wording to look like the cover of his book Needful Things, which also came out in the 1980s.
The Duffer Brothers originally wanted to shoot the show with “entirely practical effects,” which made them “admire those guys who did The Thing and Alien,” according to an interview in Daily Beast. Part of the allure of Stranger Things is the obsessive film references buried in almost every frame. The creative team pays tribute to David Cronenberg, who made Scanners, The Fly remake, and Videodrome, a fairly accurate, though grim, forecast of things to come if you replace satellite TV with the internet. They stretch out suspense in a stylistic allusion to H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker. The brothers didn’t limit their film nods to the science fiction and horror genres. Vulture points out they also took cues from Zemeckis’ Romancing the Stone (1984), Martin Brest’s Midnight Run, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies, and Jurassic Park, which didn’t actually come out until 1993. The series references James Cameron, Chris Columbus, George Lucas, Sam Raimi, Ivan Reitman, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the brothers revealed to Entertainment Weekly.
Stranger Things was accused of taking a little too liberally from its creative inspirations. When the Duffer Brothers’ project with Netflix was first announced in 2015, they pitched it with the title “Montauk,” and it was originally placed in the seaside town of Montauk, on Long Island, N.Y. Filmmaker Charlie Kessler sued the Duffer brothers in April 2018, claiming they stole their idea from his 2012 short film, Montauk. “That gentleman didn’t make a documentary. He made a six minute short film that was a rip-off of what I was doing,” Christopher Garetano, director of the 2015 film Montauk Chronicles, told us. Kessler withdrew his damages suit a year later. Garetano researched the Montauk Project for over a decade. His documentary Montauk Chronicles was based on a series of books by Preston Nichols who claimed the government performed illegal experiments on runaway children at Camp Hero.
The Real World Sucks, Deal With It Like The Rest Of Us
Camp Hero Air Force Base is a touchstone in conspiracy theory legend. In addition to its documented history as a key defense/military instillation, it has been tied to everything from developing psychological warfare techniques to time travel experiments. Anomalist/Parapsychologist/UFOlogist Christopher Chacon says the Montauk Project was not a portal through time. As a Parapsychologist that is also a magician/illusionist, Chacon had already investigated thousands of cases of phenomena when he was recruited by an international scientific think-tank in the late 1980s. He was in the division investigating and analyzing anomalies; which included all types of paranormal, supernatural, psychic and anomalous phenomena. Chacon had access to such highly classified research as the unredacted “Project Blue Book” UFO files, and underwent almost as rigorous a regimen as Eleven. “The training I underwent for the scientific organization was like nothing I’ve ever heard of,” Chacon described.
Chacon endured “an extremely demanding 24-hour a day process that lasted a year, the training involved learning advanced methods, techniques and protocols covering a huge and diverse array of scientific disciplines and fields and practices.” The practices “also required ongoing physical and psychological conditioning and modifying with continuous monitoring/evaluation,” Chacon says. “The intensive, fully immersive training was performed to adhere to a variety of advanced scientific criteria.” One of the world’s top authorities on paranormal and supernatural phenomena, Chacon has scientifically investigated just about every known unexplained phenomena in the world; from the haunted Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, to the UFO encounters documented in Chile.
For his work on the think tank investigations, “we utilized every technology imaginable, including many next-generation prototype technologies,” Chacon details. “From aerial, terrestrial and submersible scanning probes to remote Quantitative Electroencephalography brain mapping, from Cavity Ring-Down spectroscopy to Ground Penetrating Radar scanning, and that’s just the technology that’s in the field. A hundred times more technology was utilized in laboratory research.”
