This season of Stranger Things has fully indulged the horror, drawing from classic scary movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Carrie. The Duffer brothers have been pretty open about their influences and made sure that the cast knew as well. When auditioning for the role of main villain Vecna, actor Jamie Campbell Bower was given scripts from legal thriller Primal Fear and supernatural horror flick Hellraiser.
It was Primal Fear, Bower says, that really helped him tap into Vecna’s complicated psyche. Before Vecna was Vecna, he was One, Dr. Brenner’s once-prized test subject who charms Eleven and appeals to her sympathy. And before he was One, he was Henry Creel, a misanthropic young boy who brutally murdered his family. In Primal Fear (spoilers coming if you don’t want a 26-year-old movie ruined for you), a young man (played by Edward Norton) fakes having dissociative identity disorder, seamlessly switching between a mild-mannered personality and a ruthless one.
“The character is presenting two versions of themselves, which actually ultimately end up being just him alone fucking around,” Bower said in a roundtable interview. “I took that reference, and went with that. So, the end of [episode] 7, where we really see Henry for who he is, it’s always underneath this mask of, I’m going to be nice to you, I’m going to be sweet to you, because I want to get out of here. You can help me, can’t you?”
One of Bower’s favorite parts about Stranger Things is diving into all the references. In addition to Primal Fear and Hellraiser, he also looked at Clive Barker’s works — which include the Hellraiser novels as well as the Candyman short stories — and John Carpenter’s movies, particularly Halloween.
But there was one horror homage that Bower wanted to include that didn’t quite work out the way he planned. He describes a scene from the third Hellraiser movie that he thought would work perfectly with Vecna, who already drew a lot of influence from Pinhead.
“There is a scene where Pinhead goes into the church and takes out one pin from his head, another pin from his head, puts them in his hands, stands there and says, ‘I am the way,’ and then the church windows blow in,” Bower described. “So for the scenes where Vecna is hovering in the attic, I said to Matt and Ross, it would be amazing to pay this homage to this incredible character, this wonderful actor Doug Bradley. And also it’s kind of like Jesus.”
The Duffer brothers were on board to try it out. “We did it,” said Bower, immediately bursting into laughter. “And it looked like absolute crap.”
Stranger Things season 4 volume 2 is now streaming on Netflix.