Full disclosure: I’ve only seen one episode of Stranger Things 4. But, further confession – that’s all. I don’t know whether I will be able to continue this or not because I don’t know if I can handle it. The show’s appeal used to be the way it bordered on the supernatural without being steeped in cheap “jerks” and gore.
And I liked the first three series; I grew up in the 1980s, you see. I was literally raised on classics like The Goonies, Stand by Me, The Breakfast Club, Dark Crystal, The Princess Bride, The Neverending Story and Labyrinth, films that have become B-movie classics, revered for their plot lines and simple puppetry ( and trucker caps) by people who weren’t even born when they first came out.
My best friend and I first saw Nightmare on Elm Street when we shouldn’t have been, because her mother was less strict (or perhaps less aware of all that horror and gore’s effect on our young, impressionable minds) ) than mine was.
We’d have sleepovers (Friday the 13th) with horrible clowns (IT) and boys wearing hockey masks (Friday the 13th), giving me nightmares for weeks, and I was also raised on a diet of horror-by-osmosis: my mother. Dad reads Stephen King and Dean Koontz is on vacation, and my mom would be happy to scare herself with Hellraiser, settling down to watch it alone while my dad was on business. I was never allowed to be involved with him (and thank God).
Still, I read The Stand, Cujo, and Carey when I was barely in the double digits and swallowed the Christopher Pike and Point horror books whole.
Anyone who knows me knows about my undying love for vampires (though that’s The Lost Boys instead of Twilight, thank you very much). I’ve earned my scary credentials, get teased regularly for being “a goth” and I love a graveyard—even at night.
When it comes to being scared you’d think I’d be fine. But then I watched series four of Stranger Things.
As soon as it opened (and spoiler alert: don’t read this if you don’t want to know what happens) I realized in the first five minutes that I was going to have a problem watching it — because I have two young kids. Ever since I gave birth, I can’t handle children being harmed or killed on screen; Doesn’t matter if it’s fictional (and it often isn’t – as a journalist I find myself surrounded by very real horror stories, most of the time).
I stopped midway through the first episode of the TV series Mindhunter, and also the procedural police drama Marcella, because they contained narratives that centered around children being hurt and abused. I can’t handle kids hurting kids for fun, though I’ll admit that’s something personal to me—hence the opening scene of Stranger Things 4, in which a group of telekinetic kids are being killed in a hospital? No.
video of the day
However, like I said, I loved the last three seasons so wanted to persevere – but it just got worse!
I ended up sending screenshots of some of the most shocking deaths and blood splatters to a friend who told me her 10-year-old daughter was interested in seeing it. There was no doubt in my mind that it was my duty to drive her away: “It’s terrible,” I wrote, “appropriate horror—a teenage girl’s eyes were taken out, all her bones were broken, her father sewed up her eyes and mouth.” Off. I’m scared and I’m almost 41! They’ve ditched the subtle supernatural in favor of a whole lot of horror with this one!”
Because that’s the rub, isn’t it?
Stranger Things has so far been great because of its love of being obvious and (almost) creepy, like Eerie Indiana or The Twilight Zone or even Doctor Who. A “hide behind a cushion, laugh at the scary bits” experience. Yes, it turned into Freddie Krueger-style hammer horror (RIP BILLY) at the end of series three—and Barb’s death was particularly shocking—but it felt different for series 4. Felt more… harmless, somehow. Still bloody, still dark, but “Upside Down” had a childish appeal (though I wouldn’t let any of my kids see it). The past three seasons somehow feel a world away from watching a teenage cheerleader, the bones in her arms and legs horribly splintered — and her eyes sucked out of her head — by the demon Vecna.
Call me a coward if you want. Perhaps as I got older, my tolerance for scary things decreased.
Of course, the ratings are there for a reason — it’s not like Netflix is giving the kids series a miss; It’s 15 and that’s right.
But there’s something about the strange darkness of imagining a bunch of children killed in a hospital ward that doesn’t sit with me. As a mom, as a kid of the ’80s, as a (so far) horror fan.
At the end of the first episode I had to do what I remember doing after watching Rick (a Spanish “founded footage” horror film), Paranormal Activity, and Get Out – turning on all the lights in the house to go to the bathroom. Give. At one point, I wondered if I’d even be able to bring myself to walk upstairs – it was dark there!
Who knew what monsters would be waiting?
In the end, though, I had no choice: My five-year-old was sleeping in his bedroom. I probably couldn’t let her wake up and wonder where I was in the middle of the night, only to admit that mom was sleeping on the couch with the cat and the lights on because she was scared of a TV program.
But that is – a lot.
And at this point in time, she doesn’t even know if she’ll be able to watch episode two.