All The Sneaky Pop Culture References Hidden In ‘Stranger Things’ Season 4
'Stranger Things' continues to be a love letter to '70s and '80s geek culture.
Stranger Things Season 4 is finally upon us, and while we eagerly wait for the finale to drop this coming July, let’s take a look at all the movies and shows referenced.
Every season of Stranger Things is a feast of ’70s and ’80s pop culture nostalgia. The show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, have always been open about the series’ nostalgic influences, with major ones being the works of Stephen King, John Carpenter films, and superhero comics.
Just like our guide to the sitcom-fueled fantasy that was WandaVision, we’re going to be breaking down these references in detail so there will be spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
— Warning: This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things. —
A Nightmare On Elm Street
The Duffer Brothers have been very open about the influence of John Carpenter’s classic on the most recent season, telling Variety that both of them always dreamed of making an Elm Street film.
Stranger Things Season 4 is certainly one in spooky, harrowing spirit. A demonic figure burrowing into the subconscious of suburban teens and weaponising their trauma against them is straight out of Freddy Krueger’s playbook.
As Vecna’s first victim, Crissy’s death mimics Freddy’s first victim, Tina in Elm Street. Both Chrissy and Tina levitate, contorting as their demonic torturers show them twisted visions of their past, before meeting violent deaths right in front of their male friends.
Even Freddy himself, actor Robert Englund, makes a notable appearance. Englund plays Victor Creel, an accused serial killer Nancy believes is behind the new spattering of murders in Hawkins.
Silence of the Lambs
Speaking of Nancy and Robin’s visit to Victor Creel, their descent down to Creel’s cell is a near-perfect Silence of the Lambs tease. Like Clarice, Nancy and Robin follow an orderly down a winding set of narrow steps to a stone-lined row of cells in the Pennhurst Asylum’s basement. As the pair walk past the cells to Creel’s (who is, like Hannibal Lector before him, right at the end), the other inmates sneer lewdly at them.
When Nancy and Robin reach Creel’s cell, he’s sitting at a desk and scratching a deep slash into it with a long fingernail. From his cell, Creel feeds Robin and Nancy, the horrific truth of his family’s mass murder. It’s a great little allusion to his days as Freddy Krueger before turns around and blows their investigation wide-open, Hannibal-style.
Game of Thrones
The Duffer Brothers have called Stranger Things Season 4 their “Game of Thrones season’, in part because of each episode’s near movie-length runtime. But also “because it’s so spread out, so I think that’s what’s unique or most unique about the season”, the brothers told Deadline.
BGFX is the prosthetic makeup company headed by Barrie Gower and is behind both Thrones and Stranger Things Season 4. According to an interview in Variety, the villainous Vecna’s design borrowed heavily from the design of the Night King in Game of Thrones, as well as Freddie Krueger.
Perhaps a nod to the inspiration taken from Thrones, but you may recognise Hopper’s jailer turned cellmate, Enzo. Enzo is played by none other than Tom Wlaschiha, AKA Arya’s faceless assassin master, Jaqen H’ghar.
When Dustin and the Hellfire club are playing their final round of D&D, Eddie tries to tell Dustin how much chance they have of winning. “Never tell me the odds,” Dustin says. The line was originally and iconically said by Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Stephen King’s It, Carrie, and Firestarter
There isn’t much on Earth more obvious than the influence of Stephen King’s works on Stranger Things. Since Season 1, the series has borrowed heavily from King’s works, from the setting of a mid-west small town to the concept of an idyllic town held hostage by demonic forces.
In particular, Season 4 borrows especially heavily from It. Vecna and Pennywise both appear in disturbing visions of their victims, targeting children and young teens. Then, via a deeply haunted house, the Eldrich terrors seem to feed off their captive’s lifeforce and fear.
As for Firestarter, there have always been parallels between King’s superpowered young girl protagonists, Charlie and Eleven. Both are hunted by insidious government forces looking to use their powers for their own ends, and both become very destructive when angry.
Finally, Eleven drawing blood from her school bully had Stephen King’s Carrie all over it. Though Stranger Things Season 4 swapped Carrie’s pig’s blood prank to one where Eleven is covered in a chocolate milkshake.
While the series is set two years before the film’s release, 1987’s cult classic horror film, Hellraiser is a massive influence in this season of Stranger Things. Clive Barker’s film followed the villain Pinhead. Like Pinhead, Stranger Things’ big baddie Vecna used to be human but was terrifyingly mutilated after being transported to another dimension.
Like Hellraiser‘s Pinhead, Vecna also feeds off the sorrow, pain and fear of others. Also, Vecna’s lair and flashbacks to his childhood attic where his villainy began seem to be a nod to Pinhead’s iconically spooky attic lair.
In the last two seasons of Stranger Things, the gang begin to encounter the origins of the World Wide Web and hacker culture via Dustin’s hacker girlfriend, Suzie. In Season 4, Mike, Will, Jonathan and Argyle seek out Suzie to hack a mysterious dial-up connection that they believe will lead them to wherever Eleven is being held captive.
When they ring the mysterious number given to them by the dying FBI agent, they’re met with the unmistakable sound of a dial-up connection. It seems none of them can place the sound until Will says the sound reminds him of the movie WarGames.
The 1983 film follows a handful of school students who hack some top-secret military servers by accident, and end up in an intense fight to prevent Russia and the US from entering into World War 3 — just as Mike and the gang use hacker Suzie to fight against the corrupt government forces hiding Eleven.
The Amityville Horror
The horrific Amityville murders have been written about and adapted into films since the late ’70s. The historic 1973 murder case in which Ronald DeFeo Jr murdered his mother, father and four siblings was made infamous by DeFeo’s claim that he killed his family in self-defence after hearing voices that they were plotting against him. A year later, the Lutz family moved into the DeFeo’s house and claimed the house was rife with paranormal activity. The mass murder and Lutz’s troubles were immortalised in The Amityville Horror, a true crime novel by Jay Anson.
The Creel family’s mass murder in Stranger Things is an unsettling nod to the TV and films that were inspired by Anson’s retelling of DeFeo’s murders. The design of Vecna’s house that he grew up in is also eerily similar to the gothic design of DeFeo’s house. Clearly, imitating the gruesome murder that occurred within the Amityville home’s walls wasn’t enough for the Duffer Brothers.
It’s no secret that Mike, Dustin, Lucas and Will are nerds who absolutely read X-Men comics. There are numerous references to X-Men throughout Stranger Things, and the biggest in Season 4 is the Hellfire Club.
Apart from being a group of outcasts just like the X-Men, the Hellfire Club’s catchy name is a more direct reference to the comics. In the X-Men comics, the Hellfire Club was a group of wealthy, hedonistic mutants obsessed with protecting their fortunes. It’s also worth noting that Eleven’s sometimes uncontrollable dimension altering powers have always paralleled Jean Gray’s. Like Eleven, Jean Gray has immense telekinetic abilities that have often seen her hunted, imprisoned, and experimented on by the government.
Even the advice given to Eleven by Henry on how to control her powers through the use of a powerful memory echoes Professor X’s advice to Magneto in X-Men: First Class on how to focus his own powers.
Undoubtedly, there are dozens more references and easter eggs to be found throughout the series. Stranger Things continues to be the most compelling love letter to geek, cult-horror and pop culture of the ’70s and ’80s.
Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix.
Merryana Salem (they/them) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry.