As Stranger Things nears its end, the heroes of Hawkins are about to meet a villain unlike any they’ve faced in the past.
Ross Duffer, sitting beside his 38-year-old twin brother and fellow Stranger Things creator Matt, says the goal was simple when they started writing the fourth and penultimate season of their Netflix hit: Put everyone in an impossible situation.
“We really wanted to paint our characters into a corner,” Ross says in a Zoom interview from New York City. “They’re in real danger.”
Set six months after the Battle of Starcourt, which brought terror and destruction to a sleepy Indiana town, Volume 1 of Season 4 (out this Friday) features our teenage heroes spread apart after Joyce (Winona Ryder) takes her family, including Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Will (Noah Schnapp) and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), to California.
As Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Max (Sadie Sink) try to navigate life at Hawkins High, a new creature named Vecna emerges from the Upside Down to terrorize the city’s sleepy streets.
“He’s genuinely terrifying,” Heaton says in a separate virtual chat. “A lot of little kids watch our show and I feel like they’re not going to be able to sleep. This year is like holding a mirror to Nightmare on Elm Street. As a kid I was terrified by Freddie Kruger and I think this is like that. It’s that level of scary.”
Eduardo Franco, who joins the cast as Surfer Boy Pizza delivery guy Argyle, a friend of Jonathan’s, thinks it will be great if Vecna gives fans plenty of sleepless nights.
“Hopefully that happens. That will be good,” he says breaking into a smile.
The Duffer Brothers say the upcoming season is following a darker path similar to the Harry Potter series because the kids are growing up.
“It felt necessary because the core group of kids aren’t kids anymore,” Matt says. “They’re in high school and that’s a tough time. There’s a lot of anxiety and depression and on top of that we have characters that have gone through real trauma at the end of Season 3. That season was fun, but it had a dark ending.”
“This is easily the scariest and goriest season yet,” Schnapp says. “Fans will have to look away at some points because it’s so much to take in.”
With the inspiration for what’s to come across the fourth season’s nine episodes being drawn from Wes Craven’s horror A Nightmare on Elm Street, Matt says the brothers were keen to try their hand at a type of “heavier horror” with a more diabolical antagonist.
It also means Vecna will be a more cunning type of bad guy.
“He’s still a monster and he’s in the Upside Down, but he’s not going to be that easy to outsmart,” Ross says. “He’s much more intelligent and that’s going to make it harder for our characters to figure out how to beat him.”
A key to battling Vecna will be solving the mystery behind an unspeakable horror that unfolded inside the Creel House in the 1950s. Robert Englund, a legend of the horror genre who played Freddy Krueger in the Elm Street films, portrays the lone survivor of that murderous night, Victor Creel.
With Hopper (David Harbour) stuck in a Russian prison, the teens have to enlist their older pals, video store clerks Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke), as they try to unravel that mystery.
“I’ve always wanted to do A Nightmare on Elm Street movie and it’s probably never going to happen, so this is our take on it,” Matt chuckles. “And we get Robert Englund, so that’s really fun.
But as this new evil emerges in Hawkins, Eleven — at least at first — won’t be there to help them combat it.
“Whereas last season was our big monster movie, Jurassic Park, summer blockbuster-type season, this is more of a psychological horror,” Ross says. “On top of that, Eleven no longer has her powers and she’s not even in Hawkins.”
As for what lies beyond Stranger Things 4, the Duffer brothers say that they have known for years how the fifth and final season will end. But they’re still figuring out how to get there.
“We had a sense of where it was going to go very early on,” Ross explains. “We’ve always known what that endgame is, so it’s really just the journey to get there that keeps changing. We don’t want to repeat ourselves, so it keeps evolving.”
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