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Stranger Things Season 4 Has the Best Nightmare on Elm Street Easter Egg Ever

Thanks to the ubiquity of Englund and Freddy in the 1980s, it’s no surprise that the Netflix series Stranger Things would work Nightmare into its pop culture pastiche. Earlier episodes contained nods to the franchise, including a recreation of Freddy’s face pushing through the wall in the first Nightmare movie and giving co-lead Natalia Dyer’s character the same name and personality as Nightmare‘s original final girl, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp).

With its fourth season, Stranger Things goes even further than reference, casting Englund into the series and echoing, but not re-creating, his most famous role. Englund arrives in episode four as Victor Creel, a man condemned to an asylum for killing his family several decades earlier. Creel contends that a demon murdered his wife and children, slicing out their eyes in the process, but no one believes him. When an investigation by Nancy and Robin (Maya Hawke) leads them to Creel, they find him desperate and broken, his own eyes sliced out in hopes to die and reunite with his family.

As Creel, Englund gets to stretch acting muscles rarely afforded him as Freddy. The series treated Freddy as a congenital evil, the son of a nun sexually abused by “100 maniacs,” a man who murdered children even before becoming a dream demon. In fact, Englund only got to play a sympathetic figure in the franchise when he played himself in Craven’s metatextual proto-Scream take, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994).

But Creel’s sympathy does not rid Englund of Freddy’s ghost. Season 4’s prime villain, a demon dubbed “Vecna” by the Hawkins kids, operates in a manner similar to the Dream Master. Vecna terrorizes teens by bombarding them with nightmares of past traumas and attacks their “sleep” by putting them in trances, where he has full use of his power. While the Hawkins kids do learn about Vecna through some direct encounters, the most useful information comes from Creel himself. By describing the horrors of the past, Creel helps the kids make sense of the horrors of the present.

In other words, Stranger Things positions Englund as a horror elder statesman, giving him a position of respect. Some may see this positioning as a mistake on the part of the series. After all, Stranger Things has been roundly criticized for its commitment to nostalgia, with some contending that the series offers nothing more than re-heated, lesser versions of 1980s pop culture. Englund’s casting and the framing of the Vecna character could be seen as yet another attempt to earn credibility through style instead of substance.

However, Stranger Things uses Englund to move forward and honor the next generation, something unique among legacy horror stories. While Scream (2022), Halloween (2018), and even the Syfy series Chucky all make gestures toward turning the power over to the next generation of final girls (and guys, and others), they ultimately reserve power for the legacy characters. Sydney (Neve Campbell) and Gale (Courteney Cox) get bigger hero shots than the Carpenter sisters (Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega) in Scream, Laurie Strode’s daughter and granddaughter narratively exist to prove Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) as the only one who understands Michael, and Chucky’s original best friend Andy (Alex Vincent) returns to the franchise as a grizzled doll hunter.

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