Warning: Potential Stranger Things spoilers lie ahead
The Stranger Things Season 4 trailer is here, and it’s left us with a lot to unpack. Of all the images that stand out when watching what’s to come for Netflix’s hit show, two of them have our hearts pumping the hardest. The first is the appearance of Vecna, the seemingly human hybrid who is set to play the villain this season. The second is a secret image hidden within a single frame of the trailer.
What could this villain mean for our Stranger Things friends, and what secret is hiding in the preview? Grab your Farrah Fawcett hairspray and memorize Planck’s constant as we take a look at the series’ newest villain and the mysterious picture lurking in the season preview.
Since Netflix released the episode-title teaser back in November 2021, viewers have speculated that Vecna would be this season’s villain as episode two is titled: “Vecna’s Curse.”
By the time the humanoid-looking bad guy first appeared in the trailer, the Duffer Brothers had officially confirmed that, yes, that is Vecna.
A side-by-side comparison of Vecna from D&D and the villain in the ST4 trailer:
While the ST4 version appears to have played a game of “Got your nose” and lost, the similarities are uncanny, nevertheless. This strays away from previous iterations of Stranger Things’ treatment of D&D characters as many do not typically resemble their namesake.
As Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) explained in season 2, episode 8 of Stranger Things, they only use D&D characters to represent the monster they’re facing:
“Unless you know something that we don’t, this is the best…analogy for understanding whatever…this is”
Given that, examining Dungeons and Dragons’ Vecna and his attributes should reveal at least some of what to expect from the Stranger Things Season 4 malefactor.
What does D&D say about Vecna?
According to Greyhawk Online, he is considered “one of the greatest villains.” This authority for D&D goes on to explain that Vecna was born human, taught magic by his mother, and then was “a powerful wizard who became a lich”.
(To put it simply: A lich is a type of undead creature.)
Furthermore, Greyhawk Fandom describes Vecna as being “the god of secrets” and influencing the knowledge domain.
Given all these things, it is a fair assumption that the Stranger Things version of Vecna may:
- Have once been human
- Possess specific knowledge, especially about the creation, existence, or destruction of the Upside Down
- Be the most formidable opponent thus far.
Perhaps even more prolific than Vecna himself are his hand and his eye. Powerful artifacts in Dungeons and Dragons, Forgotten Realms Wiki explains that these parts of Vecna each give its user different abilities with the same clause: anyone who would wield this power would “[change their] worldview towards a neutral evil disposition.” Meaning, that this person would essentially turn evil and only look out for their interests with no feelings of guilt or compunction toward anyone who should stand in their way.
Will we see someone working with or under the influence of Stranger Things’ Vecna? Is this the “curse of Vecna” that the titular episode refers to? Moreover, if he was once a mortal…
Who was Vecna before he was a Stranger Things Monster?
Interestingly, the actor playing this season’s villain is being kept secret for now. This leaves viewers pondering his human identity.
Given the unresolved disappearance of Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) from the show, along with the penultimate episode title: “Papa” (the childhood name Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) had for Brenner), there is speculation that the scientist who started it all may be the new supervillain.
However, viewers have also speculated whether this may be the return of Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) or the transformation of new cast member Victor Creel (Robert Englund). Even the possibility of a resurrection of Barb (Shannon Purser) has been postulated. Only time will tell. Whomever Vecna may have been; his present form stands to make trouble for our group moving forward.
Hidden Message in ST4 Trailer
There is so much happening in the Season 4 trailer that it is no surprise that the following hidden image snuck right by many viewers.
The image above can be found at the 1:59 mark of the original trailer. Be warned; even at a playback speed of 0.25, it can be difficult to capture.
YouTube channel New Rockstars highlights the numbers lurking in the image:
When examining the numbers emphasized by red arrows, it is revealed that each number correlates to a moment in the ST4 trailer. The hidden message is revealed when a viewer goes to the time listed and superimposes the hidden image over top. It is then that they will find the white portal for the corresponding timestamp now covers a portion of letters from the original scene.
