The Scariest Moments In Stranger Things Season 4

When it first started, "Stranger Things" was an ode to '80s kid adventure movies, works by Steven Spielberg and Stephen King that imagined a wild world that was at once scary and awe-inspiring. Now, with its fourth season, the series is getting a whole lot darker. In the aftermath of a period of deaths, breakups, and the acute adolescent pain of growing apart, the new season drops us into a version of Hawkins that's steeped in horror.

While the new season of "Stranger Things" isn't heavy on jump scares and balances its darker moments with comedy, it does offer plenty of nightmare fuel imagery. Most of it comes thanks to Vecna, the new monster on the block who has a penchant for digging around in teenagers' minds in order to better mentally torture them. It's pretty bleak! Still, each time the show pulls off a disgusting bit of practical effects or a wince-inducing kill, it feels like a new level of creativity for the series. Here are some of the moments from the first seven episodes that will haunt us.

Major spoilers follow.

Chrissy gets crushed

The season premiere episode, "The Hellfire Club," ends with a brutal, stakes-raising cliffhanger that takes the show to gnarlier territory than it's ever explored before. In it, cheerleader Chrissy (Grace Van Dien), who has been haunted by visions related to her verbally abusive mother for days now, is looking to get some relief by buying ketamine from metalhead Eddie (Joseph Quinn). While Eddie scrambles to find the drugs, Chrissy falls into yet another vision, but this one has dire consequences.

First Chrissy sees her mother at a sewing machine, but her face is distorted with a bit of Vecna's visage. When she runs to escape, an equally distorted voice starts yelling at her to open the door, and she seeks out her dad. Only, when he turns around, his eyes and mouth are jaggedly sewn shut, leaking with blood and fluid as he tries to scream. Chrissy finally comes face to face with this season's big bad, who makes his entrance with a slow, threatening walk punctuated by unnerving squelchy noises. "Don't cry, Chrissy, it's time for your suffering to end," he tells the cheerleader.

Chrissy's death looks both disturbing and excruciating. In her mind, Vecna is placing his long-fingered hands on her face. In reality, she's pinned to the ceiling, levitating. Then her arms and legs begin to break. She crumples in, backwards and broken. When the sight of her crumpled form is finally too much to look at, her eyes bleed and implode inward, crushed by Vecna. "Stranger Things" has always danced around the horror genre, but this ruthless and shocking cut to credits takes the series to a whole new level.

Victor Creel's story

In the season's fourth episode, "Stranger Things" goes full "Conjuring"-verse to tell a freaky story of what seems to be a classic demonic haunting. The story comes courtesy of mental hospital patient and apparent murderer Victor Creel (Robert Englund), who is a pretty intimidating guy himself. Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) interview Creel from behind bars Hannibal Lecter-style, as the man with the gouged-out eyes weaves a tale that's gruesome and surprising.

The story starts decades earlier, when Victor moves his new family into what they believe will be their dream home. Almost immediately, though, strange things start to happen. The family starts to find tortured and mutilated animals outside their home. Spiders crawl through the bathroom faucet. Their daughter wakes up screaming in the night. Victor is convinced these are all "encounters conjured by this demon." He even sees a baby in a cradle rocking in the fireplace, which is pretty messed up.

All of this culminates during dinner one night when the radio turns on of its own volition. It starts playing "Dream A Little Dream of Me," and then Victor's wife flies up in the air just like Chrissy did. She dies in nearly the same way, but the situation grows even more horrifying when Victor becomes trapped in a memory of his time in the military. We learn that Victor accidentally ordered the shelling of a civilian residence in France, and that the baby in the fireplace has roots in his own traumatic past. The super-dark story ends with Victor, behind bars after being wrongfully accused of killing his wife, slicing his eyes open with a razor blade. Nasty stuff!

The demo-bats come for Steve

If you're a horror fan, the introduction of the Upside Down's Demo-bats might be more awesome than scary. Still, it's a pretty intense set-up. The scene starts with Steve (Joe Keery) exploring a door to the Upside Down in the middle of a cold, dark lake. Suddenly, he's yanked through the portal by a tendril that aggressively pulls at his foot. Once inside, Steve takes a look around. This seems to be a different part of the Upside Down than any we've seen before: it's vast and unnervingly empty, but it also pulses with glowing lights.

Soon, Steve hears a cawing screech, and just as we glimpse some figures in the sky, he's knocked down by a slippery vine. No, wait, that's a tail! Steve's being accosted on every side by some type of supernatural bats, with three tails apiece and long, sharp fangs. They strangle and bite him while he wriggles helplessly in a scene that's one of the most visually interesting of the season. Of course, Steve gets the upper hand in the next episode, but for a moment we're left with a slow zoom out as he fights for his life. To make the whole horrific situation worse, the poor dude's trapped in a deadly alternate universe while wearing wet jeans. Ugh!

Nancy in the nightmare pool

This is a brief sequence, but it packs a lot of punch. Just before Number One (Jamie Campbell Bower) explains how he became the monster Vecna, Nancy witnesses his manipulations firsthand. Unlike the other victims, who start to see hallucinations days before their final showdown with the creature, Nancy seems to slip out of time and space and into his lair while trying to get back from the Upside Down. When she gets there, Vecna starts taunting her about her guilt over her friend Barb's (Shannon Purser) death.

When Nancy dusts herself off, she realizes she's in a vine-covered pool that looks awfully familiar. It's where dear, departed Barb was taken way back in season one. There's a nasty-looking mass in the corner, and it doesn't take long to realize it's the rotten remains of Barb herself. The corpse is expanded and covered in some sort of mucus-like, webby texture, as if some sort of Upside Down fungus has colonized. Barb's whole bottom half seems to have turned into this pile of goop, while an up-close shot reveals a terrifying face. The thing that's definitely not Barb anymore has uneven eyes and a hole in its cheek, and as Nancy looks on, bugs begin to crawl out of its orifices. This is "Stranger Things"' body horror at its best and grossest.

The creation of Vecna

"The Massacre at Hawkins Lab" answers the questions "Stranger Things" viewers have had for years now, but the lead-up to the big reveal features a disturbing inversion of the season's opening sequence.

In an immersion tank in Hawkins lab, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) finally unlocks her true memory about the day she escaped. It turns out, Number One, who was pretending to be a kind orderly, actually slaughtered all the other kids in the experiment. El walks down the hallway, lit by ominous flickering lights, and sees the aftermath of the carnage. These are little kids with their bodies bent and broken, splayed across their beds and in puddles of blood. It's pretty hardcore for a series that once felt like a modern take on "E.T."

Eleven finally finds One, and he's holding a boy up against a wall with the force of his power. The teen is shaking, his arms pinned to the wall and his eyes rolled back in his head. Blood trickles out of his eye sockets and veins are clearly visible in his body. It's all, in a word, gross. One is working hard on his violence, his claw-like hand curled in concentration. "I asked you to wait," he hisses at El. As he tries to explain himself, telling her that he knows how alone she feels, he wipes away at one of her tears, only the gesture looks more like he's trying to grab it for himself.

This scene goes on, split across both Nancy's time in the Upside Down and Eleven's traumatic memory. But nothing that comes afterwards is quite as shocking or barbaric as the reveal of Eleven's peers' bodies. In a season full of supernatural bloodshed, the aftermath of a mass killing of kids is an all-too-human bit of violence that's hard to watch.