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Booo! Lawsuit Raises Its Ugly Head About ‘Stranger Things’ and Montauk

Charlie Kessler says the Duffer Brothers stole his idea.

In the early 1960s, the U.S. Air Force abandoned their top-secret early warning station out by the lighthouse in Montauk. It was top secret because the military didn’t want Russians meddling with our radar, computers, green screens and communication gear created to alert people inland about Soviet guided-missile attacks. The Air Force left, however, by simply walking away from the base, leaving the whole thing to just rot into ruin.

This created a wonderful opportunity for us local teenagers at the time, to come at night, cut holes through the barbed wire and chain-link to sneak into this place called Camp Hero, enter buildings, walk through underground tunnels and hope against hope we would not get caught or taken prisoner by any monsters or other creatures there. Legends were born. Stories were concocted. Was there some secret operation other than the warning system we might stumble upon?

In 1992, a sensational book called The Montauk Project, written by Peter Moon and Preston Nichols, was published, which enlarged our earlier fears. One thing reported was that local teenagers had been lured inside and were then never seen again. The secret operation was time travel. The government was attempting to transport a Navy ship from one port to another, but it had not worked and crew members suffered a horrible death, halfway in one place and halfway in another. There had to be a cover-up.

This book went viral, or whatever they called it back then. And the authors followed up with a second and then a third book, all with titles that revolved around the idea of a secret Montauk time-travel project disguised to look like a Cold War early warning system. These books are still available at your local bookstore.

Montauk may have been a famous beach resort for many years for its fishing, surfing, hang gliding, golf, nightlife and tennis—now it was also famous for “the Montauk Project.” And that legend, enlarged upon and added to, has continued. Some years later, a dead animal about the size of a large raccoon washed up on the beach that was so waterlogged and deformed it looked like a monster…the Montauk Monster, it was called. And that went viral, too.

Now we have the Montauk Project Lawsuit. A short 8-minute film called Montauk about the Montauk Project was made in 2011 by Charlie Kessler, which involves a boy wandering off into the Montauk woods at Camp Hero, a distraught mother trying to find him, a man trying to help her find him, a monster, and some effects where the mother is lifted off the ground by some invisible force that then appears to kill her in the air. The film was shown at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2012 when it came out, and it won the prize for Best Student Film. Now Charlie Kessler is suing.

He claims that in 2014 he attended a premiere party at the Tribeca Film Festival and met two brothers, Matt and Ross Duffer, and told them about his short film and his plan to create a full-length film called The Montauk Project. Kessler’s plot, the suit says, is a variation on his earlier short movie. It involves a young boy who goes to the shut down Camp Hero one night and does not return. His parents, hysterical, get a local police officer to find their son and figure out what is going on in Camp Hero. The officer discovers that it is horrific operation at which children are used as “psychic weapons” to open a portal into an “alien world.”

Kessler says that in 2016 when Stranger Things debuted on Netflix, he noticed not only that the Duffer Brothers created it but, the suit says, he believed it was the same idea he presented to them. In the premiere, a group of boys are playing when one disappears. As a result, the boy’s friends, his mother and a local cop work to find the boy. They discover a girl with telekinetic abilities, and they learn of a government operation nearby that is being run secretly.

Kessler also claims in the suit that this show, Stranger Things, had been originally titled The Montauk Project when Netflix bought it and only later got its name changed. Also, he says, they changed the locale. Stranger Things on TV today takes place in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the early 1980s. The show is a big hit and is making lots of money.

Kessler’s lawsuit was filed in California last month. He says he’s received no credit or compensation for his work. A lawyer for the Duffers says they never spoke with Kessler about his short film or any project.

Since the lawsuit was filed, TMZ, a website that covers backstories in the Hollywood movie world among other things, claims it learned that Netflix, in searching around for someone to play “Barbara” in the new show, allegedly put out a casting call in August 2015 that read “Barbara: 18 to play 16 years old, Barbara is Nancy’s gossipy, less put together, and less popular best friend who can sometimes be a 3rd wheel meddling with Steve and Nancy. RECURRING. Notes: You have a self tape request for the Netflix series Montauk starring Winona Ryder…”

TMZ calls this a “smoking gun” that shows the Duffer Brothers knew about the Kessler film. But was this supposed casting call referring to Montauk the book, Montauk the monster or Montauk the Kessler film? Or none of those? It could matter. Then I read that the Duffers’ lawyer said they never hid the fact that Stranger Things was originally called Montauk. That was supposed to be the locale. But it wound up being in Indiana.

But then there is a film that pre-dates both Stranger Things and Kessler’s Montauk. It was created by filmmaker Christopher Garetano in 2010 and released in 2015. It was later developed and produced as The Dark Files for the History Channel.

RELATED: ‘Montauk Chronicles’ Filmmaker Discounts ‘Stranger Things’ Lawsuit

I saw The Dark Files when it appeared on TV. In this special, scientists and others go onto the site (trailed by the filmmakers) trying to learn the truth about the supposed macabre doings. They seem to find black-and-white footage of dazed teenagers walking into some of the underground tunnels to be part of terrible experiments. In real time, they track down Preston Nichols in a trailer in the woods somewhere (West Virginia?). Nichols is elderly and very weird. He neither confirms nor denies. The experts are very open to all of this.

In the end, they decide to agree to disagree. Some say the Montauk Project was a secret black op, others say it was bunk, still others say they cannot be sure. So the mystery remains unsolved.

Should Garetano sue, too? But if so, who?

Further to all of this, you have the right to know that the reporter writing this article is mentioned in one of the Montauk Project books.

I am in the second book. I read the first when it came out and had found it so outrageous that I was moved to write the authors of the book. I claimed, rightly, that I was the publisher of the town newspaper in Montauk in those days, and that some of the things they said were going on downtown at the time were simply not true. As an example, they had reported that one day in August of 1962, all the animals in all the woods surrounding downtown came into town to mill around for a day before returning to where they had come from.

“Not true,” I wrote. “I was there.”

In that second book, the authors, mentioning me by name, stated that clearly I was part of the cover-up.

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