To exemplify this with another screencap from the New Rockstars video:
Going to the fifty-two-second marker in the original trailer, and superimposing the hidden image on top, reveals that the white portal now covers the word “Hell” on the shirt Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) is wearing.
When this is done with each of the four timecodes, we are left with the jumbled words: “S Master M A I Hell.” When the words are organized by the chronological order of their time codes, the message: “I am Hell’s Master” is revealed.
This has direct ties to D&D as Hellmaster is a class.
D and D Wiki defines this class as such:
“A hellmaster is a mortal who sold his soul to the dark legions for dark powers. He swiftly [learns] how to use his newfound power and conjure powerful nightmarish abilities.”
Could this be a reference to the ST4 villain Vecna, given his presumable post-mortal status?
While that is yet to be seen, what we do know is that this is only the first part of a puzzle.
When we went to IamHellsMaster.com, we were taken to a countdown with a picture of the clock featured prominently in the trailer. Now that the countdown has ended, we can click Enter, which leads us to a virtual Lite Brite with coordinates and different colored pegs.
While we can’t give away all the answers, we can say that June 1st promises to be significant.
Although this has all the trimmings of becoming an augmented reality game, ARGNet is hesitant to call it one just yet.
As the penultimate season of Stranger Things gets closer, we are positive about one thing: We wish this was a never-ending story. *Cue Dustin and Suzie vocalization*
The Most Killer Cold Opens of The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula Season 4
The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula’s move to Shudder arrived with its largest prize to date and some welcome production upgrades – c’mawn Shudder! Aside from a sleeker boudoir, stronger editing, and some other bells and whistles, one aspect that’s been noticeably elevated is the cold open at the start of each episode. I’ve always loved these artistic segments that tie into the week’s theme with flair and reverence for the horror genre, and now the higher-budget shorts are more stylish and spookier than ever.
These openings and their respective closers – in which the exterminated queen stars in a flashy murder scene – truly blend a reality competition series with the horror films that the Boulets and their Monsters treasure so dearly. Like everything else on The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, the concept is unique and adds to the excitement of tuning in each week. So, in honor of these devilishly entertaining shorts, the following are my Top 3 Cold Opens of Season 4, with a few runners up for good measure.
Episode 1 – The Witch Queens of Samhain: The best opening of the entire series, in my opinion, Season 4’s premiere brings us way back to one of the earliest competitions, The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula: Origins Serving us Galadriel from Lord of the Rings doing ASMR, an ethereal voice narrates the ceremony as a group of unholy peasants participates. We witness a barbaric extermination of yore, and a former Drag Supermonster is crowned, drenched in their competitors’ blood. Suddenly, we’re in the present-day, watching horror fans with newly acquired Boulet Brothers masks ogle their prize. One by one, the masks possess their hosts and transform them into killers on behalf of their Boulet overlords – you really should leave collector’s items in their original packaging, dearies. Later, during the Extermination, we see these masked minions hunt the bottom two through the woods in a music video homage to 80s slashers.
These sequences bookend the episode to let you know Season 4 is here in a big way. This isn’t simply a cute promo teaser or a bad skit…we’re given an actual, fantastical backstory to the series and an introduction to the season in the form of a legitimate short film. The imagery in the flashback is genuinely unsettling, and the present-day bit is the stuff of a classic slasher, gradually building tension as it goes. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were starting up Witch Queens IV: Curse of the Drag Queenon Shudder.
Episode 4: Hair Metal Strip Club: This opener welcomes the Boulets favorite episode of every season, the Monsters of Rock challenge. It fittingly and perfectly manifests their bad bitch attitude. After reintroducing us to Season 2 winner Biqtch Puddin’s iconically filthy janitor, we watch as the Boulets enter their club in transcendent hair metal couture and take a seat at the poles. Surrounded by male erotic dancers and (presumably) mounds of cocaine, the duo sits back for a show. Unfortunately, the male in their gaze spills a solo cup full of tequila all over Madame Swanthula, and, with the snap of her fingers, the cold-hearted bitch has him choked out between some meaty thighs. Unbothered, the party continues.
