Stranger Things

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SPOILER FREE (mostly)

Tell me to watch the latest OITNB as it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen; tell me I should be up to speed on Game of Thrones, or that The Walking Dead is still the essential TV show to be hooked on… and chances are I’ll ignore you. When somebody extols the virtues of a TV show so much it becomes annoying, I tend to switch off.

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But from the minute I saw the synopsis for Stranger Things I knew it would be for me. If you’ve been living under a social media rock, here is the setup:

1983. Small town Indiana. Four 12 year old nerds, Will, Mike, Dustin and Lucas, finish a game of Dungeons and Dragons. And then on his way home, via the shady Dawkins Laboratory on the edge of town, Will is snatched right off his BMX bike. His mom Joyce and brother Jonathan become obsessed with finding him, whilst big beary butch Chief Hopper, between donuts and coffee, starts to realise there’s more to their little town than meets the eye.

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The day after it came out, I thumbed my nose at my broken Smart TV and hooked up the laptop to get my fix. And I got sucked in quicker than a sixth grader at a portal to another dimension…

I’ve watched all 8 episodes in a few days, viewing the last 3 in one fell swoop last night. I was expecting excitement, I was expecting horror, I was expecting cool synths. What I wasn’t expecting was to be a blubbing emotional wreck by the end! I don’t have to hit you with spoilers to tell you why.

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We’ve all raved about the show and listed its references, from The Goonies to The Gate, from ET to Stand By Me. The show is the perfect storm of 80s nostalgia. And for me that’s about as emotive as you can get. Those innocent days when a trip to the video shop was the most exciting part of your week. When, with your friends or your rapidly-impatient-growing mother you’d immerse yourself in gaudy cover art and damp-smelling plastic cases and be transported.

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Even when you weren’t allowed to buy Prom Night you got to read the synopsis and see the trashy stills on the back and you were there, in the ‘Upside Down’ of your reality, you were wrapped in this bubble of heart-pounding excitement but also safety. Warmth. So to see a show evoke that feeling, populate it with the kind of kids you WERE at the time and then pull you so deeply into their world, it’s pretty damn special.

What it gets so right is that rite of passage for anyone battling through adolescence. When suddenly your best friend in the world is more interested in a girl than in playing Atari with you, like when Mike starts to fall for Eleven, leaving Lucas and Dustin on the sidelines. It’s that anger you feel, that sadness and desperation when the world you’ve built around you begins to shift.

When Nancy wants to run with the cool kids and leaves her awkward bumbling pal Barb sat alone at the swimming pool, not only does Barb’s world shatter… the whole world does. Literally. And struggling to cope with the worst kind of loss, Joyce (Winona Ryder) clings to her son Jonathan amongst the wreckage and tells him he’s not alone. The simplest sentence but the biggest mouthful a mother can tell her awkward teenage son. The kind of things you wish you’d said but you didn’t. The weight of their performances, the clarity of this writing, is heartbreaking. And the final straw came when Chief Hopper’s backstory was finally explained in a series of short, sharp scenes that opened the flood gates. This cool retro 80s sci fi thriller has got a lot more going for it than a nod to ET…

So Winona Ryder might have played it a little too high a little too long. So I thought it kinda sagged around episode 5 and there were a few too many flashbacks to scenes in the same or previous episode. Minor quibbles. The only thing bigger than the lumbering shadowy monster in the woods around Hawkins National Laboratory, is the heart that beats at the centre of this show.

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If you were bullied for being a nerd? It’s got you. If you sat rapt with excitement as the big red V descended on to your screen to synthy sci fi music when you were allowed to stay up late and watch V: The Final Battle? It’s got you. If your geeky best friends were your entire world, and it broke your heart when adulthood started to creep in? It’s got you.

It got me right in the kisser. It’s the VHS dream. And it’s the video tape I don’t want to return after a weekend rental!

