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'Stranger Things': How the satanic panic of the '80s, '90s created Eddie

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Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) is the leader of the Hellfire Club, drawing fears of satanism by the townspeople of Hawkins, Ind., in "Stranger Things." File Photo courtesy of Netflix
Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) is the leader of the Hellfire Club, drawing fears of satanism by the townspeople of Hawkins, Ind., in "Stranger Things." File Photo courtesy of Netflix

June 10 (UPI) -- Netflix's Stranger Things is full of terrifying monsters, spooky locales and superpowers, but at least some elements from Season 4 were ripped straight from the headlines -- namely the so-called satanic panic and the West Memphis Three murders of the 80s and 90s.

Though the horror series seems firmly rooted in fantasy, creators Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer have long said they've drawn inspiration from real-world events for the series.

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The scientific experiments being run on Eleven and her cohorts at Hawkins National Laboratory mimics the real CIA mind control program called MKUltra, for example. And Russian villains in Seasons 3 and 4 echo the Cold War hysteria that closed out the 80s.

Combined with inspiration from the Duffer Brothers' favorite 1980s pop culture elements, the duo created one of the most popular streaming series today.

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"We wanted the supernatural element to be ground in science in some way," Matt Duffer told Rolling Stone in a 2016 interview.

"Once we decided that the 80s would be the best time for that, we realized it would allow us to pay homage to all the things that inspired us most. Maybe we could catch a little bit of the feeling of Stephen King's books and the [Steven] Spielberg movies. We allowed all these influences to converge into the idea for the show."

Season 4 was no different.

For the latest episodes, the Duffer Brothers turned to a new character, Eddie Munson, played by Joseph Quinn, to explore the rising worry about satanism among parents in the 80s.

"We're very precious about adding people [to the series] because we have such an amazing ensemble of actors already," Ross said in a recent interview with Netflix's fan site, Tudum. "So we only want to add someone if we feel like they're necessary to tell the story that we're telling.

"And in this case, something we really wanted to get into this year was the satanic panic."

Satanic panic was a period in the 1980s and 90s in which American society became intensely fascinated with satanism and the occult, and found evil in even the most mundane of places such as yoga and certain brands' symbols. It developed into a false conspiracy theory that some people used these rituals to kidnap, abuse and kill children.

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We can see echoes of these theories even today, with QAnon followers believing that Democrats are torturing children and using their blood in rituals.

Ross Duffer said he and his brother became interested in allegations of satanism in the West Memphis Three case after watching the documentary Paradise Lost. In particular, they were fascinated by Damien Echols, one of the three teenagers convicted of murdering three second-graders in 1993. Prosecutors at the time said Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin killed the three 8-year-olds, Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and James Moore as part of a satanic ritual.

Echols, who was 18 years old at the time of the murders, was sentenced to death, while Misskelley and Baldwin received life imprisonment. All three, though, proclaimed their innocence.

In the years following their convictions, critics and attorneys for the men said DNA evidence indicated didn't implicate any of the three. Testing found that hair found tied into one of the knots used to bind the three victims was likely that of Terry Hobbs, Steve's stepfather.

Additionally, defense lawyers said jury foreman Ken Arnold unlawfully manipulated his way onto the jury panel for the trial. They said he talked about the case with fellow jurors before deliberations against the rules and had made up his mind about a conviction before Echols' case was event presented.

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Arnold allegedly urged fellow jurors to convict Echols because when you looked in his eyes, "you knew he was evil," according to an affidavit filed in 2010. Echols was known for being a bit of a misfit as a teenager -- dressing all in black, listening to heavy metal music and writing dark poetry.

Celebrities advocated on Echols' behalf, including Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, former Misfits singer Michale Graves, the bands the Chicks and Metallica, and actors Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder.

"I firmly believe Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley are totally innocent. It was a need for swift justice to placate the community," Depp said in an appearance on CBS' 48 Hours Mystery in 2010.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ultimately ordered new hearings for Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin in 2010 and a year later allowed the men to enter new guilty pleas in which they maintained their innocence and were sentenced to time served. They were released from prison in 2011.

The Duffer Brothers drew from Echols' story to create the character Eddie, who goes on the run after the people of Hawkins determine he's responsible for killing a teenage cheerleader. They believe he and the fellow members of the Hellfire Club are involved in satanism because of their interest in the game Dungeons & Dragons.

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"We really wanted that character who's a metalhead, he's into Dungeons & Dragons, he's ultimately a true nerd at heart," Ross Duffer told Tudum. "But from an outsider's point of view, they may go, 'This is someone that is scary.' So that's really where the idea for Eddie came in."

Through the first seven episodes of Season 4, Eddie has become a fan favorite, bringing comic relief to some terrifying circumstances. Matt Duffer said they originally thought the character should be similar to what they imagined filmmaker Quentin Tarantino to be like in high school.

"Because he's got that sort of charisma, the magnetism, the hyper energy. Like, Tarantino could easily be annoying maybe, but he's coming from such a passionate place that you can't help but kind of love the guy. That's the kind of energy we were looking for, but so specific.

"Then Joe brought his own thing to it. He's the kind of guy whose every take is different -- he was finding it as we went. I'm so happy that people are responding so well to Eddie because we and all the other actors on set fell in love with Joe."

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The last two episodes of Season 4 of Stranger Things is set to hit Netflix on July 1.

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