Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the showrunner and creative force behind the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, is a huge horror movie fan. If you need proof look no further than nearly every frame of the Netflix adaptation of his comic book. While it’s cool to see references to cinematic masterpieces like Hellraiser and Basket Case on a show that’s ostensibly for teenagers, detractors can feel frustrated when each reference seems dished out as an easy way to tell the story.
However, fans of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina might point out that the series chooses to highlight visual touchstones from the horror medium, building on those inspirations and revolutionizing what was there. Whether you’re a Sabrina stan who hasn’t seen a lot of horror films and you’re curious about the references in the series, or you're a horror connoisseur who has yet to see what the fuss is about, this collection of horror references in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will surely inform and astound you.
Chilling Adventure of Sabrina's debt to Clive Barker and Hellraiser is baked into the production design of the series. Barker's artwork can even be seen lining the walls of the Academy of Unseen Arts. The production designer for the series, Lisa Soper, told io9 that Barker was open to loaning the production some artwork. She said, "We spoke about kind of the idea and the themes behind what we were doing here and he said, ‘Why don’t you come down, spend the weekend, take a look through all the artwork and pick out what you want?’"
Aside from the art, there are multiple story elements in the series that nod directly to Hellraiser. In the episode "Dreams in a Witch House," (that title itself being an HP Lovecraft reference), Sabrina opens the Acheron Configuration, a puzzle box that unleashes a demon. That's essentially the entire plot to the Hellraiser series.
A secret coven of witches making sinister plans for a new initiate, and a mysterious school - it may be the plot to Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but it's also the thrust of Dario Argento's masterpiece Suspiria. In the film, a wide-eyed ballet dancer attends the Tanz Dance Academy in Munich, where she quickly discovers that her teachers are witches and that they have dark plans for her. Aside from the dancing, that's essentially the first half of the Netflix series.
The story similarities are definitely there, in addition to a series of visual references to the film that are a bit on the nose. The first episode features a scene where Sabrina fells a bat with a book, which parallels a scene in Suspiria where Suzy does the same thing. The Spellman's home has the same stained glass ceiling from the hanging scene in Suspiria, and the strange boy at the witch academy who's actually a ghost is dressed exactly like the nephew of the headmistress in Argento's film.
Sam Raimi's influence looms large over Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but there are two aspects of the series that draw from his most popular work, The Evil Dead. The tree where Sabrina finds the apple of knowledge resembles the possessed tree from the film, which attacks Ash's sister, Cheryl.
An even bigger reference to the film is the appearance of the Batibat, the demon that chases the Spellmans through their dreams. Not only does she look like one of Raimi's Deadites, but the camera work whenever she's on screen mimics the style of shooting Raimi used to film his demons (big push in with a wide angle lens).
If Chilling Adventures of Sabrina could marry a specific decade it would be the '80s, as the series loves to reference horror touchstones of the era. Visually, it's heavily indebted to A Nightmare on Elm Street. The exteriors of Greendale all have the same foggy visuals as the dream sequences from the Wes Craven classic, but that's hardly the most heavy-handed reference. In episode 5, Sabrina battles the demon Batibat, who can kill people in their dreams. Sound familiar? In the following episode, Harvey Kinkle is even filmed wearing the classic crop top Johnny Depp wears in Nightmare.
Perhaps the biggest reference to the first Nightmare film occurs in episode 3, when Sabrina sees Daniel Webster's deceased daughter in the hallway of her school. This sequence parallels a much creepier scene in Craven's film where Nancy sees her already-departed best friend in a body bag gesturing for her to follow. If only Sabrina had told a hall monitor to screw their hall pass, the reference would have been complete.