About The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina
Throughout Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s run, it has drawn inspiration from horror films and gothic literature, among other pop culture sources. Part Four is no different.
On December 31, 2020, the fourth and final part of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (CAOS) arrived on Netflix. As the season begins, Sabrina and her coven are gearing up to face the eight eldritch terrors, abstract forces of nature that were called upon by Faustus Blackwood, the former High Priest of the Academy of the Unseen Arts and the current leader of the Pilgrims of the Night Church.
Throughout the show’s run, it has drawn inspiration from horror films and gothic literature, among other pop culture sources. These influences span from direct references, such as when Sabrina and her mortal friends watch George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead at the same Paramount Theatre featured in the 1990s TV mini-series IT during the show’s pilot episode, to the more indirect variety, like the finale of Part 3, which derives visual inspiration from Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man.
Part Four is no different, as it features a robust array of horror references and easter eggs throughout each of the episodes. Let me be the Virgil to your Dante as I guide you through all of the gothic and horror references found in the eight episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s Part Four. Beware: spoilers abound!
Episode One: The Eldritch Dark
Part Four’s first episode opens with Faustus Blackwood speaking directly to the camera, warning viewers of the eldritch terrors coming our way. This marks the first time that CAOS breaks the fourth wall, and also ushers in the Vincent Price energy that Richard Coyle brings to his final few performances as Faustus. Unlike the previous three seasons, Part Four follows a monster-of-the-week structure, with each episode dealing with one of the eight terrors. It’s a lot of fun to have Faustus serve as a Lovecraftian half-mad villain who both summons the terrors to Sabrina’s universe and also frames the episodes by sometimes speaking directly to the audience in a fantastically campy and retro style.
The first eldritch terror we encounter is “the Darkness,” which takes the form of a group of creepy looking miners, whose powers include the Darth Vader choke-hold.
In this first episode, we’re also introduced to Sabrina’s major dilemma (besides, you know, the eldritch terrors that threaten to destroy all of existence): she feels terribly isolated. As a result of this loneliness, she ends the episode by agreeing to go on two dates in one night: first, with Carl to an Alien marathon, and second, to a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Melvin. The two even plan to dress up for the occasion as Brad and Janet.
Episode 2: The Uninvited
This episode features a brutal opener that rivals the likes of The X-Files or Supernatural. Our second eldritch terror, the Uninvited, who takes the form of a mute homeless man, arrives at the door of a mother and her young child. He holds up a sign, asking for help, but she’s too scared to let him into her home. This was the wrong move. Whenever this eldritch terror is not welcomed into someone’s home, he rips out the hearts of all who are present within, which is exactly what he does here.
After this opener, we catch up with Sabrina as she attempts to go on her two dates in one night. Over milkshakes, horror fan-girl Sabrina describes Alien as “a legit masterpiece. Pure, distilled horror” and asks Carl what he thought of it. Carl proves he’s not the guy for Sabrina when he critiques Alien as “kinda boring in parts.” Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear Sabrina’s and Melvin’s reaction to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, nor do we get to see their costumes. Instead, we’re made to bear witness as Melvin invites himself to Sabrina’s Aunt Hilda’s wedding. Come on, Melvin.
Between Sabrina’s cringey drunken speech and the Uninvited’s antics, Aunt Hilda’s wedding doesn’t go according to plan. To make it up to Hilda, the Spellman’s have a small private ceremony at their home, with everyone dressing up as their favorite monster, which is exactly what Hilda had described as her dream wedding in the first place. Hilda was a beautiful blushing Bride of Frankenstein, and her groom, Dr. Cerberus, made a very dashing Dracula (and I’m pretty sure Sabrina was dressed as original-comic-book-Sabrina, which raises some questions for me, but maybe she is her own favorite monster? If that’s the case, good for her.).
The episode concludes with a very fun teaser for episode three’s eldritch terror, the Weird. Faustus tells us to beware of the perverse threat that’s on it’s way before we are treated to a 1960’s-style array of psychedelic tentacle images.
Episode 3 – The Weird
After the teaser that concluded Episode 2, I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that the eldritch terror known as “the Weird” is an octopus-like alien being that could have come straight out of the pages of horror writer (and horrible racist) H. P. Lovecraft. In biology class, Sabrina’s teacher informs his students that “marine biologists believe that octopus intelligence is the closest thing to extraterrestrial intelligence.”
The Weird looks like an octopus or squid, and functions by going inside of a host body and controlling it from within. It desires the powerful body of Sabrina to serve as its host, and in order to accomplish that, sneaks into the Spellman’s home by infesting a corpse, giving it admittance to the Spellman’s basement mortuary. It is here that we are given a fantastic visual reference to John Carpenter’s The Thing, as the Weird quickly crawls out of the corpse and out of frame while Ambrose, Sabrina’s cousin, isn’t looking.
