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SYFY WIRE Stranger Things

The retro horror references in 'Stranger Things 4' almost went even further, Vecna actor reveals

Vecna actor Jamie Campbell Bower says he was pushing for a specific homage to Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth but it just didn't work. 

By James Grebey

From the very first season, a big part of what made Stranger Things such a hit was the way it evoked — either by explicit reference of more subtle allusions — classic sci-fi and horror movies of the ‘80s. It’s impossible not to see Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and John Carpenter’s influence. The main villain from the fourth season, Vecna, is heavily inspired by another maser of ‘80s horror, but Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays the big bad of the Upside Down, says there was one reference he really wanted to get in the season but it didn’t make the cut.  

“Venca is a huge homage to Pinhead,” the actor explained in an interview with SYFY WIRE and a handful of journalists from other outlets. It’s easy to see how — Vecna and the Hellraiser baddie look vaguely similar and they have the same cold, calculating affect that serves to make their sadistic ways even more disturbing. The show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, wore Pinhead’s influence on their sleeves — literally.  

“I can’t remember if it was Matt or Ross, I think it was Matt, would come in on the days I was working wearing Hellraiser T-shirts,” Bower recalled. “That’s what makes this show so beautiful, is the references. And as an actor, as well, that is a real joy because I could’ve spent hours going through all ‘80s movies, but I knew what I needed to get into. I needed to get into Clive Barker, I needed to get into John Carpenter. I spent a long time doing it, and it was really really cool.”

Bower implied that Vecna’s disappearing act after he’s blasted through an upper window of the Creel House is indeed a direct homage to the ending of Carpenter’s Halloween, where Michael Myers is similarly defenestrated… but when Doctor Loomis looks down where the body had just been, he’s vanished. 

There was one specific Hellraiser homage that Bower pushed for that ultimately didn’t work. In Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (which technically came out in 1992), there’s a sequence where Pinhead, played by Doug Bradley, is inside a church. Standing at the alter, he pulls two pins from his head, puts them in his hands, and then stretches out his arms like he’s on the cross declaring “I am the way” as the stained glass windows blow in. 

“For the scenes where Vecna is hovering in the attic, I said to Matt and Ross ‘Ah, it would be amazing to pay homage to this incredible character, this wonderful actor, Doug Bradley, and also it’s kind of like Jesus,’ Bower recalled. “We did it and it looked like absolute crap. They had already said to me ‘Keep your arms by your side it’s going to look great.’ And I was like ‘No, no, let me try it.’ And we did it and it was awful.”

Bower added that there are countless ‘80s horror homages for viewers to spot, while the actor who plays Eddie, Joseph Quinn, told SYFY WIRE in an earlier interview that “Nightmare on Elm Street is the spine, thematically, throughout Season 4.” 

For his part, Quinn didn’t have as many specific horror touchstones in mind while shooting the season, but he did say the “moments where [he] was kind of getting chewed-up by the Demobats,” reminded him of zombie movies like Day of the Dead

Stranger Things Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix. 

Looking for more scares? Check out the new Firestarter in theaters and on Peacock now, as well as the first season of SYFY and USA's Chucky (which has a second season coming this fall).