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How Jaws Inspired Stranger Things' Demogorgon

When its first season debuted in 2016 on Netflix, "Stranger Things" quickly took the world by storm. Fans gravitated to its (then) child star cast, its supernatural mythology, its unabashed love for "Dungeons and Dragons," and its countless homages to beloved '80s auteur films.

It is that last, defining element of "Stranger Things" which cannot be overstated as a driving force behind the show's popularity. Few things sell today like nostalgia — and on "Stranger Things," it drips from every pore, like drool from a Demogorgon's maw. There is a veritable cottage industry on the Internet that compares shot compositions, character designs, and lines of dialogue from "Stranger Things" to the works of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Richard Donner, Ivan Reitman, Stephen King, and Wes Craven among others.

Unsurprisingly, even elements of "Stranger Things" that aren't directly cribbed from existing works are influenced by them. Nostalgia molds the familiar forms and faces of the past, allowing new meanings to form in the trappings of the old ones. Take, for example, the Demogorgon, a ferocious beast from the Upside Down first introduced in Season 1. Of course, the Demogorgon is inspired by tabletop games, but its on-screen portrayal took after a mythical beast from the terrestrial plane — the shark from Steven Spielberg's 1975 horror masterpiece, "Jaws."

Demogorgon actor was told to act like a shark

Following the first season of "Stranger Things," Demogorgon actor and choreographer Mark Steger explained to Vice how the shark in "Jaws" influenced his performance as the terrifying monster. Steger said: "The simple directions [Stranger Things creators] the Duffers gave me were, 'You're basically a shark, like the shark from 'Jaws,' and you travel between realms to feed.'"

Steger used that direction to inform his performance as the Demogorgon — he played the creature not as a motivated villain, but as a predator purpose-built for carnage. The shark in "Jaws" is a horrifying blight on the town of Amity Island, not because it acts maliciously but because it does not. Rather, the shark is compelled by its biology to feed. It cannot be reasoned with. Similarly, Steger played the Demogorgon as a natural force.

"I was just thinking, 'I'm like a shark. I am perfect for what I am built for,'" Steger added. "A shark hasn't evolved in 200 million years, or however long it's been. So that's what I was thinking: 'This is what I do. I'm the best at it. I'm better than anyone else at it.'"

That's not the only way the Duffer Brothers designed Demogorgon to feel natural. Its petal-like mouth flaps evoke a Venus flytrap, and — fun fact — they never move the same way twice. And in bringing the monster to life with his performance inside the suit, Stegner completed that effect, embodying one of the most frightening creatures ever put on TV.