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How the Satanic Panic Influenced Stranger Things Season 4

And Other Pop Culture References in the Netflix Hit

We’ll try to avoid spoilers here because, to be honest, some of us might be saving Netflix’s Stranger Things season 4 for a more eerie season. After all, season 4’s 1980s and 1990s nostalgia recalls the demons conjured by the “Satanic Panic,” and the geeks punished for playing Dungeons and Dragons. Stranger Things 4 also reanimates Kate Bush, arising once again to incorporate the forefront of the musical consciousness.

Without revealing too much, part of the gang becomes a target of Hawkins citizens as the townspeople become understandably paranoid from the psychological horror inflicted on the cursed town over the past few years. The once heroic misfits find themselves labeled as satanic cultists (and worse) for their participation in D&D and its surrounding Hellfire Club.

Eddie Munson showing off fake horns, mocking the 1980s satanic panic

At first, the Hellfire Club takes the ribbing in stride, especially newcomer Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn), but things get real very quickly, just as they did in the early 1990s American heartland on which the character Munson is based.

The 1980s and 1990s “Satanic Panic,” a paranoid belief that orgies and ritualistic murder played out to metal music and in worship of fantastic creatures, claimed the lives and reputations of thousands of victims pulled into the scare. “Recovered memory therapy” led to false claims of ceremonial abuse on the news, in books, and from preschools. As U.S. society evolved to allow women further into the workplace and traditional roles dissipated, conservative pushback called on a rising Christian Right to demonize actions outside of the mainstream — like listening to Metallica.

“Something we really wanted to get into this year was the ‘Satanic Panic,’” the Duffer brothers explained at Netflix’s May Tudum event. “That brought us back to the Paradise Lost documentary series with the [West] Memphis Three, and it brought us back to Damien Echols.”

Echols was a classic 1980s headbanger, scaring the world with chains and black shirts featuring electric chairs, mohawked skulls, and wicked dragons. That pose, however, became a very real thing when police put Echols behind bars. Along with friends Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin, the trio was arrested on charges of committing a horrific triple homicide in West Memphis, Arkansas. Circumstantial evidence, counterculture imagery, and three murdered children were enough to frighten a jury into handing down a guilty verdict in 1994.

The West Memphis Three spent 18 years in prison before their release. #WM3

— Investigation Discovery (@DiscoveryID) April 9, 2020

As the West Memphis Three settled into prison life, a wider world found interest in their cause through the documentary, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. The film found a critical reception and national attention for an apparent miscarriage of justice. Several celebrities called for a new trial, but none followed through like Johnny Depp, who would eventually get a matching tattoo with Echols when the trio was released. A 2011 evidentiary hearing overturned their conviction after spending 18 years in prison.

The Duffers wanted to bring this reality into Stranger Things to offer a connective element — the rebellious outsider who could be held accountable for murder.

“We really wanted that character who’s a metalhead, he’s into Dungeons & Dragons, he’s ultimately a true nerd at heart. But from an outsider’s point of view, they may go, ‘This is someone that is scary,'” the Duffer brothers said.

Also making a cultural reappearance via Stranger Things 4 is British pop singer Kate Bush, whose 1985 hit Running Up That Hill not only helps Max escape Vecna’s grasp, but it landed at No. 1 on the June 22 Billboard Global 200. The Bush track from the album Hounds of Love boasts the longest-ever gap between No. 1 singles in the U.K. Top 40 chart’s history, with 44 years separating her 1978 career-launching leader Wuthering Heights and Running Up That Hill.

Max’s Song (Full Scene) | Kate Bush - Running Up That Hill | Stranger Things | Netflix

“I’m overwhelmed by the scale of affection and support the song is receiving and it’s all happening really fast, as if it’s being driven along by a kind of elemental force,” Bush posted on her website.

Elemental force? Maybe Bush’s credentials need to be checked. She could be an occultist hiding in plain sight.

Matthew Denis
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Matt Denis is an on-the-go remote multimedia reporter, exploring arts, culture, and the existential in the Pacific Northwest…
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