Eventually, the Weird does infest Sabrina’s body, and in order to get it out, Sabrina must undergo some pretty nasty surgery. The discussions about Alien in Episodes 1 and 2 are coming full circle, as Ambrose first attempts to pull the Weird out of Sabrina’s stomach. Not quite a chest-burster, but it’s pretty darned close.
Chapter 4 – The Imp of the Perverse
Despite its title, this episode does not draw too much from the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, which deals with the “perverse” impulse of self-destruction. In Part Four of CAOS, the Imp of the Perverse is instead the fourth eldritch terror, a small demonic trinket that grants the holder’s every wish. Unfortunately for Sabrina, Faustus gets his hands on the Imp and wishes to “pervert the world” and “make it so that I’ve always been emperor [of Greendale].” Faustus finds the Imp after a mysterious trinket salesman happens upon his church, and the episode plays out with some major Twilight Zone vibes.
Greendale is transformed into a fascist dictatorship under the masochistic rule of the Emperor Faustus Blackwood, who seeks to weed out and execute anyone suspected of being a witch. The only characters not affected by this change are Sabrina and her friend Roz because of their previous close encounters with eldritch towers, which allows them to see this new version of Greendale for what it is: a spell casted by the Imp of the Perverse in service of Faustus.
In their quest to stop Faustus and reverse the effects of the Imp, Sabrina and Roz eventually find their way to Aunt Hilda’s resistance group, which meets in the back room of Doctor Cerburus’s cafe. In order to gain access, Sabrina and Roz must use the code-word: “Häxan.”
Not only is häxan the Swedish word for “witch,” but it is also the title of Häxan, a 1922 silent horror film and quasi-documentary that explores historical witch hunting practices and beliefs. Häxan is a fascinating film that not only looks to the past, but also to its 1920’s present, where it finds instances of violent misogyny and antiquated beliefs regarding mental health. This is not the first time that Häxan has received a reference on CAOS, as a poster of the film has hung on Sabrina’s bedroom wall since Part One.
This reference to Häxan perfectly coincides with the episode’s larger plot, as Faustus literally seeks to hunt and exterminate all of the witches and warlocks of Greendale. Don’t worry, though. Sabrina & Co. manage to return Greendale to normal, and Faustus is suitably punished. Though he has the Mark of Cain, which prevents him from being killed, he is not indestructible. Faustus is beheaded, and his still-animated head is placed in the Academy so that the coven may torture him to share his knowledge of the four remaining eldritch terrors.
Chapter 5 – Dues Ex Machina
While this episode features the eldritch terror known as the Cosmic, it even more so focuses on the feuding between the infernal, earthly, and celestial realms that occurs as a result of the Cosmic’s interference. For this episode, it’s also important to note that, as of Part Three, there are now two Sabrinas: Sabrina Spellman, who lives on Earth and is the protagonist of CAOS, and Sabrina Morningstar, who resides in Hell with her father Lucifer and husband Caliban, where she rules as queen.
The three realms are starting to collide, so the angel Metatron visits the Earthly realm to let the coven know that the existence of two Sabrinas are causing this destruction. The Sabrinas are given a choice: either one of them has to die, or the two must merge together. At first, they choose to merge, but then Ambrose proposes an alternate plan: that they send one of the Sabrinas to an alternate Earth. Sabrina Morningstar, having lost an extremely tense game of rock-paper-scissors, is selected as the one to go to the alternate Earth. To do this, she walks through a wormhole at the center of her mirror.
This was probably the most confusing episode of the season (wait- what is the Cosmic actually doing here?), but avoiding all of that, it does some really interesting stuff with doppelgängers! The original late-eighteenth century German iteration of the doppelgänger represented the dark alter-ego of the individual and served to unsettle Enlightenment ideals of identity and rationality. This could work here, as Sabrina Morningstar is the version of Sabrina who accepts and enjoys her status as Lucifer’s daughter and Queen of Hell, whereas Sabrina Spellman refuses such an identity. This episode, however, seems primarily to follow Edgar Allan Poe’s version of the doppelgänger.
In Poe’s short story “William Wilson,” a man engages in a duel with his double, whom he eventually fatally stabs. Immediately after this act of violence, a mirror suddenly appears, where he sees himself covered in blood, dying, and hears his voice utter the words “in me didst thou exist- and, in my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou has murdered theyself!”
I bring up this story for two reasons: first, when the Sabrinas initially decide to merge themselves, they prepare for the procedure as if they were preparing for death. The destruction of one or both doubles is akin to a sort of suicide. When it is decided that Sabrina Morningstar will send herself to the alternate Earth, it is labeled a “sacrifice,” once more pushing this feeling that Sabrina is engaging in a sort of martyr-like suicide.
