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What to Watch After ‘Stranger Things’ Season 4 Volume 1

This season, the Duffer Brothers paid homage to plenty of horror classics like “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

Note: This article contains spoilers for “Stranger Things” Season 4 Part 1.

“Stranger Things” is a product of all of the TV and films creators and executive producers Matt and Ross Duffer, aka the Duffer Brothers, grew up consuming. As a sci-fi time capsule of the ‘80s, it’s teeming with myriad references to adventure and coming-of-age classics, with inspirations ranging from “The Goonies” to the short-lived cult show “Freaks and Geeks.”

From Steven Spielberg to Stephen King, from “Stand by Me” to “Carrie,” Netflix’s tentpole phenomenon is a mix of old and new, bringing younger generations to long-hailed classics and offering nostalgia-tinged action with a revamped twist (and sans a heavy hand). Some references are fleeting, while others inform the obvious look, feel and tone of the characters or plot. 

Previous seasons were more in line with family-friendly blockbusters, but Season 4 opens up dimensions into more bone-chilling territory, with gore and body horror inspired by “Hellraiser” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” among others. “Those are probably the biggest ones for this year just because the monsters are sentient, they’re intelligent, but there is also something weird that you can’t quite fathom about all of those monsters, and we wanted to try to capture that feeling,” Matt Duffer told IGN about the longer, more ambitious and scarier senior season.

Below, TheWrap compiled a list of essential viewing to get acquainted with (or simply rewatch) the movies behind the madness that is “Stranger Things” Season 4.

“The Exorcist” (1973)

the-exorcist-image
Warner Bros.

Right off the bat, the connection between the demon-possessed floating in William Friedkin’s seminal horror flick to the haunting levitation of Vecna’s cursed victims is easy to draw. However, the influences don’t stop there: Maintaining period accuracy, Hawkins is gripped by a bona fide “Satanic Panic,” as the town struggles to explain the gruesome killings and clings to notions of possession as a root cause. 

Based on the 1971 novel of the same name, “The Exorcist” follows a mother (Ellen Burstyn) who solicits the help of two priests to rid her 12-year-old daughter (Linda Blair) from possession by an unknown entity.

“Carrie” (1976)

MGM

The iconic imagery from “Carrie” is definitively channeled in “Stranger Things” Season 4 Part 1 — from the chocolate milkshake dumped on Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) at Rink-O-Mania to her blood-splattered hospital gown at Dr. Brenner’s (Matthew Modine) facility. The Duffer Brothers have previously stated that the Stephen King adaptation influenced the super-powered character Eleven, but this season takes it a step further. 

In the ‘70s original, the title character (played by Sissy Spacek) is ruthlessly taunted by her peers and abused by her overly religious mother, eventually discovering her supernatural powers and embarking on a revenge spree. In Season 4, El begins her journey without powers and faces bullying from her California classmates. She also returns to her roots in the facility, where she’s controlled by the domineering guards and Brenner himself. At the core of it all, however, El grapples with the basic question of whether she’s truly good or ultimately dangerous.

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982)

Universal

The entirety of Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) new friendship with stoner Argyle (“Booksmart’s” Eduardo Franco) can be boiled down to weed-fueled misadventures à la “Fast Times.” In “Stranger Things,” the California kids make chase in a Surfer Boy Pizza van, and it wouldn’t be a far leap to imagine Sean Penn’s pizza-loving Jeff Spicoli inadvertently getting caught up in the action. There’s also references to the film on the Hawkins side, as Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) debate one peer being a lesbian for having paused the VHS tape right at Phoebe Cates’ nude scene. More generally, there’s references to the drug-fueled ‘80s counterculture, and in their quest to find “Reefer Rick” and Eddie Munson’s (Joseph Quinn) probable hiding spot through the video store, the gang mentions stoner comedy classics like Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke” and others.

“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)

New Line Cinema

Aside from the original, the Duffer Brothers also drew inspiration from “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors,” as much of the battles between Vecna and the Hawkins squad take place inside the victims’ minds. Even the way Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) sinisterly reaches with one index finger to his target’s forehead is emulated by the “Stranger Things” supervillain. Additionally, Krueger’s stringy, fleshy appearance and long claws definitely look like jumping off points for a sketch of Vecna. As another connection, Englund plays Victor Creel in the show, a man who is kept prisoner at an asylum following his family’s murder.

“Hellraiser” (1987)

New World Pictures

Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” is probably most famous for its main villain, Pinhead (originated by Doug Bradley), the leader of the Cenobites, a group of former humans who became demonic entities devoted to terror and sadomasochism. Among the comparisons between Pinhead and Vecna are their sentience, former human status and penchant for literally tearing their victims apart. And while the Upside Down is its own beast, it’s not difficult to tease out influences from the horror film’s hellworld. 

“It” (1990)

Lorimar Television / Courtesy Everett Collection

ABC’s two-part miniseries based on King’s larger-than-life novel (in both subject matter and actual size) served as a huge inspiration for the Duffer Brothers, this season and early on. As the “Stranger Things” kids make the painful leap from childhood to adolescence, they’re confronted with unfathomable monsters and mind-numbing horror, much like the members of the Losers Club. With both shows, the children must outsmart the villains together and, in the process, lose their innocence in the heinous journey toward coming of age.

“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)

the-silence-of-the-lambs-jodie-foster
Orion Pictures

This Oscar-winning psychological thriller bleeds some of its influence into the prison scenes featuring Victor Creel, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin. While Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the inimitable Dr. Hannibal Lecter is unmatched, Englund channels a similarly disturbing quality in his recounting of the true events that took place at Creel House. As with “The Silence of the Lambs,” nothing is as it seems, and what follows is a necessary chase to identify the true killer of Creel’s family and Vecna’s origin story. 

“The Cell” (2000)

New Line Cinema

While speaking to IGN, Ross Duffer identified the Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn-starring sci-fi horror-thriller as an “underrated” film that influenced “Stranger Things 4.” Largely taking place in the psyche of a serial killer who is in a coma, the film (which was Oscar-nominated for Best Makeup) follows a social worker (Lopez) who agrees to enter his deranged mind in order to find out where he’s hidden his final victim. A mind-bending trip full of otherworldly occurrences, its virtual reality and experimental tech is something out of Dr. Brenner’s Nina Project’s wildest dreams. 

“Amores Perros” (2000)

Lionsgate / Courtesy Everett Collection

Finn Wolfhard told Polygon that the Duffer Brothers didn’t assign any viewing homework for the young cast, but they did play a specific clip from Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s debut film “Amores Perros” (translation: “Love’s a Bitch”). 

“There’s a scene in the car [in episode 5] where we’re all together and it’s very tense,” Wolfhard said. “And the Duffer brothers really wanted me to watch this movie by Iñárritu. There’s a scene … that’s very similar to the [Agent] Harmon scene in the back of the truck … It’s really chaotic and there’s blood — and apparently they drew a lot of inspiration from the movie.”

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