This article contains major spoilers for Season 4 of “Stranger Things.” See some references we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section.
After almost three years on hiatus, Netflix brought subscribers back to the world of “Stranger Things” with the first seven episodes of Season 4, which dropped on Friday. (The final two land on July 1.) Once again, its creators, the Duffer Brothers, frolic in a nostalgic sandbox of references to the pop culture of the time in which it’s set, which is now early 1986.
Below, we gathered many of the major Season 4 talking points, but we’re leaving out some foundational texts by Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, John Hughes and John Carpenter, which have been endlessly identified and discussed with earlier seasons. (Let’s just say that “It,” “ET,” “Sixteen Candles” and “The Thing” continue to be influences.) So pour yourself a Tab, fire up your dial-up modem, and have a look.
The show has used the “Alien” films as an influence since the beginning, and it extends some of that love to the much-maligned 1992 David Fincher entry by taking its hero all the way to a far-off prison that just happens to have something like an alien, too. David Harbor has name-dropped “Alien 3” as an influence on his arc this season, and when Hopper is trying to rally other bald inmates to battle a deadly creature, it’s hard not to imagine Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the same role. The influential artist HR Giger and the films that turned his creature into nightmare fuel will likely be an influence to the end, but one has to wonder how they’ll find a way to incorporate “Alien: Resurrection” into Season 5. (Or maybe “Prometheus”!)
‘The Amityville Horror’
In December 1975, the Lutz family moved into a home in Amityville, NY, the site of a brutal murder a little over a year earlier, when Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family. They fled less than a month later, claiming the house was haunted. The murder of the Creel family in “Stranger Things 4” is an obvious nod to the films that were made from this “true” story — particularly the 1979 movie by Stuart Rosenberg — and the design of the monster Vecna’s house is similar to the one from Amityville. One can also spot a VHS copy of the first film at Family Video in the premiere episode of the season.
No one is going to laugh at El (Millie Bobby Brown) after she smashes a girl’s face in with a roller skate. Stephen King’s 1974 novel, “Carrie,” and the Brian De Palma 1976 screen adaptation have been touchstones for El since the beginning, but the bullying aspect of the original tale amplifies the connection to El’s journey through the first two episodes of “Stranger Things 4 .” Just as Carrie White suffered tormentors at her school, El is viciously abused in class, the halls, and eventually the roller rink. She does n’t strike back with her powers like Carrie did… but it’s not for lack of trying.
The Upside-Down World of ‘Stranger Things’
After a three-year wait, Netflix’s sci-fi series returns with a fourth season.
Early in the season, Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) banter about this 1965 best picture winner from David Lean; Steve protests against anything that takes two VHS tapes to watch, and Robin argues that Julie Christie’s beauty and its tale of doomed love make the effort worthwhile. It’s a fun bit for the two characters, but it also feels intentional that the film takes place in the snowy climate of Russia, a major setting for “Stranger Things 4.”
Dungeons & Dragons
The role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, Hellfire Club’s reason for living, influences the storytelling this season more than ever. On one level, the Season 4 plot plays out like a D&D story, as a search party embarks on a fantasy quest to defeat a powerful supernatural villain — especially when the kids go into the Upside Down after Steve. But the references are also more explicit. For starters, the kids refer to the tentacled monster at the center of this season as Vecna, a D&D monster. And the satanic panic that developed around the game in the mid-80s becomes a major part of the story, as a series of brutal murders spurs Hawkins residents to gather pitchforks for anyone who plays the game.
Once again, Steve’s workplace provides a plethora of references to movies of the era, particularly films that would have been advertised at such a business in early 1986. This season, we see posters for “Teen Wolf,” “The Coca-Cola Kid, ” “The Man with One Red Shoe,” “Weird Science” and a well-placed one for “The Last Dragon,” which serves as a backdrop to Steve and Robin’s conversation about their romantic woes in Episode 2. There are also era- appropriate standees all over the store, including for “Beverly Hills Cop,” “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” “Gremlins” and “The Outsiders.”
‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’
The Duffer Brothers have cited this 1982 coming-of-age movie as an influence before, and it feels embedded in the SoCal stoner comedy interplay between Argyle (Eduardo Franco) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) this season. Everyone remembers when Sean Penn’s character Spicoli famously had a pizza delivered to his class of him, and one can picture said tasty treat being delivered by Argyle in his Surfer Boy Pizza van. Of course, Steve also mentions the film in the season premiere, noting that a girl Robin is interested in returning the VHS tape cued to precisely 53:05, a key moment for admirers of Phoebe Cates.