Secondly, to exit this Earth and travel to the alternate one, Sabrina Morningstar walks through a wormhole embedded in a mirror. While this may not be a purposeful reference to Poe’s “William Wilson,” it’s fascinating to see that the mirror once more is serving as an instrument of suicide for a doppelgänger.
Episode 6 – The Returned
The Returned is an eldritch terror which causes some of the dead to re-animate and return home. This version of the zombie figure is unique in that these zombies have no idea that they’re dead and they don’t act any differently from how they behaved in life. The only real catch is that if any of the living remind the Returned that they were dead, they become homicidal.
Because of this take on the zombie, the entire episode reminded me a bit of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, particularly as Sabrina learns that “sometimes, dead is better” when the deceased Edward Spellman tries to kill her. Doctor Cerberus’s dead mother also returns, and we are treated to a little Mrs. Bates from Psycho energy, as she claims to have murdered all of Doctor Cerberus’s previous girlfriends because nobody is good enough for her perfect boy.
There’s also a really fun ‘battle of the bands’ sub-plot this episode, where the Fright Club (Harvey, Roz, Theo, and Robin) go up against the Satanic Panic, a Greendale band returned from the dead who were able to beat the Riverdale band The Fred-Heads back in the 1980’s after selling their souls to Lucifer. At the end of the episode, we’re treated to a Battle of the Bands in Hell, with Satanic Panic going up against Fright Club and the Dark Mothers (Sabrina, Nick, Prudence, and Ambrose).
I want to give a major shout out to Fright Club, who perform an incredible rendition of “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was so excited to finally get my Rocky Horror fix after it was first brought up at the start of this season!
Chapter 7 – The Endless
This episode was my absolute favorite of the entire season. We finally catch up with Sabrina Morningstar in her alternate Earth, which turns out to be connected to the seventh eldritch terror, the Endless. This Earth is a sitcom soundstage, where everyday, Sabrina and the rest of the cast must perform their lines as they’re written.
The show that Sabrina finds herself in bears a striking resemblance to the 90’s sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and even features Caroline Rhea and Beth Broderick back in their roles as Hilda and Zelda. Also in this alternate reality is the sassy and talkative Salem familiar to any fans of the 90s sitcom; however, unlike the sitcom, Salem here is also an eldritch terror, the Endless. He’s the star and the head writer of this show, leaving the cast and crew to be terrified of his wrath. The only food allowed on set is milk and cat food, which Sabrina discovers is made from the ground-up remains of cast and crew members who have been sent to the dreaded Green Room.
“The Endless” is a wildly meta- episode of television, allowing it to join the ranks of meta-horror films. This episode is not only self-referential (in one scene, Sabrina and Harvey watch the pilot episode of CAOS together, and Sabrina is shocked to discover that people have been “spying” on them this whole time), but it also references and critiques American television in general (there’s a laugh track, cheesy punch-lines, and it briefly references television’s inadequate history of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ representation). For more on the genre of meta-horror, check out Chandler Bullock’s “The Metamorphosis of Meta-Horror.”
Episode 8 – At the Mountains of Madness
The show’s finale features quite a few references. Firstly, in a parallel of the very first episode of CAOS, Sabrina and her friends watch Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. In this same scene, Sabrina shares that, for her seventeenth birthday, she doesn’t want a party, she just wants to watch Dario Argento movies with her loved ones. A girl after my own heart. Argento is a particularly apt director for Sabrina to admire, as he directed the “Three Mothers” trilogy of witch films, Suspiria, Inferno, and Mother of Tears.
This episode also includes a really solid Halloween III: The Season of the Witch Easter egg when Sabrina opens the front door for some trick-or-treaters and is confronted with a trio of children wearing three different masks: a witch, skeleton, and a jack-o-lantern.
In this final episode, Sabrina has to battle the final eldritch terror known as the Void when she accidently allows some of the Void to inhabit her body. In an attempt to protect her loved ones from the Void’s uncontrollable desire to make people and things disappear, Sabrina travels to the Mountains of Madness, named after the Lovecraft novella At the Mountains of Madness.
Finally, after the Void is defeated by Sabrina sacrificing her life, Faustus gets his final punishment. Prudence says that, to make sure he can never cause mischief again, she is going to chainsaw him into tiny pieces, then scatter those pieces across the four corners of the Earth. We see Prudence wielding the chainsaw before chopping down on Faustus, and emitting a single spray of blood that would put a smile on the face of any Evil Dead fan.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina may be over, but, thanks to its brilliant array of horror references and inspirations, you can continue your training in the unseen arts. Just don’t stare too long into the Void.
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