Why Robert Englund Is Such A Perfect Fit For Stranger Things

Warning: major spoilers ahead for "Stranger Things" season 4, volume 1.

The worldbuilding in "Stranger Things" has always had its roots in horror, be it in the form of a parallel shadow realm known as the Upside Down that poses a continuous threat to the central characters or the kind of monsters that spring forth from that dimension. Season 4 commits to a darker, more gnarly form of horror, primarily in the way in which certain scenes are visually set up, how the villainous Vecna has Lovecraftian echoes, and the overall vibe of the gang at Hawkins being plagued by the threat of mysterious, grisly murders.

While Vecna is naturally the big bad of this season, the overarching narrative is incomplete without Victor Creel, played by none other than horror legend Robert Englund. Creel has been set up as a dangerous individual in the teaser trailers for season 4, wherein he has been described as a man responsible for the gruesome slaughtering of his family in the 1950s. Englund naturally brings nuanced dynamism to Creel's role and helps solidify the character within the contextual vibe of the episodes as a whole.

Needless to say, Englund is in perfect sync with "Stranger Things" as a whole, especially in terms of the kind of tone his work is normally associated with, and how it directly influenced the world-building this season.

The legacy of Freddy Krueger ... and more

Englund obviously is best known for his portrayal of Freddy Krueger in Wes Craven's immensely popular "A Nightmare on Elm Street," a role he reprised in many succeeding installments, including "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge" and "Freddy vs. Jason."

Krueger's character is considered iconic for many reasons, the key being his ability to traverse into the world of dreams, which spills into reality with horrific effects, along with being the representation of adolescent trauma that spans from the familial to the psychosexual. Englund's rendition of Krueger is menacing in a strange, twisted way, and some of the films in the series still manage to stand the test of time (while other aspects fall remarkably short). Bladed gloves will forever be associated with Krueger, as the mere image of a feral man wanting to slash you with his sharp claws is enough to evoke nightmarish terrors, which ties in well with what Krueger essentially stands for.

Englund has obviously gone beyond the horror mold — however, his strengths definitely lie in being involved with narratives that touch on the macabre, as evidenced by his performance as Phantom in 1989's "The Phantom of the Opera," wherein he managed to elevate a dull, listless script to a considerable extent. Krueger also collaborated with "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" director Tobe Hooper in "The Mangler" and Tim Sullivan in "The Maniacs," which were both flawed gorefests, albeit in distinct ways. 

Throughout the course of his career, Englund has displayed his affinity for horror and its many genres, appearing in a bunch of films, such as "Sanitarium," "The Funhouse Massacre," and "Inkubus," among others.

Bringing the pathos of Creel to life

The latest installment of "Stranger Things" wears some of its largest influences on its sleeve. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is extremely apparent, to the point that they even reference Krueger's character directly, given the similarity between his killing MO and that of the events that plague the residents of Hawkins in Volume 1.

Bringing Englund into the fold further solidifies the kind of aura season 4 attempts to conjure, and it succeeds beautifully for the most part — from the red-hazed, otherworldly fever dream of the Upside Down to the waking horrors that grip the characters in broad daylight, this season captures various shades of horror in an effective, compact manner.

Coming back to Creel, the buildup to Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Robin (Maya Hawke) meeting the apparently murderous man is nail-bitingly tense, with direct cinematic parallels drawn to Clarice Starling's first meeting with Hannibal Lecter (who is behind a plexiglass wall) in "The Silence of the Lambs." The first shot of Creel head-on has already been glimpsed in the trailers, but it does not make it any less terrifying, as Englund weaves in a wide range of emotions into his short, yet memorable performance.

In a matter of a few moments, the viewers go from fearing Victor to the point of questioning whether he is human at all to empathizing with a man who has lost it all, and whose story is mired in loss and grief. While Victor's tale is one of the many threads that contribute to the massive central mystery of the season, it is Englund's performance that helps drive the point home, as there is a sort of haunting quality to the way in which he utters his lines, retreating into himself while also being ever-present. The whole sequence is one of my personal favorites, as it adds so much to the overall vibe and the story, as a whole.

Volume 1 of "Stranger Things" season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix. Volume 2 will hit the streaming platform on July 1, 2022.