While Chacon is no longer with the scientific organization, because of his unparalleled experience he continues to be sought as a private consultant and specialist to confidentially deal with phenomena that far exceeds the limits of human understanding. His clients around the world include law enforcement and government agencies, religious and academic institutions, corporations and everyday people of all walks of life. According to reports, some of the extraordinary phenomena that Chacon has dealt with in his almost forty years includes; the attacks of strange creatures upon a secluded South American village, a multiple possession and exorcism in Poland that was coordinated by Vatican representatives, newly excavated ancient artifacts in Saudi Arabia that horrifically curse anyone in close proximity, an area of Atlantic Ocean plagued by extremely unstable physics-defying phenomena, a haunted cave in the South Pacific that seemingly speaks to its victims before swallowing them, a widely-witnessed and well-documented UFO event in China that involved multiple alien abductions and a child in Africa that spontaneously freezes everything around her, including people.
Friends Don’t Lie
The government lab beneath Hawkins but above the Upside Down is the town’s top dirty secret. A lot of misinformation goes into keeping its functions clandestine. Garetano, who is currently producing the Travel Channel investigative docu-series Strange World, says Camp Hero’s radio tower, a legendary local landmark in itself, was “used for other things than the specified. It was a beacon to experiment on the town. At first you think this is complete science fiction, a conspiracy theory, but when you look at history, and around the world, worse things were done, like the Tuskegee experiments.”
Nichols’ book The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time alleges the Montauk Project was an extension or continuation of the Philadelphia Experiment, also known as Project Rainbow, which is best known as a 1943 wartime experiment to make the naval ship USS Eldridge invisible, at the very least, to radar. In the third season of Stranger Things, Max guides Eleven through an experiment in espionage while invisible, at the very least, to Mike. The Camp Hero experiments endeavored to “stimulate parts of the brain to make people malleable to control them,” Garetano explains. “In Strange World, at the end of the first episode we discuss neuroscientist Michael Persinger who co-designed the ‘God Helmut,’ which Nichols says controls the mind or heightens psychic abilities.” The apparatus stimulates the temporal lobes to reportedly replicate various unexplained phenomena.
In Stranger Things, Eleven’s mother Terry, who was kept in an induced catatonic state for years, can communicate with her daughter through telekinesis. Chacon investigated a child alleged to be plagued by a psychic connection to several people in comas. While he didn’t want to speculate on why Eleven is depicted bleeding through her nose following telekinetic works, Chacon did say “having dealt with other similar real-life situations; physiological reactions in connection to psi abilities are usually a local/systemic product of extreme physiological/psychological exertion.” Chacon notes the very real research that has been conducted to train subjects to perform psychokinesis, “around the world, from government and military projects to private sector research, all manner of experimentation and research has been conducted to explore PK inducement and enhancement in subjects.” In Russia, Chacon examined a transient who could reportedly kill people at a distance with his psychokinetic abilities.
You Can’t Spell America Without CIA
In the 1980s, rumors began circulating that the base on Montauk conducted MK Ultra-like government experiments. The CIA mind control program Project MK Ultra played a strong role in the first two seasons of Stranger Things. Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine), who raised Eleven, worked there before moving to Hawkins Lab. Eleven’s mother was one of the MK Ultra test subjects. She was pregnant with Eleven at the time of her trials. The program, which ran from 1953 to 1973, began after Korean War soldiers came home critical of the American way of life. The CIA believed the soldiers were brainwashed by the Communists, and the agency set up fronts which were run by their own hand-picked brainwashing experts. In Canada, that included the Human Ecology Fund, which paid for the research conducted at McGill University. Between 1957 and 1961, the CIA funneled about $62,000 to Montreal psychiatrist Dr. Ewen Cameron, the director of the Allen Memorial hospital. Cameron subjected unwitting patients to experimental treatments including sensory deprivation, electroshock therapy, experimental drugs and long periods of chemically-induced sleep. In the 2010s, the Canadian government paid a $100,000 settlement to the daughter of one of Cameron’s victims. Dr. Cameron is “one of the reasons so many people have an unhealthy fear of psychiatric experimentation,” Chacon says.
As part of the MK Ultra experiments Eleven’s mother Terry had her psyche broken down by electro shock therapy, which electrically induces seizures in the brain. Shock treatment has gotten a bad rap since Jack Nicholson bit down on a tongue guard in director Miloš Forman’s film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While Hawkins lab’s Dr. Brenner uses it to induce catatonia, the therapy may also be able to unlock hidden parts of the psyche.
