Every season, Stranger Things is a smorgasbord of pop culture references to films and TV of the ’80s. Not to mention several from the ’70s and ‘90s too. While the show extensively draws inspiration from many sources, this year one horror movie stood above the rest. And that’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. And not just Wes Craven’s original, but the whole franchise.

Spoiler Alert
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, and Vecna from Stranger Things 4.
New Line Cinema / Netflix

The seminal slasher series’ had its fingerprints (clawprints?) over just about every episode this year. And we’re going to point out all the places Freddy Krueger left his mark on the season. As well as some of the other non-Nightmare horror references throughout, episode by episode. Because there were quite a few of those too in Stranger Things 4.

Chapter One: “The Hellfire Club”
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
Freddy taunts one of his victims in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
New Line Cinema

In the Elm Street franchise, Freddy Krueger toyed with his victims in the dreamscape by using their greatest anxieties against them. This is Vecna’s method of torment too, drawing on personal trauma from his victims. Freddy specifically drew on a character’s own substance abuse issues in Dream Warriors. And also another character’s abusive home life in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. And we saw Vecna do this to poor Chrissy in episode one of Stranger Things 4.

Other Horror Movie Influences
Sissy Spacek as Carrie White in 1976's Carrie.

The telekinetic assault which killed many kids at Hawkins Lab in 1979 (which we believed was Eleven’s) is meant to evoke Carrie White’s rampage at the prom in Carrie. And the way the bodies of Vecna’s victims float in the air and contort in extreme ways? That was a callback to Sam Raimi’s style, specifically as we saw it in the Evil Dead movies. And Vecna’s overall demeanor is possibly even more reminiscent of the Cenobites in the Hellraiser franchise than Freddy Krueger. Despite those Freddy-like claws of his.

Chapter Two: “Vecna’s Curse”
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.
New Line Cinema

The biggest Nightmare reference in Chapter Two wasn’t exactly subtle. In the video store where Steve and Robin work, there’s a large Freddy cardboard promo standee. Given that the date was March 1986, we’re going to assume it was promoting the VHS release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Although Nancy’s friend Fred’s hallucination about his fiery car accident recalls Alice’s nightmare about her boyfriend’s similar death in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.

Other Horror Movie Influences
Jack Nicholson's interview to be the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
Warner Bros.

This episode had quite a few other horror references too. When Eddie’s uncle told the story of Victor Creel (as he had heard it) he talked about how he went mad in his isolated home, and killed his wife and children. The way he told it was reminiscent of how Jack Torrance’s boss recounted the grisly history of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Michael Myers’ escape from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium in Halloween 1978 was also directly mentioned.

Chapter Three: “The Monster and the Superhero

This episode is light on Elm Street references. But it opened with government helicopters approaching Owens’ home, with powerful lights beaming through the windows. We’re meant to think this was something otherworldly. This was very similar to a scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where we think UFOs were approaching, but in reality, they were helicopters. Not exactly horror, but a scary movie moment regardless.

Ben Hanscom visits the Derry library in Stephen King's IT.
Warner Bros.

The awkward dinner scene with Joyce, the kids, and Argyle was also an homage to the dinner scene in The Lost Boys, when Sam brought home the Frog Brothers and chaos ensued. Nancy and Robin going to the town library to find out the truth about Victor Creel seemed like an homage to Mike Hanlon/Ben Hanscom trying to learn the secrets of the town of Derry the same way in Stephen King’s It. And we can’t help but feel the creepy grandfather clock was another Evil Dead reference.

Chapter Four: “Dear Billy”
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Robert Englund as Victor Creel in Stranger Things 4.

When Max was pulled into Vecna’s world, she ultimately was able to escape his powers by focusing on her favorite song, Kate Bush’s “ Running Up That Hill.” With this guiding her, and hearing her friends calling to her on the other side, she drew on that strength. She’s able to turn her back on Vecna and not give him any more of her energy. This is almost exactly how heroine Nancy Thompson defeated Freddy at the end of Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Oh, and Freddy himself, Robert Englund, cameoed as Victor Creel in this episode. Could there be a bigger Elm Street Easter egg than that?

