There are plenty of MVP candidates in Stranger Things. Millie Bobby Brown, Winona Ryder, the Duffer Brothers, the band S U R V I V E that does the score.
Lynda Reiss deserves a spot on the ballot. The veteran prop master was tasked with wrangling a slew of period-correct gear for the Netflix series, from the boomboxes to the bikes to the cans of pudding. To get the amazing ’80s stuff, Reiss scoured eBay, flea markets, prop rentals, and estate sales in Georgia. (The series is set in suburban Indiana but shot in Atlanta.) Her budget for the season was around $220,000. That’s not pocket change, but it had to buy all of the props for eight hours of TV. That required using more creativity than a two-hour film with the same budget.
“TV is now movie-quality,” Reiss says. “That’s what people want, and that’s what you have to deliver.”
Reiss has a warehouse full of props on the Isle of Man, but almost everything for Stranger Things was bought or made for the show. When filming wrapped, everything was inventoried and put into storage in Georgia.
For children of the ’80s, many of the props were immediately recognizable. Things like Trapper Keepers and Yoda action figures were ubiquitous in 1983. But some of the props were obscure, with interesting stories behind them.
“I don’t want to do a nostalgia-tinged product,” Reiss says. “I want it to be the ’80s. I don’t want it to be what everyone just thinks is the ’80s. Our baseline was the reality of the midwest in 1983.”
Pentax MX SLR
While it looks like the wildly popular K1000, Reiss says the camera Jonathan Byers uses is the higher-end Pentax MX. That flagship model makes sense for someone so serious about photography. “We needed to buy multiples to smash,” Reiss says. Launched in 1976, the 35mm SLR would have been a serious piece of kit for his modest budget. What’s more, he’d have to splurge on a telephoto lens to get those pool-party shots he took at Steve’s house.
Panasonic RX-5090 Boombox and Memorex MRX 1 60-Minute Cassette
The Panasonic boombox had standout features when it was released in the late ’70s. Before the dawn of double cassette deck units, it offered audio-in capabilities for recording to tape. This is in Will’s room, but we’d guess it’s a hand-me-down from his older brother so he can listen to those mix tapes. Speaking of which, the Memorex MRX 1 was a low-end cassette, so those tapes may not sound so good.
Meanwhile, Jonathan has graduated to a Grown Person’s Stereo. It’s almost certainly the Fisher MC-4550 from 1981, which offers practically everything you’d want. There’s a built-in turntable with one of those fancy record-changers, a tape deck, and a five-band equalizer. The only thing missing is an 8-track player—but those were already passé by the early ‘80s anyway. Along with all the lights, which needed to flicker in several scenes, “we rigged the stereos to go on and off at our command,” Reiss says.
Dungeons & Dragons Stuff
Reiss says the Dungeons & Dragons books used in the show were replicas. One of the show’s art directors brought in his old D&D books, which she scanned and copied to make the ones used on the show. That Demogorgon figurine is legit, and made of lead. But it’s also one of the show’s few anachronisms: The Grenadier-made miniature monster wasn’t released until 1984.
Western Electric 554 Yellow Wall Phone
Reiss says an early version of the script was set in 1981. That may have caused problems with the “buying new phones” subplot: The Bell telephone system wasn’t broken up until early 1982. “People didn’t buy telephones,” Reiss says. “You didn’t own your phone, the phone company came and put a phone in for you.” The series timeline was moved to 1983, in part because the production designers and Duffer brothers started finding Radio Shack ads for phones in late 1982.
Realistic TRC-214 walkie-talkies
The walkie-talkies are fairly high-end. Sold under Radio Shack’s Realistic brand, they’re the kind of radios that were used at construction sites or events. Long antennas and a decent three watts of power make communicating within a mile perfectly reasonable. Only one problem: The TRC-214 may not have been available in 1983. It isn’t listed in the 1983 Radio Shack catalog, but it appears in the 1985 catalog.
Mike’s Calculator Watch: Alpha Calc Chrono?
You never get a clear shot of the face of Mike’s calculator watch, but its unique qualities point to it being the Alpha Calc Chrono. First, there are the raised, light-colored buttons. That eliminates all the Casio calculator watches with dark buttons. Second, there appear to be five buttons per row, while most calculator watches have four. Regardless of the make, that calculator watch was plan B. “I had an E.T. watch, and I so wanted to use it, but we couldn’t,” Reiss explains. “It was too expensive to buy the rights.”
Surprisingly, Reiss says bikes may have been the hardest props to get because she needed 16 in all: Each boy had one primary bike, a backup, a stunt bike, and a backup stunt bike. It’s nearly impossible to find that many identical bikes from the ’80s. Reiss went with a mix of banana-seat bikes and BMX bikes. “Mike’s bike is actually a reproduction,” Reiss says. “We aged them all up and taped them. With Dustin’s bike, we decided he was sort of a klutz. So we painted his bike but never finished it, and that’s why his bike is two colors.”
The Bear Trap
Alas, there’s no manufacturing information for that bear trap, but Reiss says two versions were used in the show. There was a real bear trap, one they picked up at a store that supplied decorative props for restaurants and bars. Then, Reiss created one where they replaced the prongs “with the foam you put in carrying cases for cameras, that dense black foam.” That one was important for the season’s final episode. (Minor spoiler alert) Obviously, using a real trap would have irreparably damaged the one-of-a-kind monster suit.
Chocolate Pudding in Cans
They don’t make chocolate pudding in cans anymore, so Reiss had to get creative. They used cans of Vienna sausages and luncheon meat, then slapped replica chocolate-pudding labels on them. That had some gnarly side effects. “The kids had to keep opening them in the scenes, and they were gagging. It smelled disgusting.”
Mitsubishi 22-Inch Television
Mike’s 22-inch television—which is reportedly, like, 10 times bigger than Dustin’s—is definitely a Mitsubishi. You can tell by the logo in the upper right corner, that funky triangle of three diamonds. Beyond that, it’s hard to identify the model or year of this sweet tube. If you know, please send us a fax or a postcard.