“What is now referred to as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can potentially produce an almost unlimited number of reactions, psychologically, physiologically, even spiritually,” Chacon says. “The same goes for taking hallucinogens or any drug/substance that impairs or alters body chemistry. Private research and experimentation has been conducted with these methods of stimulation, as well as many, many others, to observe how they affect subjects.”
Chacon says Camp Hero was an entirely different project from the CIA’s MK Ultra and Star Gate. Project Star Gate was the codename for a U.S. government project intended to use psychic and supernatural phenomenon for spying and military purposes. The experiments are detailed in the movie and book The Men Who Stare at Goats. The title references the participants, an Army unit called Detachment G, testing their telekinetic abilities by attempting to kill goats with their minds. A flashback scene in Stranger Things shows Eleven being told to try to kill a cat with her mind. The sequence implies the government is trying to shape Eleven into a human weapon of war. Detachment G was actually deployed when the National Security Council had them remotely scan a Soviet naval base in September 1979.
“For Strange World I met with people who worked with Project Star Gate,” Garetano says. “They were people who were trained as psychic soldiers” and to perform remote viewing. Remote viewing is where a person can send their awareness outside of themselves so they can see things happening somewhere else. Eleven does this several times on the series.
Turning the Upside Down Inside Out
Stranger Things presents an alternate dimension existing parallel to the human world. Eleven made inter-dimensional contact with a Demogorgon during an experiment at Hawkins National Laboratory, and unintentionally opened a gate between the two. “That is very believable,” Garetano says. “In quantum physics we know there’s strong evidence to support we are living amongst many dimensions. As we go forward in time, the paranormal and science will merge into a nucleus that will reveal a lot of the things we’ve suspected, or in folklore that we are multi-dimensional.”
“There are several ancient belief systems that describe multiple realms, dimensions, states and planes,” Chacon says. “In addition to these many ancient beliefs, modern science has brought us supersymmetric string theory that envisions many multiple dimensions as well.” We asked Chacon whether any group or government agency has attempted to break through the walls that divide our dimension from others. “Attempted exploration of one or more of these has occurred throughout time and many belief systems, as well as in various capacities in science around the world.”
Beyond the mythologies of TV and local legend, the theories ring true in life. Chacon says he was in “numerous situations that exhibited anomalous characteristics that are indicative of theorized preternatural, alternative, parallel and multiple dimensions.” The plants and animals in Stranger Thing‘s alternate dimension appear completely alien to this one. Anatomical structures appear askew, and all life forms are linked as one super-organism. They are under the control of the Mind Flayer and act with a hive mind. Chacon states, “If other dimensions do exist, it is certainly possible that there would be different kinds of life forms there as well.”
The first anomaly Chacon analyzed at the privately funded think tank “was an anomalous concentration of energy; the unseen mass only partially refracting light, had an impact force of over 3000 pounds PSI, and reacted to stimuli as if sentient.”
A Trip to China Sounds Nice If You Tread Lightly
According to sources in China, Chacon was brought in to assess a paranormal event involving an amorphous sentient force with a high concentration of energy. A couple that witnessed it spoke with us (vis-à-vis translation) on the condition of confidentiality. The witnesses spent an afternoon celebrating a birthday at a friend’s home when the electrical power in the community went off. At first the party continued because it was daylight. Then it was interrupted by a mysterious gate crasher. “One of our children was playing with other children in the large yard when they all screamed and got hysterical at something,” the witness tells us. “We all heard heavy breathing and growling, like an animal, but it was invisible. They all ran away crying and in fear. Our child screamed that he touched it.”
The party ended as the electrical power went back on, but the aftereffects of the incident continued and veered toward the surreal. “Our child’s hand and arm began to look blurry to all of us and he began to get sick so we took him home,” the witness says. They put the sick child to bed and kept their other child in the room with them. The electrical power in the couple’s home went off. “We suddenly heard screams and cries from the first child and it seemed like all light in the house and community was temporarily dimmed. It was afternoon so daylight darkened like a huge cloud or shadow came over us. At the same moment our child’s screaming stopped.”
