In Horror, it’s the monsters that tell us more about ourselves than the people. Whether we’re talking Medusa and her hissing hair, HR Giger’s Alien, Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter, Aunt Lydia (oh yes) or the Demogorgon, the Leviathans of the genre are always connected to humanity in some way (by origin, aesthetic or temperament) just to keep us feeling slightly uncomfortable when our brains start to go all ‘holier than thou’ on us. And in Stranger Things 3, we get little chance.
This season’s arch enemy is Mind Flayer on steroids – the type that come bottled in cadaver…liver, pancreas, heart, hair, eyeball, lung; the whole shebang. After flaying the mind of Will Byers in season 2, the Dungeons & Dragons inspired super beast was en route to take over Hawkins but was stopped by Eleven and her crew…or so we thought. Although El closed the Gate, severing the connection between ‘real life’ and the Upside Down, monsters always find a way (don’t they?) and part of the Mind Flayer was trapped within the human world. But remained dormant.
Until the Demogorgon’s dad (or boss; Mind Flayer’s a multifaceted kinda guy) was awoken by the Hawkins Key; a type of machine built by the Russians (those fucking Russians) with the sole purpose of opening gates to the Upside Down, we assume, to harness the power of the Mind Flayer for purposes of world domination, and such. Only this time, Mind Flayer’s acquired the taste for the people of Hawkins – as well as a sense of style (in an Ed Gein sort of way) – and succeeds in murdering the Russian’s mutinous intent.
It starts with rats. Taking over their minds and forcing them to ingest chemicals until they explode into a puddles of rodent goo that Mind Flayer absorbs, giving substance to its essence. Next on the menu: people (de-lish) – same M.O.; possession, chemicals, goo, Buffalo Bill body suit type of vibe. Some of ‘the flayed’ are used to exact Mind Flayer’s plan in Hawkins (his own personal zombie squad) and others, the tastier variety, form the growing, pulsating incarnation of evil that takes on the insectoid form hinted at by the Shadow Monster in season 2.
A monster made, quite literally, from deconstructed and reconstructed human parts. Could there be a more brilliant and disgusting metaphor for the human condition? Is this what we are – broken up bits of consciousness barging our way through existence in a search of wholeness, chewing up and spitting out those that cross our path, maybe absorbing the bits we like? Destroy and conquer – as we assert ourselves on life. Harsh. But not untrue.
Some of us might be a tad more human than monster, as Billy Hargrove teaches us. Sure, he’s a racist asshole, wife-stealer, bully and narcissist but he learns it from his dad (well, some of it) and although he’s zombiefied by Mind Flayer (who uses Billy to gather brains and body parts), season 3 encourages us to add a ‘poor’ in front of Billy. The guy’s mom abandoned him because she couldn’t take the abuse dished out by his dad. Billy has warm memories of her. And ultimately, in spite of the monster he has become (a rubbish human being and also Mind Flayer’s minion) his memories save the day as he sacrifices himself to the Mind Flayer in order to prevent it from killing El, his stepsister, and all their friends. Poor Billy.
So we have a man who behaves like a monster and a monster made up of man.
Life is messy and people are complicated: monsters one minute, human the next. And most often, a bit of both all at once.
To read more about Stranger Things and its monsters, check out Stranger Things and Philosophy: This Spake the Demogorgon – “Not From Around Here” (chapter 11).