I started watching this show on Netflix called Stranger Things because my little cousins love it and I wanted to understand their interest. As I watched the first episode of season three and I saw their little faces focus on the story it made me curious. So, as any rational person would do, I binge watched the first season in 2 days. The show is set in the 80s in the sleepy little Indiana town of Hawkins. It starts off with what looks like a scientist running frantically through an underground hallway, he rushes to the elevator watching carefully for what is coming, then as the elevator doors closes, he hears an unnatural growl coming from inside the elevator, he is too late, the monster is there above him, as the elevator doors closed we see the scientist scream and lifted up by something that growls and something we can’t’ see. The scene shoots back to four little kids playing a harmless game of dungeons and dragons. At the end of the game, they ride their bikes home, but one kid doesn’t make it home safely. This kid sees some sort of monster in the woods near his house, he runs inside, this monster approaches his home, he runs out scared into the shed behind the house, grabs the rifle, proceeds to load it with bullets and as he is aiming at the door, the light flickers and he vanishes (Stranger Things, season 1, episode 1). This is the beginning of a series of horrifying encounters where this monster feasts on unsuspecting civilians in the dead of night then vanishes. This monster is strong, violent, and its thirst for blood is never quenched but it is not immortal. As we go on to watch the rest of season one of Stranger Things we find that even monsters bleed. For this reason, I must give this monster an A because it is terrifying but also vulnerable.
As the entire town looks for the missing boy, Will Byers, other people go missing in ways that can’t be understood. However, one thing that is constant about the vanishing is that they happened at night and there was blood. Then we finally get a good look at the monster responsible for all this destruction and it is identified as a Demogorgon. The Demogorgon was first brought to life in the fantasy role playing game Dungeons and Dragons. In the game Dungeons and Dragons, the Demogorgon is described as “a rampaging monster, said to be “the embodiment of chaos, madness, and destruction.” Unsurprisingly, he also proves himself to be one of the most dangerous demon lords invading the Underdark, and a herald of all-out destruction.” In Stranger Things, the Demogorgon is drawn out at night by blood (Stranger Thing, season one, episode 6). It is insatiable and destroys everything in its path. The Demogorgon is strong and isn’t slowed down by fire or bullets, but it is able to be hurt although it doesn’t faze this creature. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen is the writer of Monster Culture (Seven These) where he breaks down the different aspects of monsters and helps explain what purpose they serve no matter how far fetched the imagined monster or its abilities are. Of the seven theses, I have found four that apply to the Demogorgon perfectly.
The first monster theory that applies to the Demogorgon is Thesis II: the monster always escapes. “We see the damage that the monster wreaks, the material remains, but the monster itself turns immaterial and vanishes to reappear someplace else” (Cohen 4). This proves to be true in Stranger Things because the monster lives in a place called the upside down where the environment is toxic to humans (Stranger Things, season one, episode 8). The monster comes out at night through a gate, hunts then goes back to the upside down and the gate closes behind him(Stranger Thing, season one, episode 6). Once the gate is closed, humans cannot reopen it easily. The gate can be opened by the Demogorgon anywhere, a tree in the forest, a ceiling of a house or the wall of a high school. Once the Demogorgon goes back through the gate back to the upside down, the gate closes behind it. The upside down is a parallel universe that can only be accessed by creating a massive amount of energy, more than humans are currently capable of creating, to open a tear in time and space then you create a doorway, like a gate. (Stranger Things, season one, episode 5). The upside down is also referred to the vale of shadows by the kids in the show. The vale of shadows is an evil dimension, an echo of the material plane (our dimension) where necrotic and shadow magic exist (Stranger Things, season one, episode 5).
“The monster always escapes because it refuses easy categorization” (Cohen 6). Thesis III: the monster is the Harbinger of Category Crisis applies to the Demogorgon because “the too-precise laws of nature as set forth by science are gleefully violated in the freakish compilation of the monster’s body” (Cohen 6,7). The Demogorgon in Stranger Things has grey skin that looks wet all the time. It is taller than any human and slender. It has one head, no eyes, no ears but five flaps, where a face would be, that open to expose a large circle for a mouth covered in sharp teeth (Stranger Things, season one, episode 6). It has long arms and five pointed fingers on each hand. Its feet are like bird claws that are webbed. The Demogorgon is unnatural, every feature is menacing and unnerving. The only way that it looks remotely human is that it has arms, legs, a torso and a head but there is nothing human about it. There is nothing animalistic about it either; animals get tired and rest, if you shoot at them, they slow down eventually. The Demogorgon never slows down, it never rests, it consumes everything leaving chaos, pain and destruction in its wake.
“Curiosity is more often punished than rewarded” (Cohen 12). This proves to be true for the faction of the government seeking to extend the boundaries of the human mind. In this season, a little girl with telekinetic and telepathic powers appears just when the Demogorgon is set loose, her name is Eleven (Stranger Things, season one, episode 1). In season one, episode six of Stranger Things we find out that in the 50s there was an experiment called the MK ultra, where the CIA gave human subjects drugs like LSD or other psychedelic drugs then they would strip them naked and put them in isolation tanks filled with salt water so they could float around. The subjects would lose any sense, they would feel nothing, see nothing. The purpose was to expand the boundaries of the mind. One of the subjects, Terry Ives, was pregnant at the time she engaged in these experiments. It was reported that she miscarried in the third trimester, but Terry never believed that, she believed she gave birth to a baby girl who could control things with her mind and that the government was going to use her little girl as a weapon. In the CIAs efforts to explore the unknown they came across something dangerous and something they weren’t prepared for. “one is better off safely contained within one’s own domestic sphere than abroad, away from the watchful eyes of the state” (Cohen, 12). That is why Thesis V: the monster polices the borders of the possible applies to the Demogorgon. People wanted to know more once it was discovered and everyone paid a price for that discovery whether it was with their lives or the lives of loved ones.
Thesis VII: the monster stands at the threshold…of becoming. “monsters are our children. They can be pushed to the farthest margins of geography and discourse, hidden away at the edges of the worlds and in the forbidden recesses of our mind but they always return” (Cohen 20). As stated before, the Demogorgon brings on chaos and destruction. War, riots, active shooters and crime are chaotic, unforgiving and destructive. Humans with a lack of remorse or overcome with rage sometimes become blinded by these emotions and give in to the chaos and become entities of destruction themselves. Perhaps the Demogorgon represents the worst part of humankind. Perhaps the Demogorgon represents what would happen if we didn’t keep our selves in check, if we weren’t governed by laws. Perhaps the Demogorgon is a representation of the worst part of humankind, perhaps it represents active shooters who take so many lives without remorse, without rhyme or reason.
The Demogorgon gets an A for the fear that it brings on, for what it represents and because it can be defeated. It is terrifying because it is a predator with no qualms on who it claims. It represents death and destruction, something that humankind has been capable of and proved their capabilities decade after decade. Although this monster cannot be changed, it can be killed; the death, destruction, chaos and madness that it brings can come to an end by killing it. As we see in the last episode of season one, the Demogorgon is finally destroyed when Eleven uses her powers to kill the monster. I take this as when strong people stand up to evil, that is when it comes to an end.
“Article Demogorgon: Prince of Demons.” Demogorgon: Prince of Demons | Dungeons & Dragons, dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/demogorgon-prince-demons.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Chapter one Monster Culture (Seven Theses). Univ of Minnesota Press.1996.
Stranger Things: Season One. Written by Ross Duffer, Matt Duffer, Justin Doble, Jessie Nickson-Lopez, Paul Ditcher, Kate Trefty, Netflix, 2016.