When they opened the door to the bedroom to check on the sick child, he was nowhere to be found. The couple searched throughout the house but could not find him. “We did encounter the shadow of what looked like a murky fog move through the house,” The uninvited guest was no mere apparition. It caused real physical damage. “It charged through the house damaging furniture and tore the walls like it had talons,” the witness recounts.
The couple contacted the police and waited outside their front door. “While they investigated and even tried attacking the foggy shadow, the light grew dim again and our child suddenly reappeared to us, but my wife was now gone,” the witness says. “The child was sick and could not remember or explain what happened.”
More police were called to investigate. After another six hours the lights grew “dim again and my wife reappeared in the kitchen. She was sick, dizzy and could only remember six hours earlier,” says the witness. “But one of the officers was now missing. The remaining officers looked through the entire house. They saw the unexplained foggy shadow but could not find the missing officer and evacuated.”
The house was closed off as police supervisors took control. The family stayed at a hotel. They were told a specialist was being brought in. The family was subjected to medical and psychological tests. The family’s home and the home the party was held at were tested for environmental and atmospheric anomalies. Chacon questioned the family and the police, and entered the house alone. After several hours he came out with the missing officer, who had no memory of what happened or where he’d been. The witness said they’ve never had any similar experiences before or since, and no one they know has either.
No Cherry, No Deal
Soviet-era Russians are buying up malls and tunneling between dimensions in the third season of Stranger Things. The munitions which supplied the Cold War expanded into an entirely new arsenal back in the U.S.S.R. in the decades before Stranger Things is set. On March 19, 1970, observers at the Ukhtomskii Military Institute in Leningrad watched former Red Amy tank soldier Nina Kulagina stop a frog’s heart from beating in seven minutes using only her mind. President Jimmy Carter ordered the CIA to learn all they could about psychic research behind the Iron Curtain in 1977. Declassified CIA documents confirm the Russians were doing their own kinds of psychic research and supernatural meddling. Nikolai Poroskovs article “Super Soldier for the Wars of The Future,” published in the Russian Defense Ministry’s official magazine Army Collection claims Soviet scientists were mining altered human consciousness for tactical information. “The former Soviet Union and now Russia have been involved with a significant amount of research, experimentation and application in many aspects of parapsychology, paranormal and the supernatural/occult,” Chacon confirms.
The competition between Russian and American occult research was similar to the rivalry between the two countries’ space programs, except “much worse,” according to Chacon. “While the stakes were high with the space program from a propaganda-standpoint, with the dawn of TV and mass media, the above-top-secret alternative experimentation, and parapsychological and occult research, was directly dealing with the escalating state of the cold war with clandestine intelligence collection and undetectable clandestine warfare. One of the significant differences between the two was the manner of implementation, with a significant amount of American research being conducted by the private sector (with the help of black budget program initiated back in the 1940s) that allows direct unaccountability, and the Soviet Union’s/Russia’s research primarily entirely conducted by government divisions with little to no financial or ethical limitations.”
As Netflix’s most-watched TV show to date and getting a fan-base that could be arguably greater than X-Files, Stranger Things has been renewed for a fourth season, allowing the Duffer Brothers to continue their jaw-dropping paranormal odyssey. And in the same sense that the Duffer’s pay homage to the unforgettable movies and TV horror shows of the past, they give an intriguing nod to the reportedly real life paranormal events that have occurred and being reported. And if the ongoing reports of phenomena around the world and the demand for Chacon’s expertise are any indication, there will be no limit to the ongoing paranormal events the show can mine for inspiration. In its own unique way, Stranger Things mimics our world by feeding the collective subconscious that are hungry for the nostalgic horror storytelling of the past while highlighting the possibility of the real phenomena that may actually exist. While the storytelling has proven to work and connect with growing audiences that cannot get enough of it, we may discover over time that perhaps the strangest thing about Stranger Things may be in how surprisingly close to the truth that the phenomena and paranormal events depicted in the stories might actually be.