The following contains spoilers for Season 4 of Stranger Things.Being the cultural touchstone that she is, stranger things must constantly find ways to reinvent itself and ensure that the story and style of the series does not stagnate. It would be easy for the show to fall into the same patterns because they’re familiar and easy, and while it’s something the show does often, it’s also good to make each season feel distinct from the others. Season 4 was certainly no exception to this, as even comparing the characters and overall tone to that of the first season, one can see that Season 4 is totally different.
One of the reasons this is the case is that Season 4 was heavily influenced by horror movies and classic tropes. stranger things has always been built on the idea of nostalgia and building its story around those cultural artifacts of the 1980s, but Season 4 took that and focused specifically on horror stories. Not only are the nods to these classic horror movies fun for horror fans, but the shift to a horror tone also helped make this season darker and more adult in many ways.
stranger things always had a dark tone, which would be pretty hard to avoid in a story about monsters and evil forces that drag people into a hellish realm or possess their bodies. However, there was something about the early seasons that managed to keep it a little levity. Whether it was the tone itself or simply the fact that the main actors were all still young children, there were certain aspects that lent a certain touch of innocence to the events of the story.
In Season 4, however, the characters are much older, and by this point they’ve had their fair share of harrowing adventures. While the show still has plenty of lighthearted moments (and the storyline seems to be particularly tongue-in-cheek this season), the overall tone has matured a lot, just as the characters themselves have grown over the course of the story. The audience, many of whom may have been young teenagers themselves at the start of the series, have also aged, so it only makes sense that the story would mature with them.
Horror influences themselves vary from direct references to borrowing styles or ideas. stranger things has always been influenced by ’80s nostalgia and drew inspiration from that era’s pop culture to build Hawkins’ world, but this season seemed set on drawing inspiration from the era’s classic slashers and thrillers. Now is the perfect time to do so, as many classic horror franchises have been rebooted lately. Although the series has always had its moments of gore and horror, it has increased a lot for season 4.
This season was heavy on body horror, especially with Vecna’s possessions. The way the characters’ limbs were snapped in all directions when Vecna took control of their minds was imagery straight out of a horror movie, and was especially shocking given that the series didn’t had never gone this far before. There’s also the scene where Henry kills all the other kids in the lab, and the visual of that carnage is incredibly disturbing, considering all of the victims were young children.
References to real horror movies are actually pretty fun to count when they pop up. There are little things, like Eddie wearing a Michael Myers mask as a disguise when the group walks through the trailer park, but there are also references that go a bit further. The scene where Nancy and Robin visit Victor Creel in prison seems straight out of Thesilenceofthelambs, from the layout of the prison cells to the very structure of the interrogation itself. References to horror films are not limited to only films released in the 80s, since Thesilenceofthelambs is a bit later, but the tone is still reminiscent of that “classic” era of horror.
In this same interrogation scene, the actor playing Victor Creel is Robert Englund, who is perhaps best known for playing Freddy Krueger in freddie. stranger things likes to bring in famous stars from the ’80s to add that element of nostalgia, like Winona Ryder and Sean Astin, and Englund has filled that quota for this season. Involving someone who was doing so much of the horror genre with this season really speaks to how much the Duffer Brothers wanted to lean into that specific tone.
The Vecna House (aka Henry’s childhood home) is also a classic example of a haunted house and has a spooky aura that perfectly adds to the tone and mood. It is also reminiscent of Stephen King’s Thisfor the embodiment of evil in this story also has its “headquarters” in a spooky abandoned house. This and stranger things also feel connected to each other as they both involve groups of children facing off against an evil force that preys on their fear and often seems to specifically target them.
Still, stranger things has always been at least slightly influenced by the horror and sci-fi stalwarts that came before it, but this season has been especially loaded with those hints. Leaning into a more horror-inspired tone will be good for the show, as it will give it a bit of heaviness and a sense of direction for the final season. The stakes are higher and the characters are older, so it seems like the time is right to start making things a little scarier for audiences. As usual, if stranger things can find a way to use nostalgia as a way to enhance the story, it’ll do it, and it’ll do it well.
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