Their characters have battled all kinds of literal horrors but it’s the metaphorical terrors that is the scariest of all.
Between the demigorgons, the Mind Flayer and the psychologically and physically twisted Vecna, the Stranger Things kids have a lot to deal with.
But sometimes it’s not the creepy crawly that frightens but the very real – and relatable – experience of growing pains.
“It’s the human threats as well,” Stranger Things star Sadie Sink told news.com.au. “Like being in high school, going through puberty, navigating friendships and relationships.
“That’s what’s truly scary to some of these characters. And in season four, it’s also grievance and guilt. That can be just as scary as the upside down.”
Sink’s co-star Gaten Matarazzo jumped in, “These characters are equally scare of their first crushes as they are of Vecna,” referencing the monstrous season four villain, which feeds off people’s psychological traumas.
Sink added, “You’d think after facing a demigorgon, they’re not going to be scared of anything but it’s like, no, they’re still scared of school dances and whether or not the popular kids like them or not.”
Sink, Matarazzo and Priah Ferguson were in Sydney for a Stranger Things fan event, where hundreds of screaming devotees greeted the trio at Luna Park, a sign of the Netflix series’ continued cultural dominance.
It’s that blend of 80s nostalgia, youthful adventure and true horror that sparks such faithfulness, and the series rewards its followers with a large ensemble of characters to care about.
“Nothing is truly scary for people watching unless they’re scared for something and someone,” Matarazzo explained of Stranger Things‘appeal. “It’s not just having jump scares all the time. Living in this horror world isn’t going to mean anything unless it’s a threat to someone that is loved and cherished and warm and kind.
“That’s where the show really thrives. And it’s where [creators] Matt and Ross [Duffer] have always had their core.”
Given the series’ immense popularity, its young stars are aware of what it means to the fans.
“People have been inspired by all of our characters,” Ferguson, who plays the sassy and smart Erica, said. “They’ve said how it’s helped them through rough times and even helped them find themselves and be comfortable with who they are.
“That’s very moving and motivating and kind of helps me want to go harder and spread the message more.”
Matarazzo agreed, especially during the past two years of pandemic lockdowns and pressures.
“There are people who have really clung to this show and I understand that,” he said. “There are projects and pieces of art and work that I’ve felt similarly about. To hear that people can feel something like that just by seeing what we made is genuinely moving.”
The 19-year-old actor and musician, one of the original group from the first season, namechecked the Harry Potter stories as art that he always goes back to, for “the vibe of friendship in the face of adversity, and something as big and crazy as that”.
It’s not just the fans who have gained from Sink, Matarazzo and Ferguson’s onscreen counterparts. The actors too have looked to their characters.
“[Dustin] has a very carefree way of living about his days, especially in school, not really carting what other people think,” Matarazzo said. “I think I have trouble with that. So, that’s something I’ve put into the character a bit because it’s what I want to see in myself.”
Sink, likewise, found inspiration in Max’s confidence in being “100 per cent herself”.
The first seven chapters of Stranger Things‘nine-episode fourth season has just dropped on Netflix, with the following two mega-sized installations due for release in July.
The Duffers have said the show will wrap after season five, which means everyone knows the end is near and thoughts turned to where their characters might find themselves when the supernatural dust settles.
“I want to shout and ride a demigorgon into battle,” Matarazzo pitched, before Sink jumped in with, “And then Max is right behind him, knocking demibats with his skateboard”.
All three agreed the savvy Erica would approach things very differently – per Matarazzo, “You don’t even need a weapon, you’d just roast the crap out of it.”
Then the clincher from Sink, “I think the final episode could just be everyone in group therapy”.
Given the literal, emotional and psychological horrors layered within Stranger Thingsit already feels like it is a collective healing process for its fandom and its stars.
Stranger Things is on Netflix