Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, and in Peru our house was surrounded by a brick wall with electric wires on top. Leaving the house without telling anyone where you were going was not recommended unless you wanted to get mugged, held at gunpoint, or in some cases kidnapped, so my childhood was very different from that of the characters in Stand by Me.
That being said I still enjoyed this movie since it features a group of young actors whose work I admire today. Playing bookish Gordie Lachance is Will Wheaton who is known to many for his work in Star Trek and nowadays for playing board games on YouTube. Joker Teddy Duchamp is played by Corey Feldman who was in two other 80s classics, The Goonies and The Lost Boys. The shy and overweight Vern Tessio is played by Jerry O’Connell, who lost the weight and went on to star in tons of TV shows. Lastly and sadly, in the role of Chris Chambers is River Phoenix who died of a drug overdose in 1993. In addition to this classic, I have seen him over and over again play young Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
It is a very solid cast and another reason why this movie works is the way their characters interact with each other. When the four friends hear a young boy is missing and presumed dead they decide to go looking for him in the hopes of becoming local heroes. Despite the fact that on their journey they are nearly hit by a train, get covered in leeches while wading through a river and get chased by a dog at a junkyard these kids are still having the time of their life because they are out there together.
When they are not busy surviving the wilderness they take time to talk about their home lives, which for some of them are quite disturbing, and ponder about what the future might hold for them. Of course they also try to have fun, such as when Gordie tells the story of Davie “Lard-Ass” Hogan, an overweight boy who was constantly teased and had his revenge at a pie-eating contest. It involves the greatest amount of vomit since Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
Stand by Me is also proof that Stephen King can write great stories that are set in the real world, where the only scary thing is growing old and losing touch with old friends. The world depicted in this movie is probably lost forever since most kids today would prefer to spend their evenings home and binge watch Stranger Things rather than go out on an actual adventure. The same goes for me as an adult, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the story and seeing four young actors before their careers took off or in one case came to an abrupt end.