Once American Idol introduced the world to Simon Cowell, every reality television competition felt it needed that one “asshole judge” persona to keep things spicy. The Boulets are not mean, but they don’t take anyone’s crap and effortlessly embody two fabulous c-words who, now and again, show a softer side to their Monsters. These two are who they say they are, not a pair of jesters delivering zingers for our entertainment (although they do have some good ones), and the hair metal opener is entirely their brand of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. The all-white contacts and the fact that we’ve never seen them out of drag certainly help to perpetuate their intimidating mystery.
Episode 8: Murder Marionettes: Pupaphobians beware! This week’s theme may be Killer Clowns, but the real stars of the show are the marionettes made in the Boulet’s likeness. These cackling puppets welcome us to the Circus of Clowns and its journey into madness like the good satanic ringleaders they are. Soon, their clowns are on the attack, and innocent dolls looking for a show are spewing blood at high velocity.
Of course, the creativity displayed throughout a season of The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula knows no bounds, but I was absolutely delighted by the appearance of these Barbies of the Bordello. Their pouty facial expressions and chaotic movements were a joy to behold, and I always welcome a dose of comedy with my horror. By the episode’s end, we’re even treated to marionettes of the Final Four awaiting judgment before the finale. I guess your very own personalized Annabelle is a nice consolation prize for falling short of $100,000.
Runners-Up: These two certainly stood out to me, but ultimately couldn’t murder the hair metal marionettes of Samhain.
Episode 2: Nosferatu Beach Party: In what is surely the zaniest cold open of the season, the Boulets let their guard down to reveal a campier side not often seen on the show. Shot in the style of a 1950s beach party flick, we’re treated to Drac and Swan letting loose with their men and moonscreen until an unwelcome outsider encroaches on their fun. All tea all shade to the exterminated queen of the week.
Episode 7: Exorsisters: This blasphemous opener finds the Boulets in a tiny electric chapel, on the prowl for human sacrifice. Swan spits acid onto a crucifix via a nasty little practical effect, and it’s there they see a hunky priest at the pulpit. He’s forced to disrobe and is left cowering in fear and humiliation as they prepare for ritual sacrifice. It’s no “Judas” or “Montero” video in sheer production scale, but even so is fervently offensive to those of the cloth.
Horror openings often hook you in with a macabre precursor of what’s to come, and these gutsy Season 4 cold opens allow the show’s unique viewpoint to pop from reel one. With another season in the grave, I look forward to experiencing the Boulets one-up themselves for many more to come.
The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula is available to stream on Shudder.
THREE TIMES THE HORROR, THREE TIMES THE IN-JOKES: More of Our Favorite Horror Homages and Easter Eggs in ‘The Boulet Brother’s Dragula’ Season 3
I’ve come to find that writing horror articles is like making a horror movie: you’ve got to have a sequel eventually. And I loved picking out the references in The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula Season 2 so much, that I decided it was only fair to try again for the fans, and extract the moments, looks, and kills that honor horror history the most.
Fourth Times the Charm
With a series as long-running and legendary as Halloween, you knew the Boulets would have to put some respect on Michael Myer’s name eventually, and where better to do so than in the season opener? Down to the head-bashing, blood smearing kills of the paramedic, the Boulets play out the ambulance murders of a reawakened Michael Myers perfectly, re-enacting the rampage from 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers stylishly to kick off another season.
Remembering Frank Cotton’s Better Half
The demise of Violencia! in episode 1’s extermination short film could reference several different hammer killers of horror legend. Still, aesthetically it most resembles Hellraiser’s very own Julia Cotton. Fans of Frank’s demented accomplice will recognize her weapon of choice, the claw hammer, which she used to finish off the sacrifices she seduced and brought to the Cotton home to rebuild Franks body. In a way, it’s fitting; much like Frank’s resurrection, you can’t build the world’s next Drag supermonster without shedding some blood and cracking a few heads.
