Stranger Things follows a proud tradition of contemporary horror and fantasy storytelling, which is a small American town with weird happenings. But one where only the young people, or almost only the young people, know what is really going on. All while the adults in town are completely ignorant of what is actually transpiring right beneath their noses.
In the first season of Stranger Things, the kids of Hawkins, Indiana had support from Chief Hopper and Joyce Byers at least. But in season 4, the kids in town are on their own. Meanwhile, the Hawkins adults start believing in wild conspiracies instead of accepting the otherworldly possibilities of their town. Hawkins draws inspiration from many similar small towns of ignorant adults and savvy children in pop culture. And these are some of our favorites.
Springwood, Ohio (A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise)
The small, suburban town at the heart of the Nightmare on Elm Street saga is the first example of “clueless adults, wise children.” Despite being the catalyst for Freddy Krueger’s dream stalking of their children by killing him in the first place, every adult in the town of Springwood, Ohio is in deep denial that Freddy is invading their kid’s dreams. Despite the astronomical body count.
This is somewhat believable in the first film. But by the time we get to A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, every teenager in town knows the story of Freddy. And no matter how many times the kids tell their parents, they keep staying in denial. They tell them it’s just nerves and give them sleeping pills. And they keep dying. In these films, it’s always the kids who beat Freddy, with almost no help from the adults.
Derry, Maine (Stephen King’s It)
In Stephen King’s novel It, and its two live-action adaptations, Pennywise the Clown has been stalking and killing in the town of Derry, Maine for generations. And it’s always the kids who are aware of what’s been going on, while the adults seem totally oblivious. We later find out that’s partially by design; there’s something about Pennywise that causes partial amnesia of his existence as the kids grow into adults. It’s King’s metaphor for how adults quickly forget what it’s like to be young. But in this case, it makes the children the only ones able to confront and defeat this killer clown. The adults in town are basically useless. And that’s a feature, not a bug.
Santa Carla, California (The Lost Boys)
This beachside California town might seem like the perfect vacation spot, with its boardwalk amusement park and beautiful cliffside views. But this town from The Lost Boys is also the “Murder Capital of the World,” and ground zero for vampires. But despite the rash of missing persons in town, every adult (including the police) seems totally clueless as to why. It’s only local teenage nerds the Frog Brothers, and fellow teenager Sam, who know that that town is overrun by the undead. And it’s they who aim to take care of it. The only adult who seems to know is good old Grandpa, but he’s basically a big kid himself.
Sunnydale, California (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Obviously inspired by Santa Carla, the California town of Sunnydale is also a nest of vampires. Not to mention a metric ton of other supernatural creatures. This is by virtue of the town residing on a Hellmouth, which is exactly what it sounds like it is. But despite a body count a mile high on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the adults in town don’t seem to register that it’s all just a bit odd.
The one time the local parents finally acknowledge all the supernatural goings-on, they form M.O.O. (“Mothers Opposed to the Occult”), which Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers organizes. But even that organization is a part of a larger supernatural plot. And when it’s over, all the Sunnydale adults once again forget these things exist, leaving it to Buffy and her teenage friends to handle things. Again.
Eerie, Indiana (Eerie, Indiana)
Only a handful of you out there might remember this show, which arrived on the airwaves in 1991. Eerie, Indiana was first pitched as “Twin Peaks for kids.” The show only lasted one season, but it ran on Disney Channel in reruns for years, leading to cult status. The protagonist, Marshall Teller, is a big city kid who moves with his folks to the small town of Eerie, Indiana where strange goings-on are always occurring. Together with his best friend, they solve many mysteries in town, mysteries the adults seem totally unaware of, or outright dismiss.
Herrington, Ohio (The Faculty)
Sometimes it’s not supernatural terrors the adults can’t see or believe in. Sometimes it’s those pesky aliens. This happens in 1998 sci-fi horror movie The Faculty, which took place in the small town of Herrington, Ohio. In the film, the titular faculty of Herrington High school is actually controlled by alien parasites.
The rest of the town’s adults turn a blind eye to the complaints of their kids, and a group of teenagers from different social classes have to band together to stop the parasitic invasion. And with no help from any grown-ups. One has to wonder if Steve Harrington in Stranger Things was given that name as an homage to the town from this cult classic, despite the different spelling.
Matheson, Massachusetts (Locke & Key)
This is the most recent example on this list. Locke & Key was a successful comic book series first, and it is now currently a streaming show on Netflix. The story revolves around a supernatural manor home where different magic keys unlock all manner of mystical portals. But it’s something only kids can do, as somehow, when they turn 18, they begin to forget all about the magical things they witnessed. That leaves the adults in the town of Matheson as basically side characters, because they simply are incapable of knowing what is really going on once adulthood takes hold.