‘Stranger Things’ sound designer explains how to make a grandfather clock a weapon of fear

Netflix

Warning: This story contains spoilers for season 4 of Stranger Things.

Vecna may be the latest villain to terrorize Hawkins, but the true fear generated for Stranger Things 4 comes from the eerie imagery of a grandfather clock.

The significance of the grandfather clock in Stranger Things 4 relates to the torture method known as Vecna’s “curse,” which involves the victim suffering from severe headaches, nosebleeds and nightmares. As these nightmares progress, the cursed victim will experience malicious hallucinations, often linked to traumatic events from their past. Eventually, they start to see visions of a grandfather clock superimposed onto the world around them; the grandfather clock acts as a countdown and marks the beginning of the end. When it chimes, the clock makes a distorted noise and after seeing it a number of times, the curse becomes fatal for the receiver and Vecna appears in the flesh to claim his victim.

Craig Henighan, the sound designer for Stranger Things, spoke to Deadline about the symbolism behind the grandfather clock and how its intricate sounds instill fear in those who hear it — including audiences. Henighan touches briefly on how the grandfather clock is of the utmost importance to the overarching story behind Stranger Things 4, including its ties to Henry Creel and its purpose in Vecna’s backstory. He mentions that the clock needed to indicate the idea that time is “ticking away” for the victims and their hour was close at hand.

It’s a really big story point so we needed it to be Stranger Things-sounding but we also needed it to still tell the idea that time is ticking away. I was thinking about the pendulum swinging and how we can make that more interesting and more terrifying and just more involved than just a classic grandfather clock.

It feels overwhelming to think about how much work goes into sound design, especially when one object holds such consequence within the Stranger Things 4 narrative. The unnerving sound from the grandfather clock — as Henighan confirms — was created using cello tracks that defy the normalities of playing an instrument and use the equipment to make unnatural sounds. Most of the time, sound design is all about experimenting with different objects to find unusual sound combinations.

I ended up finding these cello [tracks], basically taking the bow and striking across the strings, not really playing a note but you’re sort of doing this like thumping sound.” When he put those sounds in sync with the pendulum, the next challenge was to find the right chiming noise.

Stranger Things 4 has left its fans on the fence after “Chapter Seven: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab,” revealing Vecna’s identity and raising the stakes as Eleven fights to regain her powers. The adventure continues when Stranger Things returns with Volume Two, scheduled to air on July 1.