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The Upside Down comes to life: Inside Stranger Things' mysterious L.A. drive-thru experience
When we all binged Season 3 of Netflix's Stranger Things last July 4th, 2019, we knew sating our instant gratification meant waiting a year to find out what happened to Hopper (David Harbour), Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), and her teen ride-or-dies from Hawkins, Indiana.
And then 2020 hit and our real Upside Down came to life with COVID-19 locking down the globe.
Not only has the pandemic delayed production of Season 4 of Stranger Things so audiences won't see new episodes until 2021, but Halloween live events featuring Stranger Things-related fun, like its themed house at Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios, were bumped, too. And we can admit it: When it comes to entertainment outside our homes, the majority of us are pretty event-starved.
Which is why Netflix is saving the day — at least if you're located in Southern California. Netflix, in partnership with Fever and Secret Cinema, has gone all out to create an original car-based activation that rivals any San Diego Comic-Con outdoor event. Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience is a massive immersive experience in Downtown Los Angeles that recreates some of the environments and set pieces from all three seasons of the series. From Starcourt Mall to the Russian lab where Eleven gained her powers and the Upside Down, all of these iconic locales from the show are integrated into an entirely car-based adventure.
On October 28, SYFY WIRE was there for the grand opening night with hundreds of other carloads of fans. We all made time-specific appointments to enter the Hawkins town limits for approximately 70 minute of exploring. The experience offers two car-load prices: Standard Access based on the number of people in your car and VIP Access with a price per person that includes special entrance and event viewing zones, and a mystery box of swag, snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks. Reservations are mandatory and can be made on the event website for evening spots from Wednesdays through Sunday. Dates are available through early March 2021. (Be warned that many of the dates are sold out, so check the website for last-minute openings.)
Much like regional drive-in theaters operating around the country, Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience requires mask wearing for check-in and the initial staging in the Starcourt Mall area that starts the event for everyone. Depending on the level of your ticket, food and drinks are brought to your car so you never have to leave your vehicle. And with '80s music blasting, actors mingle between cars and will interact with you if you choose to stay masked and leave your windows open. If you close your windows, you can just watch as Hawkins High's favorite biology teacher — Mr. Clark — leads everyone through games and trivia. It's like a pavement tailgate without the booze. Plus, there are lookalike actors recreating the cast from the show, so it's an ingenious way to get everyone pumped up and in the midset of the era. (BTW: A lot of car-loads were dressed in costume, which the event encourages.)
What happens next ... we can't tell you. The event organizers want to keep the experience a surprise for guests who want to go in blind. In the photo gallery, we can offer you a tease of what you'll experience. What we can tell you is that the scares are limited, so anyone who watches the series without having nightmares will be fine throughout the event. There are a lot of strobe lights, so if you have epilepsy, be aware the entire event is full of them. Make sure your car has at least a half tank and you can turn the engine off and on without fear of a stall or a dead battery. Your car radio is also integral to the fun, as you'll tune in to a specific channel to hear the audio narrative that weaves the dramatic spine for the evening. Last but not least, make sure whoever is driving is comfortable staying within cone boundaries, can do turns in tight corners (like those you'll find in a standard parking garage), and is fine with driving without lights.
If you love audience participation events, the series itself, or just miss going out and being part of live events, the Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience checks all the satisfaction boxes. It was safe, clever, and gives fans a unique greatest-hits experience that will fill the gap until we see what happens next in 2021.