A Guide to All the Stephen King References in ‘Stranger Things’

Netflix mega-hit ‘Stranger Things’ is firmly rooted in Stephen King mythology. Did you catch all the references?

Stranger Things is a dream come true for 80’s kids everywhere. It’s especially wondrous for Constant Readers of Stephen King. References to his works inform much of the character development and plot twists within the series, so much so that King himself lovingly dubbed Stranger Things“Steve King’s Greatest Hits.”

As a lifelong Constant Reader myself, I delighted in seeing each new King reference pop up on screen during my Stranger Things binge. I’ve catalogued every bit of King nostalgia I could get my hot little hands on for your viewing pleasure.

Warning: We’re going to be discussing plot points from the entirety of Stranger Things Season 1 in the following slides. So, if you haven’t seen it yet, you probably shouldn’t stay. You should go, now. 

Stephen King Book covers. Photo: Sarah Gless

The FONT! (Yes, the font.)

When I was a kid, my dad had an entire shelf full of glossy, hardcover Stephen King novels just out of reach. I’d sit on my parents bed and admire the row of nearly identical spines shining in the light from the window. Finally, one fateful day, I was allowed to read them myself, and I was instantly hooked. I bought paperback after paperback, toting them around in my LL Bean backpack and sneaking pages in whenever I could. Suffice to say, I’m intimately acquainted with this severe, blocky font, and have a very specific feeling whenever it comes into view. Stranger Things creators, The Duffer Brothers, knew this and capitalized on it with panache.

For a professional take on the fonts used in the Stranger Things opening sequence, check out graphic designer Sarah Gless’ complete breakdown of the retro typefaces. (Credit goes to Gless for the photo above as well.)

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in Stranger Things. Photo: Netflix

Dreamcatcher

King’s foray into the world of aliens wasn’t really his best effort. However, similarities can be found between a relatively silent boy – Duddits – and the involvement of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) in the ultimate vanquishing of the alien being / Demagorgin.

The Dead Zone

Speaking of fonts, the floating words and ominous music in the title sequence of Stranger Things is eerily reminiscent of another Stephen King classic, The Dead Zone.

While the story behind The Dead Zone is completely different, the sense of foreboding that builds during the slow burn of the Stranger Things credits sequence was very possibly borrowed from the Cronenberg film.

Natalia Dyer as Nancy in Stranger Things. Photo: Netflix

Salem’s Lot

Like the otherworldly creatures in King’s vampire epic Salem’s Lot, the Demagorgin in Stranger Things is drawn by blood.

Furthermore, the story is driven by a young, vivacious, and family-oriented woman named Susan who has designs to kill the vampires by herself. Parallels between Susan and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) can certainly be found between the two headstrong women, especially as females are so often relegated to passive roles in horror and mystery narratives.

Stand By Me. Photo: Columbia Pictures

The Body / Stand By Me

One of the most faithful adaptations of any King work is the film Stand By Me. Based on King’s novella “The Body”, the film focused on four friends in a simpler time who are just looking to go on an adventure.

Episode 4 of Stranger Things is also entitled “The Body”. If that’s not enough to send shivers up your Constant Reader spine, then the remainder of the series should. Viewers are treated to repeated scenes of four friends as they try to make sense of an unfolding mystery, deal with bullies, and forge a strong friendship that nothing can break. It’s a story as old as time. And, in King’s case, a story that he would draw from over and over again throughout his career. (See: IT, Dreamcatcher, Christine) No wonder it works so well in evoking emotion here.

Sissy Spacek as Carrie in Carrie. Photo: United Artists

Carrie

A pivotal moment of Stranger Things inexplicably takes place in a school gym. Seriously, no one ever explains why the crew had to relocate to set up the sensory deprivation tank, but whatevs. We all know it’s an homage to Carrie’s telekinetic powers. In addition to the gymnasium setting, just like Carrie, Eleven is a total sweetheart who’s frequently overcome by her overwhelming powers.

Last but not least, the scene in which Nancy claws her way out of the Upside Down in episode 7 is incredibly reminiscent of the famous hand in the grave scene that caps Brian DePalma’s 1976 film adaptation of Carrie. Check it out here.

Drew Barrymore as Charlie in Firestarter. Photo: Giphy

Firestarter

Furthering the young woman as deadly weapon idea, Eleven is truly just a mixture of Carrie plus Charlie (Drew Barrymore) from Firestarter. While Eleven’s powers are far stronger than Charlie’s, both were held captive in a lab doing experiments on humans for government gain. The “bad men” used these girls as guinea pigs and eventually paid the price for their inhumanity.

11.22.63 on Hulu. Photo: Hulu

11/22/63

King’s novel 11/22/63 is arguably not directly adapted here, but similarities can definitely be drawn from character Jake Epping’s jump through a portal in time in a seemingly innocuous location. In addition, the distorted phone call Jake makes from the past to the future also sounds oddly similar to the repeated calls that Will attempts use to contact his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) in Stranger Things.

Tim Curry as Pennywise in Stephen King’s IT. Photo: Giphy

IT

Guys, the portal to the Upside Down was IN A SEWER. DO YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE LIVES IN THE SEWER, CONSTANT READERS?! Yep. Pennywise the clown. Arguably, the Demagorgin wasn’t nearly as evil as Pennywise, but that’s a debate we can all have on another day. Also, I can’t possibly be the only King fan that flashed to IT when Eleven said she could reach Will using the bathtub.

The bloody thumbprints of IT are all over Stranger Things. Like King’s novel, Stranger Things kicks off with a missing child, and the terror only escalates from there. However, nowhere is the homage to IT more apparent than in the use of a slingshot to vanquish the monstrous foe. The simplistic yet powerful weapon embodies the child-like fantasy that we can take on the world with a dream, some moxie, and a group of best friends.

‘Stranger Things’ Season 1 is currently available for streaming on Netflix.