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LUCKY 13! Our first series of podcasts all in one place…

Having reached our 13th episode and 1000 downloads it felt a good time to look back over the podcasts so far. We started out experimenting to see if we were actually any good at this – and it turns out we’re kinda cool!

I always felt I had something to say about the genre that came from a personal place. Whether it was reminiscing about my childhood via my love of horror movies, or looking at them through the queer lens that a lot of horror fans might never have looked through before… I knew I wanted to do something. I don’t have the ego or the inclination to get on camera and subject the Youtube-going public to my ramblings. So I thought a podcast was a happy medium. Less invasive. More low-key. And you can get away with using audio clips more! Plus we can now secretly send out soundwaves that will do this to all the people we hate…

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If you go back to the beginning with the Hammer Horror episode, we’re still finding our feet and the flow isn’t quite there yet. But we still riff on everything from Ingrid Pitt’s lesbian temptress in The Vampire Lovers to the camp count Karnstein in Twins of Evil. Not to mention hissy sissy Baron Meinster and his fierce almost-drag mother the Baroness in Brides of Dracula. Our guest podcaster Stephen Blundell talks about that cosy feeling that comes from watching Hammer late at night as a young boy with a taste for fangs, reanimated corpses and misty graveyards.

Listen here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-episode-2-hammer-horror/

The good thing about having a mix of ages, ranging from 25 to… well, last time I checked Martin was 103, is that our conversations throw in references from very different times in the genre’s history. So when we’re talking Video Nasties in Episode 3, not only do you have Stephen Moore being brand new to a lot of the titles like Driller Killer and Island of Death, but you also get Martin Fenerty’s personal touch. He was there when the Video Nasty madness first kicked in. And even more interesting, he was around when Liverpool had its very own grindhouse cinema. Not only do we laugh at the non-PC attitude towards gays, drag queens and lesbians across a lot of the video nasties, poke fun at the horrendous, tasteless Nazi-sploitation of Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, and cringe at the rape-revenge ‘feminism’ of I Spit On Your Grave, but we also get a little political. It’s hard not to when you come from one of the cities that was hit hardest by Thatcher’s iron lady-fist, the same one that smashed up our working class haven – the VIDEO SHOP – and told us what we could and couldn’t watch.

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Listen here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-episode-3-video-nasties/

Creepshow was a staple of my local video shop. And it was also where I developed a crippling fear of cockroaches! It’s the centre piece of the Anthology/Portmanteau episode that goes back to the Amicus titles like Tales from the Crypt but also brings you bang up to date with VHS and ABCs of Death. Sometimes we let the queer angle slip and just wanna talk horror whether it’s campy or not. But what a pleasant surprise I got when I settled down to Tales from the Crypt for the first time and was greeted with Joan Collins murdering her husband on Christmas Eve, rocking the smoky eye make-up and decanting blood into a champagne flute to save on the cleaning bill!

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Listen here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-episode-4-portmanteau-horror/

I’ll let you in on a secret. Well it’s not so secret. We podcast from my house, and more specifically, my BAR. So when we sat down to record a mammoth 4 hour epic on the Nightmare on Elm Street series, the gin and the beer was flowing all damn night. We split that talk into three episodes. Going back to the video shop – and I always do – the poster for Nightmare 2, with Freddy towering over the school bus, is a relic of my childhood. I would gaze up at that thing over the desk at the video shop and wish so badly that I could have it. I didn’t get it. But I did get the movie. And seeing as I was about 9 at the time I finally got to watch it, it was still a little too early for me to realise I was looking at one of the most homosexual pieces of film ever made.

