Many spoilers ahead for Stranger Things season two.
While doing press for Netflix’s truly fun Stranger Things 2, the Duffer Brothers compared their highly anticipated sequel to one of the most famous follow-ups of all time, Aliens. They noted how they were following the formula of James Cameron, probably not just on Aliens, but also T2: Judgment Day, two films that echo and expand on the trademarks of their predecessors at the same time. And, now that we’ve had time to binge all nine episodes, the parallels between Stranger Things 2 and Aliens are even more direct than we could have predicted. Aliens is woven through the entire nine-episode arc, from casting to sound effects to character dynamics to specific set pieces. It’s got everything but an android. Let us count the ways the Duffer Brothers cribbed from the king of ‘80s action:
The Duffer Brothers are being exceedingly clever about the way they publicly drew the parallel between Aliens and Stranger Things 2, and cast Paul Reiser in the role of an authority figure. It adds to our instant suspicion of Dr. Owens, not only because of how much we naturally distrust someone filling similar shoes to Matthew Modine’s Dr. Brenner, but because of who Reiser played in Aliens. It’s Burke! He has to be a bad guy! It’s indicative of how aware the Duffers are of their audience, knowing that they’ll have inherent misgivings about a character because of who he played in an iconic film. In fact, the rumor is that when they wrote the second season, his character was named Paul Reiser, because who plays him is as essential as anything else about the character.
This one is simple, but no less a parallel — there was one nasty-looking Demogorgon in season one and there are multiple “Demodogs” in season two of Stranger Things. There’s one nasty-looking Alien in Ridley Scott’s classic, and, well, more than one in Aliens. The new Demodogs even move like the Aliens in Cameron’s film, climbing the walls and speeding around corners. They’re smaller, faster, and deadlier, willing to work together to annihilate everything with which they come into contact. In many ways, this parallel is the strongest of them all, using the exact same “one to multiple” template that Cameron used in his classic action film. And as they descend on poor Bob, it’s impossible not to think of the nasty creatures from Aliens, both the one that tries to “hug” Ripley’s face and the monsters who slice and dice the crew.
Just as in Alien, radar plays a major role in Aliens, particularly as the team is tracked via monitors by Ripley, Burke, and Lieutenant Gorman early in the film (even in the future, everything will look like an Atari game if ‘80s sci-fi is to be believed). When Dr. Owens is watching the Demodogs descend on the base via the monitors at the end of Stranger Things 2, it’s hard not to think back to those iconic moments in which surveillance served as a witness to a sci-fi nightmare. How different is the base climax of Stranger Things 2 from the iconic sequence in Aliens in which the radar captures the aliens coming across the ceiling? Not much.
Listen to the Aliens scream in James Cameron’s movie and listen to the Demodogs scream in Stranger Things 2. It’s practically a remix of the same effect — that high-pitched squeal that indicates something truly horrible is about to happen.
The Icky Upside Down
Visually, the Upside Down has always recalled the slimy, dripping world of the Alien films, but it’s even more prominent in season two. As Eleven is coming through the thin layer that separates the worlds, and as one closes on Hopper later in the season, the membrane feels modeled on the egg sacs and other ickiness that the team finds on their mission in Aliens. And the fact that so much of this grotesque world tries to subdue via oral ingestion is definitely a trick learned from the Face Huggers. Finally, think about Hopper trapped in the Upside Down before Will saves him — he looks almost exactly like the first person the team finds in Aliens, trapped by extraterrestrial growth. At least a chest-burster doesn’t pop from Hopper’s stomach. Yet.
Flame Units Only
When the team in Aliens figures out that they’re going to be underneath the cooling units that would explode if they fire rounds, they’re forced to use “flame units only,” and some of the most iconic imagery of Aliens includes walls of flame. When the nameless government officials try to destroy the Upside Down via flamethrower in Stranger Things 2, the visuals feel purposefully reminiscent of Hicks, Vasquez, and the rest of the team, shooting fire.
The parallels between the survivor Newt and the powerful Eleven aren’t direct, but all of the other echoes of the film make them hard to avoid completely. Think about where Eleven is at the beginning of season two — returned from a waking nightmare in a world run by a very Alien-esque Demogorgon to a world in which she doesn’t fully fit in. Newt, too, is a survivor of something deeply traumatizing, and also looking for a mother figure, like Eleven is in season two. And both Newt and Eleven have adult partners who serve almost as quasi-parents in Ripley and Hopper, respectively. As Hopper and Eleven were fighting off Demodogs and closing the gate to the other side in the season two finale, I couldn’t help but think of Newt and Ripley surviving the hell of Aliens.
Get all your Stranger Things 2 questions answered at the show’s Vulture Festival LA panel on November 18. Tickets available here.