Before the Duffer Brothers emerged from the Upside Down to unexpectedly take over Hollywood with their Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things, they were film majors probably living off ramen like most college students, except their senior thesis was much … stranger.
Eater, adapted from the short story by Peter Crowther, is (as you might have guessed) a cannibal movie. Except it isn’t the splatterfest of blood and gore you would probably expect out of people who eat people. Haunting this film is an indefinable evil that you feel is constantly creeping up behind you but can’t quite make out in the dark, something menacing that you only realize is there when it’s looming over you and the last thing you see before going unconscious is the shadow of a monster looming over you. Remind you of anything?
The horror that is Eater has Stranger Things blood pulsing in its veins. It’s the proto-DNA of what would eventually become five kids and a Demogorgon. Bizarre feelings start to take hold of rookie police officer Bannerman for what seems like no reason, because the reason is still lurking both in the physical darkness of the prison and the shadows of his subconscious. The Duffers have a way of letting you into a character’s point of view to the point that you feel rooms closing in on you when the walls don’t so much as creak, or see something horrific in table lamps and stacks of paper even though there are no sudden transformations into things with horns and teeth.
Then you start to notice everything. Like the red stains splattered all over the inside of the microwave Steinwitz is nuking a sandwich in. Or how the something red from that sandwich drips down the side of his mouth like fresh blood. Or the actual blood dripping from the underside of a prisoner’s cot. Suddenly everything everyone says or does is suspicious, though I wouldn’t blame anyone for getting the chills from Gershwin. He will remind you so much of Hannibal that you’ll expect him to hiss “It rubs the lotion on its skin” at any moment.
Like the grisly trail the Demogorgon leaves in its wake in Stranger Things, the supernatural elements here sneak up on you, slowly revealing the true horror while disbelief has you in a stranglehold. When you open your second sight to the horrifying truth, it will consume you.
There’s also a ghost of that vintagey feel that becomes much more apparent in Things, plus the element of classic rock songs that you will never listen to the same way again after associating them with murder and monsters. The Should I Stay or Should I Go must have already warped your perception of The Clash. Watch Eater, and the same can be said of Janis Joplin’s Take Another Little Piece of My Heart, because it turns disturbingly literal.
Stranger Things 2 premieres on Netflix at midnight this Friday. While you impatiently anticipate what monsters are going to crawl out of suburbia this time, marathon Eater and the Duffers’ equally creepy first effort, Hidden. Just leave the lights on.