Vecna From Stranger Things Season 4 Brings These Classic Horror Monsters To Mind

(Warning: this post includes spoilers for "Stranger Things" season 4)

When "Stranger Things" introduced the dastardly creature known as the Demogorgon way back in its first season, the monster seemed like the worst the Upside Down had to offer. It turns out, that couldn't be further from the truth. All paths in the Upside Down, from the Demo-dogs to the Mind Flayer, apparently lead to Vecna, the seemingly all-powerful creature who stalks the teens of Hawkins in the show's newly released fourth season. It's starting to look like the Demogorgon and its friends are just lackeys.

Netflix's flagship series has always been fond of paying homage to the classics, and this season, that means horror films of decades past. Vecna possesses a classic creature design that appears to be practical effects-forward. His shape is humanoid, but he has far-reaching tendrils and a face that's skeletal and crisscrossed with vein-like ridges and lines. In all, he brings to mind plenty of classic horror monsters — from Freddy Krueger to the Predator to something out of Guillermo del Toro's cabinet of curiosities — to mind.

He brings waking nightmares

While Vecna's visual influences seem widespread, his villainous inspirations are pretty specific. This season is already garnering "A Nightmare on Elm Street" comparisons, and for good reason. Robert Englund himself, who plays Freddy in the slasher series, appears in the new season of "Stranger Things" as eye-gouged mental hospital patient Victor Creel. The comparison goes much deeper than that, though. Vecna preys upon the teenagers by isolating them with visions and hallucinations that make them feel unstable, just like Freddy Krueger. His hauntings also culminate with the brutal real-world deaths of his victims, just as they did with the monster who stalked Elm Street.

"Stranger Things" does a pretty clever fakeout with the "Nightmare on Elm Street" nod, setting Creel up as a Freddy-like figure who was implicated in a death that rocked the community decades ago. But it turns out Creel didn't actually do it, and the story of Vecna's origins is much more '70s haunted house movie than '80s slasher. Still, the monster that Vecna most resembles may not be a knife-handed man or a poltergeist, but an even scarier and more personal manifestation of evil.

As Vecna's murder streak continues, it becomes clear that he's preying on characters who are isolated by their struggles. Chrissy (Grace Van Dien) seems to have body image issues related to her mother's influence, while Fred (Logan Riley Bruner) is haunted by his involvement in a fatal car crash. Max (Sadie Sink), meanwhile, is hiding the depths of her depression from everyone around her. Vecna taps into the most private fears and pains that drive each of these teenagers, just like the titular shapeshifter from Stephen King's "IT."

He preys on fears and insecurities

The Duffer Brothers cite Pennywise, along with Freddy Krueger and "Hellraiser" monster Pinhead, as sources of inspiration in an interview with IGN. While any direct reference to the monster who haunts Derry, Maine would be a little too on the nose (at this point, the "Stranger Things" to "IT" adaptation back to "Stranger Things" pipeline is like a snake eating its own tail), the new season's story still calls to mind the terrifying strategies employing by King's famous otherworldly clown. In both on-screen versions of "IT," Pennywise preys on characters who feel like outcasts, warping their fears about otherness into horrifying hallucinations. The Creel House, a central set piece in the new season, even calls to mind the central point of Derry's malevolent energy, the abandoned Neibolt House.

Despite the myriad inspirations that led us to Vecna, the creature still stands apart as one of the most unique additions to "Stranger Things" mythology to date. His ability to prey on the innermost insecurities of our heroes makes them more vulnerable than ever, while also pushing the plot forward in interesting and emotionally realistic ways. Vecna also seems to be the most significant piece of the puzzle explaining the chaos that's been turning Hawkins upside down for years. With his full backstory revealed in the new season's seventh episode, and two super-sized installments set to drop in July, "Stranger Things" is on track to make the part-Freddy, part-Pennywise, all-freaky monster its biggest big bad yet.

The first seven episodes of "Stranger Things" season four are now available on Netflix. The final two episodes of the season will premiere on July 1, 2022.