The 8-part Netflix original series Stranger Things took the country by storm this weekend, setting the internet aflutter with fantastic accolades. The drama, which ventures into sci-fi and horror territories, struck a chord with fringe and mainstream binge-watchers alike. Helmed by The Duffer Brothers (Hidden,Wayward Pines), Stranger Things delivers a winning combination of genuine human drama, intelligent scripting and chilling aesthetics. It’s also a love letter to the 1980’s wherein the brothers pay tribute to their many influences including: Stephen Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter.
Stranger Things was originally pitched under the title Montauk, revealing another less obvious (but extremely important) influence: The urban legends associated with the abandoned Camp Hero Air Force Base in Montauk, Long Island. Sometimes referred to as “Area 51 East”, stories of Camp Hero are almost indistinguishable from those of MKUltra and the Air Force base at Groom Lake, Nevada. For example, there are claims that the US Government conducted unethical mind control experiments, with alien technology, on kidnapped children.
The history of Camp Hero was recently explored in The Montauk Chronicles, a nonfiction docudrama helmed by filmmaker Christopher Garetano.
Official Synopsis: Montauk is a remote U.S. town located on the very eastern tip of Long Island, New York. High on a hill above the rocky waters of the Atlantic Ocean looms a giant rusted radar tower. It’s a ghost relic of the past that local fishermen use as a marker to help guide their ships safely to shore. The old military tower is also a landmark for what once was an active Camp Hero Air Force Base.
The base has a recorded history that dates back to the revolutionary war. During World War II Camp Hero was used as a defense station and was equipped with giant mark seven cannons that were loaded and ready in the event of a Nazi attack. There are those who say that in the 1970’s the base was used for a much different purpose. Montauk Chronicles is the story of three men who claim they were brainwashed and forced against their will by a clandestine organization to take part in secret experiments. Evil atrocities are said to have occurred deep beneath the surface of the Camp Hero Air Force base.
The Montauk Chronicles is, to date, the only feature film ever to explore the Camp Hero legends, and Garetano put over a decade’s worth or research into the final product. It’s been available since before it premiered at the Phillip K. Dick Film Festival in January of 2015. I’d bet a dollar The Duffer Brothers saw Garetano’s film during the inception phases of Stranger Things. The huge radar dish atop the lab is very reminiscent of the abandoned dish at Camp Hero; many of the “experimentation” scenes in Stranger Things are also very similar to those portrayed in The Montauk Chronicles.
“Jack Bruce” and Radar Dish at Camp Hero at Montauk, Long Island in New York
Not only is The Montauk Chronicles an engrossing study of a relatively unknown mystery, the story behind the film is equally fascinating. On the eve of completion, Garetano was approached by an anonymous figure (“Jack Bruce”) claiming to have integral knowledge, and proof, of the experiments that took place at Camp Hero. Knowing that, if true, this information would be crucial, the filmmaker delayed releasing The Montauk Chronicles for over a year to investigate the masked-man’s claims. Having seen the film, I can attest that the delay was absolutely necessary.