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Frightening Things

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Have you been taken in by Stranger Things? Months ago, I read about Winona Ryder starring in this new Netflix series, which snagged my attention. Yes, I was one of those people who loved Winona in Heathers and Beetlejuice. I wanted to be Winona because I’m so tall and nothing like her, but as a teen I wanted to be small and dark-haired. I hated feeling like that Jolly Green Giant all the time (as several kids liked to call me).

But I don’t watch horror. Do you? I’m not a fan of being scared. Some people love a good scare, but that’s not me. Even playing hide-and-seek as a kid freaked me out. I couldn’t shake the feeling that no one would find me. Or I would never find anyone. I’d hide and panic, convinced if I hid well, I’d be trapped in my hiding place and die. I don’t know what gave me these ideas, but even as a mom, I never really enjoyed playing hide-and-seek with my son. The fear is still there.

I am, however, a child of the 80s, a great and terrible time. So, Stranger Things is set in November 1983.

I was 15 in 1983 and in 10th grade. Who was I listening to? Joe Jackson. Howard Jones. Wang Chung. Duran Duran. I may have the years wrong for those bands, but I did listen to them in high school. And later the Violent Femmes, Depech Mode, and New Order.

Where were you in 1983?

In any event, I gave in to all the buzz on Stranger Things. Many friends were talking about the show and posting about it. Even a few of my students were watching it.

I can watch scary things only after my son has gone to bed, which means I was watching the series before I went to bed. Sigh. I lost a lot of sleep, and not because I  binged watched. I watched only one episode a night until the end, when I watched the last three episodes in one night. But the music and imagery in my head kept me up. I kept thinking about the 80s and my teen years. They were not years I’d ever want to return to. Some people loved high school, but I’m one of the people who hated it. I have yet to go to a reunion. Would I ever go to one? I can’t see it.

Anyway, after the first episode of Stranger Things, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue. I don’t even know why. I didn’t like Nancy at first. [Spoilers afoot, people!] Steve was a jerk. So, I watched the second episode a week later. I could see myself as Barb. I would have been the girl not really invited to the party, not drinking, and rolling her eyes at the jerk my friend liked, the girl with the bad clothes and bad hair. I understood Barb. Though to be clear, I’m not a fan obsessed with Barb. I can see why her character had to go. And her death at least changes around the trope of the girl who has sex dying, which is what happened in most 80s horror flicks (and maybe still does, I wouldn’t know really).

I loved the kids in the show. They were great and engaging, the boys and Eleven. When i thought I wouldn’t continue watching the show, I still had to know about those kids. Way to go, Stranger Things! You got me.

The series was inspired by the 80s, and that was obvious. It hit all those lovely nostalgia beats. Oh, the music! Love the music. I also love the opening title sequence.

 

Nonetheless, I resisted falling for the show. Maybe I just didn’t want to like something everyone else liked. Maybe I just didn’t like being scared. I can’t say enough how much I hate scary movies. Once in many years ago, I waited for two hours in a car rather than go in to see the second (third?) Alien movie. My friends thought I would cave and watch the movie rather than sit for two hours in the parking lot, but I both hate being scared and am tremendously stubborn.

But I read  more and more about the series. In the end, I fell for it just like many others. I read criticisms–valid criticisms–but I’m a fan of the show now anyway. Something captivating about that world. I actually never saw the Goonies, a film Stranger Things was inspired by, but I saw Stand by Me and John  Hughes films (Pretty in Pink, people!). I don’t think of myself as especially nostalgic, but I did like seeing the kids not have cell phones and Internet. As an author I know how much of a pain these things can be sometimes for storytelling. What is the problem when you can just pick up a phone, use GPS, or look up something on the Internet? In Stranger Things the cops has to go to the library and use microfiche. Microfiche!

Also, the series has inspired me to face a few fears in my own storytelling. I was working on a manuscript–The Fairy Tale Asylum–but I’d put it aside. I knew it needed to be scarier, but I’ve been hesitant to go there. It is supposed to be a scary story, I just struggled with my own fear. How could I write something frightening if I can’t watch scary things?

Earlier in the year, I went to see The Witch. I knew it would scrammed me too, but the story interested me. I read all the spoilers before I went so that I’d be prepared. I don’t mind spoilers. They save my nerves. Seriously. If I’m going to watch something scary, I look for spoilers.

 

I’ll see a horror movie if the story is captivating enough, like Pan’s Labyrinth. I saw that and it scared the hell out of me. I cried for an hour. But it was a beautiful film. A horrifying beautiful film. I’m glad I saw it and I never want to see it again.

 

But I want to better handle fictional frightening things. So, I’m going to write a few frightening things. We’ll see how it goes.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

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