“Stranger Things” was hailed for its warm 1980s vibes when it hit Netflix in 2016. The show seemed nostalgic for Steven Spielberg’s fare: sci-fi and fantasy films like “ET the Extra-Terrestrial” and “ The Goonies”, which relies on young protagonists and provides minor thrills.
Aside from a beloved teenager, Barb, the first season’s death count was low and the scares were less grisly. Even Season 3, which celebrated the quintessential action hero (largely referencing “Rambo” and “Terminator”), had less bloodshed.
Fast forward to season 4, which is now streaming on Netflix, and viewers will see a significant shift in tone for the nostalgic, hint-rich hit show. Those 80s references have gone dark.
Breakout star Joseph Quinn, who plays new character Eddie Munson, leader of the Hell Fire Club, acknowledged the change during a recent Netflix press conference. “The consequences are more extreme; horror is scarier. It’s bloodier,” he told the Seattle Times. “It’s more adult in all aspects, I think. There isn’t a track that isn’t darker than previous seasons.
The fourth season feels less like science fiction and more like horror. In addition to 1980s slasher films, Stephen King’s “IT” comes to mind, as the book and subsequent film adaptations feature twisted, vengeful bullies almost as gruesome as the monster that hunts Derry’s children.
Season 4 of “Stranger Things” has many bullies. There are the sinister children that telekinetic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) endures in California, and the gun-toting jocks that the other protagonists face in Hawkins, Indiana. Child test subjects of a twisted lab turn out to be monstrous. And – yes, spoiler alert – a young boy terrorizes his family and adds to the empty darkness of the Upside Down in unimaginable ways.
“Each season the characters get older, and the horror has to grow with them,” said Wickham Clayton, author of “SEE! LISTEN! CUT! KILL!: Live Friday the 13th.”
Season four big bad Vecna remembers slasher villain Freddy Krueger from 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
“Vecna is a creature that haunts teenagers, tapping into their guilt and fears, sending them into trances that culminate in killing them in those trance states,” Clayton said. “The plot of the characters’ deaths, down to the detail of their elevation to the ceiling, and then a character named Eddie, an outsider to the community, suspected murderer and hunted, comes straight from the first half of ‘Nightmare.’ through the characters of Tina and Rod.
Even the sounds, lighting, and sets of the trance sequences are on par with the “Nightmare” franchise, and the show features a cameo from Robert Englund, who played Freddy on the show. Pop culture buff Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) even names the movie for good measure.
‘Stranger Things,’ which dressed its stars as Ghostbusters in season 2 and catapulted Kate Bush’s 1985 hit ‘Running Up That Hill’ to the top of the charts this year, wears its pop culture obsession on its sleeves. . This season features a natural progression in genre and tone as the show’s teenage heroes grow up.
“It’s also important and perhaps unavoidable that this reference to ‘Nightmare’ be made,” Clayton said. “In the early ’80s, when the slasher genre was at its height, these films remained mostly rooted in a form of reality, with the killers being human but hard to kill.
“But in 1984, as the first wave of slasher was dying out, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ became a massive hit, merging slasher squarely with the supernatural and breathing new life into the genre.”
Quinn said the final season of “Stranger Things” is a “big soup of references,” blending sci-fi, fantasy and horror with the show’s trademark heart. “The season leans a lot more into genre horror, while also making reference to the big names in Spielberg,” he said.
And while the horror of the teen hearts in rural and remote Hawkins may seem distant, the themes explored by the series are universal.
“When you think about the horror genre in general – a lot of horror is about who we are as people, we humans biologically, socially and more,” said Jacob McMurray, director of curatorial collections and exhibitions at the Museum of Popular Culture in Seattle.
Why do humans care about monsters?
“It’s because they tell us about deeper things about ourselves. There’s definitely a mix of Spielberg innocence, teenage adventure with John Carpenter and David Lynch awesomeness in the show,” McMurray added, saying the series reminds him of museum exhibits, like “Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film. ”
Freddy Krueger’s original gauntlet and “Nightmare” concept art and storyboards are on display at MoPOP, as are elements of Carpenter’s “The Thing,” such as the charred body of one of the characters being transformed.
The “Halloween” franchise is also referenced often in the new season, as Eddie dons a Michael Myers mask originally worn by Max (Sadie Sink) in Season 2. Vecna’s Origin Story (originally Henry Creel, he mentored his father for their family) is another parallel.
“The Story Eddie’s Uncle Tells [Henry’s father] Victor Creel is very similar to how Dr. Loomis portrays Michael Myers in those movies,” Clayton said. “Mr. Munson calls Victor ‘pure evil’, gives a dark story of how Creel murdered his own family, and reveals he is in a mental institution nearby.
And, seemingly beaten, Vecna disappears in classic slasher villain fashion.
The fourth season of “Stranger Things” is the darkest yet, from horror movie allusions to scenes of torture and the terrible ways Vecna kills, including a gruesome death in the season premiere episode. This is all a departure from the show’s typical, lighter approach to the everyday horrors of Hawkins.
Viewers need to think about what to expect. This change may foreshadow Season 5, the final chapter of the series. If each season gets progressively darker, what source material from the 80s could be darker than the slashers? Will the riff show on “Hellraiser” be next? Fans will have to wait to find out.