Other Horror Movie Influences
Hannibal meets Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs.

The most obvious horror reference here is when Nancy and Robin go to the creepy confinement area where Creel is to interrogate him. It’s a scene straight out of Silence of the Lambs, when Clarice meets Hannibal Lecter. Right on down to the instructions from the staff, and the production design of the prison. Victor Creel also said the house where he lived with his family was “born bad.” Something heard in movies like The Amityville Horror and The Conjuring.

Chapter Five: “The Nina Project”
Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare / A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

The Nightmare franchise got its biggest name-drop in the season in this episode, where Dustin told Max that Vecna was just like Freddy Krueger. He explained who Freddy was and how he took kids to the boiler room in their dreams. He also suggested that Max opened a door into Vecna’s mind. That is something that the teens of Springwood did in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.

The paper mache version of Freddy's house from Dream Warriors.
New Line Cinema

Another Nightmare reference in this episode showed Max obsessively drawing the house from the Upside Down. It is similar to how Kristen (Patricia Arquette) obsessively built a paper mache house just like the one she saw in her dreams in Dream Warriors. Just like in that film, the Creel house exists in a distorted form in one reality, while existing as a boarded-up dilapidated one in our world. When Max discovered the grandfather clock in the Creel house, the music is very similar to Charles Bernstein’s score for the first Nightmare.

Chapter Six: “The Dive”
A Nightmare on Elm Street / Freddy Vs. Jason
Robert Englund as Fred Krueger in a flashback scene in Freddy vs. Jason.
New Line Cinema

The townspeople of Hawkins deciding to take justice into their own hands and go after poor Eddie Munson was also just like how the parents of Springwood decided to go after Freddy Krueger in a vigilante mob. In that case, at least Freddy wasn’t innocent. But the mentality was the same. This event is often discussed ever since the first Nightmare film. But we only really see it play out in Freddy vs. Jason. There, we see the townsfolks burn him alive.

Other Horror Movie Influences

The gang talked about how to deal with Vecna, and discussed having to stake him in the heart and chop off his head. This is exactly how Jonathan Harker and Mina Murray dealt with the Count in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Sadly, old Vecna was not a vampire.

Chapter Seven “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors/ A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master / Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
Inside Freddy's mind in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.
New Line Cinema

Here is where the biggest references to one of the best parts of the Nightmare franchise take place, with a big Dream Warriors homage. When Nancy, Robin, Eddie, and Steve go through the Watergate into the Upside Down, they fight off several Demobats. Essentially, they took the fight to Vecna’s realm, just like the kids took the fight to Freddy in Dream Warriors. Heck, even Eddie’s hair metal look is reminiscent of members of the band Dokken. They famously did the most well-known Nightmare breakout song, appropriately titled “Dream Warriors.”

Alice Johnson, the titular Dream Master of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
New Line Cinema

When we dive into One/Vecna’s backstory, we find out that as a child, he exhibited evil tendencies early on. This was similar to how Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare showed us glimpses into Freddy’s childhood. There, we saw how even as a kid he was cruel and killed small animals. Vecna also described how he “absorbs” his victims, similar to how Freddy did this in Dream Warriors/Dream Master.

Eleven’s backstory, where she battled One with her psionic powers and banished him to the Upside Down, also brings to mind the final battle between Freddy and Alice in The Dream Master. In both cases, just when our hero thinks the monster had the upper hand, they gathered their power to deliver a final blow. One that sends them out of this reality. And in both cases, Vecna and Freddy were torn apart from within.

Other Horror Movie Influences

A group of men fighting off an alien-like creature in an isolated location covered in snow? Totally made us think of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

With two episodes left to go in Stranger Things 4, we expect more elements of the Nightmare franchise to rear their ugly heads. The final two episodes of Stranger Things’ fourth season premiere on July 1.

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