There is no El without Charlie, the telekinetic heroine of the 1980 Stephen King novel, who is played by Drew Barrymore in a 1984 film by Mark L. Lester (with music by Tangerine Dream, a big influence on the synthy “Stranger Things” score ). Once again, the story has been a reference point since the beginning, but it feels even richer this season given how much of El’s arc involves nefarious government organizations trying to harness her power from her, much as the Shop chases down its superpowered creation from her in King’s book.
Carpenter has influenced “Stranger Things” since the beginning, but his 1978 masterpiece, “Halloween,” gets a literal name-check in the second episode when Nancy (Natalia Dyer) learns about Victor Creel, a figure who has become as much of an urban legend in Hawkins as Michael Myers. In the Carpenter film, Myers murdered his sister before escaping from a mental hospital years later. Victor Creel doesn’t come home like Myers, but the concept of a suburban boogeyman feels like a nod to this horror classic.
It wouldn’t come out for another year (1987) but the slatted wood of Vecna’s attic lair, along with his attachment to the house he grew up in has the feel of this disturbing sadomasochism-inspired horror flick by Clive Barker. It doesn’t hurt that Vecna feeds off pain and need, much as Pinhead and his otherworldly buddies do. He’ll tear your soul apart.
“Stranger Things” has always used music effectively — remember the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” in Season 1 or Limahl’s “Neverending Story” in Season 3? This season’s biggest ear worm is Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” which turns up repeatedly in the headphones of Max (Sadie Sink) and in the climax of Episode 4. It’s a song that was also effectively used in a 1988 film called “ The Chocolate War,” based on a book that someone Max’s age may have read in 1986. A cool connection between Bush and the world of this show is her love for Stephen King’s “The Shining,” a book she responded to so strongly that she wrote “Get Out of My House” about it.
‘The Lord of the Rings’
In Episode 6, Dustin convinces the gang to seek out a gate that could have opened at the scene of Vecna’s most recent crime, and Eddie suggests that his D&D buddy is asking him to go to Mordor, saying that “the shire is burning.” Of course, these are references to the seminal fantasy books by JRR Tolkien. It feels like more than a nod when one considers the Sauron-like power of Vecna to see what is happening around Hawkins and the Mordor-like place he calls home.
In the season premiere, the Hellfire Club leader Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) gives a speech atop a cafeteria table to “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” by the Cramps, but it’s the song that the Duffers drop behind him a few beats later that draws a line to this 1987 vampire movie from Kathryn Bigelow starring Bill Paxton. Anyone who has seen that film recalls the use of the Cramps’ “Fever,” and Eddie’s outfit does look like one that could be worn by its group of nomadic bloodsuckers. Given that Steve asks in Episode 6 whether Vecna might actually be a vampire — and given how the villain sucks the blood of his victims — the connection isn’t a stretch.
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’
This 1984 horror hit from Wes Craven is arguably the biggest influence on Season 4. Not only is this chapter about an immortal being who can enter people’s minds to kill them, but the actor who plays Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund, shows up as the tormented Victor Creel in Episode 4. There’s also a standee of Freddy at Family Video, and the death of Chrissy (Grace Van Dien) in the premiere — flung to the ceiling of Eddie’s trailer — is clearly meant to mimic the death of Tina (Amanda Wyss ) in the Craven film. Even the characters pick up on the corollary between their enemy and Freddy; Dustin suggests in Episode 5 that perhaps Vecna has a “boiler room,” a place like Krueger’s — which is to say, a mental lair where he can be defeated.
‘The Silence of the Lambs’
When the guard at Pennhurst Mental Hospital explains the rules of conduct to Robin and Nancy related to meeting Victor Creel, it echoes similar warnings given to Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) in this 1991 best picture-winning adaptation by Jonathan Demme of the 1988 novel by Thomas Harris. And then there’s the corridor, which feels designed to recall the one that houses Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) at its end, complete with a brick wall on one side and a jittery patient in one of the three cells that precedes Victor’s.
Any TV show or movie set in the 1980s that plays with a Russian threat thwarted by teenagers is bound to recall this 1983 hit by John Badham starring Matthew Broderick. But the Duffers take it a step further in Episode 5 when Will (Noah Schnapp), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Jonathan call a mysterious number and realize it’s a computer. Not only do they name-drop “Wargames” as a way for the others to understand what’s happening, but the Duffers add a little of that movie’s score as Mike goes on to explain the plan to enlist Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo), Dustin’s tech- savvy and religiously conflicted girlfriend.