WASHINGTON, July 27, 2016 — In H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “From Beyond,” mad scientist Crawford Tillinghast invents a machine that emits radio waves to stimulate the brain’s pineal gland, allowing those nearby to see “which no breathing creature has yet seen.”
“We shall overleap time, space, and dimensions, and without bodily motion peer to the bottom of creation.”
When the story’s narrator sees floating, extra-dimensional monsters emerge from the darkness, Tillinghast declares,
“They are coming. Look! Look, curse you, look! It’s over your left shoulder.”
In the Netflix original series “Stranger Things,” something unnatural stalks the residents of sleepy Hawkins, Indiana.
Something from beyond.
The plot is a hodgepodge of familiar movie fair: It’s “Goonies” meets “Alien,” meets “ET,” meets “Poltergeist.”
Set in 1983, the story quickly introduces the tale’s true villains: Cold Warrior Ronald Reagan and the U.S. military industrial complex; in particular, a team of psychic-warfare researchers conducting experiments at a facility on the outskirts of town – the Hawkins National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy.
The Hollywood left, it seems, will never forgive The Gipper for defeating the Soviet Union.
Deep within the bowels of this building, we see a stereotypical scientist – clad in white smock, of course – careening down a hallway in a frantic attempt to escape something that has bolted the controlled confines of his laboratory.
Just when he thinks the elevator is taking him to safety, something grabs him by the head and pulls him up, up and away.
Across town, four grammar-school-age friends end a ten-hour session of Dungeons and Dragons. But as young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) bicycles his way home, he is confronted by the escaped laboratory creature blocking the dimly lit, forest-lined road.
Abandoning his bike and running the short distance home, the latch-key-kid discovers his mother and older brother are nowhere to be found.
He runs to the backyard shed, grabs and loads the family rifle, points the muzzle at the shed door and waits to confront the thing that has followed him home. But Will realizes too late that the object of his terror stands just over his shoulder.
And with that, Will Byers vanishes.
When Will’s mother (Winona Ryder) reports her son’s disappearance to the Hawkins’ Police Department, Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is conciliatory.
“Ninety-nine out of a hundred times a kid goes missing, a kid is with a parent or relative,” he says.
Joyce Byers is unconvinced, “What about the other time? The one… the one?”
Later, strange happenings at home leads Joyce to the crazy but inescapable conclusion that her missing child is somehow communicating with her.
“He is close,” she tells her older son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). “I know it. I feel it in my heart. You have to trust me on this. Okay?”
When Chief Hopper eventually questions Will’s three friends, he ends the fruitless interrogation with a warning,
“After school, you are all to go home immediately. That means no biking around looking for your friend, no investigating, no nonsense. This isn’t some Lord of the Rings book.”
But later that night, young Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) talks to his friend Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin). He remembers that during their last game of Dungeons and Dragons Will didn’t “play it safe… He put himself in danger to help the party.”
The determined pair grab flashlights, fill their backpacks with supplies and meet up with third Musketeer Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), biking to the last known location of their missing friend – a dark and creepy forest.
Worse still, it starts to rain – very hard.
Through the thick downpour, the beams of their flashlights converge on a drenched young girl. She is around their age. She is also a refugee from the Hawkins National Laboratory.
This girl, who goes by the name Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the same as the number tattooed on her forearm, is key to unlocking the mystery surrounding Will’s disappearance. As she explains to her new friends, Will is “hiding,” trapped in the “upside-down,” a realm she inadvertently discovered while psychically spying on the Soviet Union.
“Will is hiding? From the [U.S. government] bad men?” asks Mike.
Eleven shakes her head and points to a piece on the nearby Dungeons and Dragons board. It’s the prince of demons, lord of all that swims in darkness – the reptilian, two-headed Demogorgon.
Just like the thing… standing over your left shoulder.
“Stranger Things” is currently streaming on Netflix.