Strange and Stranger Throwbacks

Strange and Stranger Throwbacks

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Sep 16th 2018

From the everything-old-is-new-again file comes the critically acclaimed and popular science-fiction throwback Netflix series Stranger Things, which won five 2017 Emmy® Awards for its spectacular first season, has already nabbed a 2018 Best Sound Editing trophy for its second season and contends Monday for five Primetime Emmys® including Outstanding Drama Series. Created by the Duffer Brothers and set in a fictional Indiana town in the early 1980s where a government-backed laboratory conducts experimental research that triggers horrific, universe-endangering consequences for the local citizenry, Stranger Things generates many of its eerie yarn-spinning pleasures from its marvelous recreation of its era and the cultural horror tropes it deftly recycles and reimagines. Spot-on sci-fi nostalgia executed with pitch-perfect style can capture a sizable audience, reflected in the warm reception given not only to Stranger Things but also to the USS Callister telefilm from the cult-fave series Black Mirror, a slyly chilling Star Trek riff that already captured three 2018 Emmys® – including Outstanding Television Movie – and vies for acting and writing honors at Monday’s ceremony. 

Thirty-five years ago today saw theaters invaded by another, nuttier blast-from-the-past takeover of the sleepy fictional burg of Centerville, Illinois, where otherworldly close encounters evoke feelings of mystery and dread. A collaboration of co-writers Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Mr. Holmes, Beauty and the Beast) and Michael Laughlin (Stranger Behavior), the latter also directing in an affectionately spooky vein, the wild and woolly yarn boasted modest but quite persuasive special effects that realized its time-bending ambitions expertly. One admirer was Time’s late, great and not easily pleased reviewer Richard Corliss: “Two cheers, then for Strange Invaders [1983], a fond burlesque of alien-visitors movies of the 1950s. Indeed, its story begins in that Eisenhower decade of blandness and paranoia. A spaceship full of E.T.s has come to earth on a 25-year leash; now time is up and, just before the aliens leave, some humans are getting nosy. Which are the victims, which the villains? Hard to tell, since the reptilian aliens have assumed human form – except that they dress, speak and act as if it still were 1958 and they were all featured players on Father Knows Best. Like the best science fiction, Strange Invaders is also social satire – in this case, on the very ’80s belief that style is content, that anyone wearing or talking in the wrong fashion must be as old as outer space. By slapping the two decades together (in Susanna Moore’s knowing décor and costumes), Strange Invaders exposes the banalities and excesses of the popular art they produced. The classy cast (Paul LeMat, Louise Fletcher, Nancy Allen, Diana Scarwid) plays it deadpan but without a hint of derision, and coaxes the movie toward a full-throated inspirational climax. As an evocation of the American ’50s going on ’80s, Strange Invaders is what Twilight Zone: The Movie could and should have been.” Kenneth Tobey, June Lockhart, Michael Lerner, Wallace Shawn, Fiona Shaw and Charles Lane also figure in the aforementioned classy ensemble, while a score by prior Tom Jones Oscar®-winning and future Murder She Wrote Emmy®-winning composer John Addison gloriously sets the mood. Those in the mood for stranger things and black mirrors are cordially invited to watch the skies, watch the Emmys® and watch Twilight Time’s delightful Strange Invaders hi-def Blu-ray.