Evil Ernie, Eat Your Heart Out!
As someone who has frequented many spinner racks in my lifetime, I’ve gotten fairly in tune with many comics. One niche comic book reference in Week 1’s supervillain-themed competition is to the obscure horror comic character Lady Death. Dollya Black’s costume is a close pastiche of the Evil Ernie comic book character, clad in skimpy black leather and sporting white hair and deathly pale skin. Had I not known any better, I would have assumed it was an outright cosplay of the demonic death deity herself.
Bathory, Boulet, Same Thing Right?
The opening of episode 2 sees Dracmorda bathing in the blood of another sacrificed manservant, which is another classic vampire movie trope that’s hard to forget. In the tradition of Elizabeth Bathory, many famous vampire queens throughout horror have rejuvenated themselves by bathing in blood, and these queens are no different.
The Count Has Arrived
There are quite a few Dracula references in episode 2, as it is a vampire-themed challenge, so here are the two most important. Gary Oldman’s iteration of the character from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) gets a heavy reference drop in Evah Destruction’s look, with an instantly recognizable wig and lacy, gothic red clothing. The movie also factors into the extermination short film. Much like in the iconic opening to Francis Ford Coppola’s horror spectacle, a statue cries tears of blood in the wake of a Dracula’s wife dying. It’s just a shame it had to be a queen as great as St. Lucia to pass via staking.
Episode 5’s opening isn’t an outright reference to a horror film, but it does reference a truly horrifying biopic. The Boulets berating of Israel and another manservant over cleaning the floors is a deliberate homage to a scene in the Faye Dunaway classic Mommie Dearest, complete with a lot of screaming and shaking of powdered floor cleaner.
Hollow Eve’s Got This in The Bag
The same trash-themed episode was capped off by eliminating the iconic and verbose (sometimes to her detriment) Hollow Eve. She went out in a short film tribute to the unforgettable plastic bag kill Clare suffers at the hands of Billy in the 1974 classic, Black Christmas.
Keep Calm and Slither On
The hardest to spot of the easter eggs for me, Dollya Black’s look was on the tip of my tongue, but it took a few rewatches to realize it was a play on the 2006 James Gunn cult film Slither. In Episode 6, Dollya takes on the role of patient zero for a leech mutation, hungry for flesh and blood in this hospital-themed challenge. Not only does this fit the bill for what happens to Michael Rooker’s Grant in the film after being exposed to the alien entity the Long One, but her right arm is also mutated into an elongated, leech-like appendage exactly how his does!
Maddelynn’s Nut Allergy Blues
All my Ari Aster fans out there must recognize the homage to Hereditary in the sixth extermination short film. With Milli Shapiro as a guest judge and plenty of tongue-click in-jokes from the Boulets, how could you not? Like Charlie, Maddelynn Hatter had the distinct misfortune of being decapitated while leaning out of a car window. But hey, at least it wasn’t a telephone pole with a demonic sigil for summoning Paimon on it, right?
Priscilla the Pinhead
Episode 7’s challenge gave us many circus-worthy aberrations. Still, Priscilla’s look was the most glaring. It was a reference to Pepper, a recurring character on both the Asylum and later Freak Show seasons of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story. Ms. Chamber’s makeup, childlike dress, and mannerisms were a spot-on imitation of Naomi Grossman’s character on the show.
A Test of Strength
Evah Destruction, however, did not fare as well as the other freaks, and short of the head split in episode 4, got the grisliest of the extermination short films. In another deep-cut reference, The Boulet Brothers took inspiration from The Other in 2018’s Hell Fest, mimicking how the masked killer dispatches a festival-goer with a strength test mallet, in the same way, crushing their head with a pulpy and macabre result. Play deadly games, win deadly prizes.
And so, we close the book of references on another season. How many of these were you able to spot on your first watch-through? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned for more The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula articles like this one to come, only here on Horror Press!
The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula is available to stream on Shudder.