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If you’re a fan of this blog, or the podcast, you’re no stranger to the world of jockstraps, leather bars and sweaty 80s hard-body boys that is Nightmare 2. But let’s face it the whole series had a kinda queer edge. The campness of Nancy’s mom in the first movie, who Jonathan Butler describes as being “the colour no other human has ever been”, is enough to give this film cult queer status alone. But add to that a young Johnny Depp rocking a crop top and an ass that won’t quit and you’ve got a rainbow-coloured night in front of the TV right there. And as the series progresses to 80s power rock, shitty celebrity cameos and Kelly Rowland using the term ‘faggot’, there is much for a queer audience to chew the fat on. And that we did. You can hear how drunk we got particularly in part 3 of the Freddy podcast.

Listen here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-episode-5-nightmare-on-elm-st-1-of-3/

Here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-episode-6-nightmare-on-elm-st-3-5/

And here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-episode-7-freddys-dead-stop-remaking-him/

By this point it was time to bring things a little up to date so we went in on The Witch, The Boy and Netflix horror Hush. And we also managed to go in on the increasingly irritating multiplex cinema crowd that, for me, are ruining the movie-going experience. Put your God damn phone away, forget social media for 90 minutes and lose yourself in the movie for God’s sake! Or is it just me? Am I getting old? Don’t answer that.

Listen here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-episode-8-black-philip-is-my-homeboy/

Maybe I was just gunning for an argument from being wound up by the noisy cinema crowd when I brought up the idea of a 2-part special looking at horror movies everybody totally loves… that we hate. The Shining, The Exorcist, Cabin in the Woods and Coppola’s Crapula, sorry DRACULA, come under fire, but we’re not unanimous on these choices. I mean… hear the passive aggressive tone in my voice when Stephen Moore disses the Exorcist. I didn’t spit pea soup but I did jam a crucifix up his ass. And he loved it. Not as much as we love Chris Hemsworth in Cabin… but you’ll have to listen to the show to see how filthy we get over him.

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Listen here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-ep-9-classic-horror-says-who-part-1/

And here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/classic-horror-says-who-part-2/

Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno follow. Our first real foray into Italian horror. The beautiful, operatic world of the witchy dance school in Suspiria is like a queer fever dream in itself. Argento’s giallo movies are subject of an upcoming episode but for now we stick with the supernatural, and we throw in a quick review of The Conjuring 2 as well…

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Listen here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-ep-11-conjuring-argento/

Many declare Nightmare 2 to be the pinnacle of queertastic horror but I argue that Sleepaway Camp is the queen bitch. I mean. Short shorts. A LOT of short shorts. Skinny-dipping. And that iconic twist ending which basically stuck a finger – or a penis – up at slasher movie conventions in the early 80s. Some think it’s an insane film. I agree. But I also think it’s got giant balls, and most of them are on show through denim!

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Listen here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-ep-12-sleepaway-camp/

The most recent episode, lucky 13, goes back to witchcraft. Gays love a witch. She’s shunned, but fierce, she wears a lot of black, a lot of drag queen makeup, and the bitch owns her shit. I am, of course, mainly talking about Fairuza Balk in The Craft. But kudos must be given to Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus whether we like the movie or not, and not to mention that beacon of all that is camp and fabulous, Jessica Lange in AHS: Coven.

With Adam Wingard pulling the rug from under us and revealing that his generi-shocker The Woods is actually a Blair Witch sequel, this podcast was eerily timely. It’s almost like we planned it. We didn’t, of course.

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Listen here: http://screamingqueenz.podbean.com/e/screaming-queenz-ep-13-wicca-please-part-1/

If you listen to us back to back from 1 to 13 you’ll see how our rapport grows, how the gin intake increases, but mostly you’ll hear how much we love this genre. The only thing better than watching a horror movie is dissecting it afterwards (NOT DURING, TURN YOUR PHONE OFF) with your friends. Screaming Queenz doesn’t take itself seriously but it takes its horror seriously, and it has a lot of fun doing it.

We’re also on Soundcloud now!

And I’m so lazy I haven’t started a Screaming Queenz twitter yet, so if you have feedback – PLEASE give us feedback – get me on my personal account: @jonnylarkin