Amidst the critical praise and rabid fan discussion surrounding Netflix’s latest smash hit, “Stranger Things,” the word “influence” constantly pops up. Directors Matt and Ross Duffer have spoken at length about the movies and monster makers that have inspired their insane sci-fi horror series, from John Carpenter‘s “The Thing” to David Cronenberg‘s body horror designs, or Masahiro Ito’s macabre monsters in the “Silent Hill” video game series.
At the center of the show’s parade of nightmares is the Demogorgon, a.k.a. The Monster, which remained in the shadows for several episodes letting viewers’ imaginations run wild before finally appearing in all its faceless, carnivorous glory in the final episode.
For Mark Steger, the man tasked with bringing the hideous beast to life, his influence came from another monster who was famous for chilling audiences by staying out of sight until the big climax: Jaws.
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“I’m like a shark in that I’m playing this creature that hasn’t evolved in millions of years because it is so perfect for what it does. So I imagine I’m this creature from this other realm that’s become the perfect entity for feeding.”
Unlike Jaws, there will be few complaints that The Monster looks fake or underwhelming. As Steger explains, the movie effects used to turn him into the Demogorgon are an intricate blend of practical and digital. Instead of hours of makeup, Steger spent 30 minutes getting strapped and corseted into a suit created by Glendale-based monster makers Spectral Motion, whose previous work included turning Ron Perlman into Hellboy in “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.”
For the first few scenes where we’re shown short glimpses of The Monster, Steger only needed to be in the suit. For the final episode, however, the effects team brought in several additions to complete the look, including eight-inch metal stilts, claws controlled through puppeteering, and 26 motors that powered The Monster’s animatronic, Venus Fly Trap-esque head. The motors, along with Steger’s head and arms, were removed digitally to finish the job.
This is far from Steger’s first time playing a hellish abomination. Before “Stranger Things,” he played a demon in Seth Rogen‘s “This Is The End” and one of the infected in “I Am Legend.” He also had a key role in the most disturbing scene in the history of “American Horror Story.” Remember the demon in “Hotel” last year with the strap-on metal dildo? That was Steger, who described wearing that outfit as similar to wearing “a used condom.”
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Still, Steger says that performing as The Monster was unlike anything he’s ever done before, as the stilts and animatronics took away his ability to move like he usually would. Combine that with the loud noises from the motors and his inability to see anything with the headpiece on, and it was easy to bring out the beast.
“Once you’re in this amazing construction the Duffers designed,” he said. “You really feel like you’re inhabiting the character. I hope at some point people get to see what went into making this suit because the guys at Spectral Motion put a lot of work into putting this all together.”
The kids he was trying to eat seemed to like the suit too. Steger said that his castmates would often come by to see him in the suit and swap a little bit of trash talk before they were set to fight in front of the cameras. “I would see Millie [Bobby Brown] and Gaten [Matarazzo] and Caleb [McLaughlin] and we’d have this thing where we’d be telling each other ‘you’re going down!’ Those kids are sort of who they actually are in the show. It was a really fun vibe to work with.”
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Don’t ask him if he knows any secrets about the Upside-Down, though. Steger says that the Duffers only gave him the most basic information required to play The Monster and then allowed him to fill in the blanks on his own to flesh out the performance: “I know they have some bible squirreled away somewhere that no one’s seen except them. Their direction was very clear and they were very enthusiastic, but to a point I had to come up with my own history for this monster.”
“It wasn’t really difficult because…if you see the show you get to see all the weird environments we were in and all of that was practical sets. I think the fact that they were doing everything practically makes such a difference compared if you’re standing in front of a green screen because it really helps all the performers get a feel for this world that we’re in.”