**Warning: contains SPOILERS for Stranger Things season 4 part 1**
A couple of years ago I abandoned a blog post about Kate Bush. It was going to be about my love for the artist and her music, ever since I first heard her perform Wuthering Heights on Top of the Pops in 1978 when I was seven years old. At one point I owned her first five albums on LP, have nearly everything she’s released on CD, including The Other Sides boxset, and still own an original copy of 1985 single, ‘Running up That Hill (A Deal with God)‘. In 2005, on the eve of the release of ‘Aerial’, I went to see Lisa Redford play Bush songs at the Norwich Puppet Theatre. Regretfully, I was not able to get a ticket for Kate’s comeback shows in 2014, but bought ‘Before The Dawn’ – the audio recording of it. Two years ago, I wrote about a theatre production of Emily Bronte’s novel, in which Placebo’s slowed down version of ‘RUTH’ was used effectively by director, Sabrina Poole. A month later I attended a Cloudbusting gig – also in Norwich. They performed ‘RUTH’ and have just released a new version recorded at the Tivoli Theatre last year.
Two years later, it seems everyone, including millennials worldwide, have fallen in love with Kate Bush’s music or discovering it for the first time. This is on the back of that 1985 song being used to dramatic effect in Stranger Things – season 4, episodes 1 and 4 – on streaming service, Netflix. Now, this show is set in the 1980s and the attention to detail of that time, plus all the references (for example, Ghostbusters, Thundercats, Back to the Future, CB radio, a ‘Magic 8 Ball’ decision maker) and ‘Easter Egg’ cameos, make it a hugely enjoyable TV show. The cameo* (*spoiler alert*) that comes in episode 4 of the latest series is particularly good, as it involves dreams, or rather nightmares! It also has a strong 1980s connection.
This post, however, has been written, because of the mental health aspect of the show. Whilst it remains scarier than Doctor Who ever can be allowed to be, and while it is still very much a sci-fi series about about geeks, Dungeons and Dragons and portals to the alternate universe known as the Upside Down, its latest monster, called ‘Vecna’, adopts “psychological warfare to target his prey” (Clarke, 2022). It is clearly an allegory for post traumatic stress disorder and mental illness in general. Venca represents the all-consuming condition that is depression. According to Michael Ahr of Den of Geek, “Vecna is trapping his victims in a sort of manipulative mind web, and Nancy sees the macabre display of those he has captured. However, the Dungeons & Dragons version of Vecna also happens to carry the epithet ‘Master of the Spider Throne’ and much of his power is in his spidery hand.” So it appears that the ‘Hand of Vecna’ was a magical item in an underdeveloped version of the game. When Nancy and Robin visit Victor Creel, a man arrested for murdering his wife and daughter in the 1950s, in the Pennhurst psychiatric institution, one of them even adopts the name ‘Ruth’.
The first character killed by Vecna is Chrissy Cunningham, a cheerleader who is secretly struggling to sleep at night and is plagued by anxiety. This is shown in episode 1 of season 4, where the explicit and overarching ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’* references of season 4 begin. We also learn that (Sadie Sink’s) Max Mayfield currently has a favourite tune, which is the aforementioned ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’. This comes back in a very dramatic, emotional way towards the end of episode 4, when her friends grab the original US cassette version of Hounds Of Love, stick in a walkman and put headphones on her, in order for her to escape the clutches of Vecna. Dealing not just with God, but the trauma of losing her elder stepbrother Billy Hargrove in the previous season, Max is running away from this whole experience, in what is surely going to go down as one of the TV (cinematic) moments of 2022!
*further SPOILER below*
Actor Robert Englund (a.k.a. serial killer Freddy Krueger) appears in a one-off cameo during episode 4 as Victor Creel. This was a deliberate inclusion, as was the design of Vecna, which was meant to resemble Krueger’s appearance in the Nightmare on Elm Street films. As this further article from Den of Geek states, “Thanks to the ubiquity of Englund and Freddy in the 1980s, it’s no surprise that the Netflix series Stranger Things would work Nightmare into its pop culture pastiche. Earlier episodes contained nods to the franchise, including a recreation of Freddy’s face pushing through the wall in the first movie and giving co-lead Natalia Dyer’s character the same name and personality as Nightmare‘s original final girl, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp).”
Meanwhile, Bush’s music is being enjoyed once more, topping the iTunes downloads this past week. She is officially back at number 8 in the UK singles chart, making her the first female artist to hit the top 20 in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s and 20s. She is also (as of 5 June) officially no.2 in Australia, albeit with the 2012 remix version of ‘RUTH’. She even posted a public statement on the date this post was published. See below. Let’s hope she continues to run up the charts and, through this association, converts new listeners to her music.
*Update: As of 10 June, Bush was no.1 in the Australian charts and no.2 in the UK, held off the top spot by Harry Styles.
*Update* On 7 June, Kate Bush added to her earlier comment above with another significant message, praising the show. You can read that comment here via katebushnews.com.
*Another Update* On 10 June, Kate Bush Running Up That Hill soars to No 2 in the UK charts and No. 1 in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden. Kate released a third, public statement about the success. She also shared a link to that scene via Twitter.
Note: This is a later version of this post and it differs significantly from an earlier version sent by email, on 5 June, which omitted the references to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Bush’s public statements.
Ahr, M (2022, 27 May) Who is Vecna? Den of Geek. https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/stranger-things-season-4-who-is-vecna/
Clarke, E (2022, 31 May) Stranger Things 4. Radio Times. https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/stranger-things-4-max-depression-trauma-comment/
George, J (2022, 27 May) Stranger Things Season 4 has the best Nightmare on Elm Street Easter Egg Ever. https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/stranger-things-season-4-nightmare-on-elm-street-easter-egg/