Fear Street Trilogy Review: Gore Through the Ages
Something new and exciting this way comes with the release of the Fear Street Trilogy on Netflix. Love it or hate it this trilogy changes the game for both streaming films and Summer Horror movies by having an interlinked universe of films that dropped each Friday over a period of three weeks. Based on the book series by beloved spooky author, and probably the man who introduced many of us to the wonders of Horror, R.L Stine, the Fear Street film tells the story of a cursed town and its unlucky residents. Part One begins in meta-slasher territory with 1994 before flashing us back to the camp slayings of 1978 in Part Two and then transporting us back to the witch hunting era of 1666 with Part Three.
All three films have now landed on Netflix and have seen a lot of love from the Horror community and all those who grew up on the works of Stine. The interlocking story explores the legend of accused witch, Sarah Fier, who seemingly cursed the lands leading to over 300 years of Shadyside serial killers and generations of gory murders and urban legends. This trilogy explores the rivalry and corruption that is behind this town’s gruesome history and has a little bit of something for everyone. So here’s my review of each installment of this new and exciting adaptation.
Fear Street Part One: 1994
Our first installment begins in the neon drenched 90’s with a mall based cold open that wears it’s Scream inspiration on its blood drenched sleeve. The film is packed with clear references and influences from films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Poltergeist and Jaws but it’s more than just a collage of homages, Fear Street Part One: 1994 is its own urban legend based around the gruesome history of Shadyside and its subsequent rivalry with their good fortuned neighbour Sunnyvale.
Whilst attending yet another memorial for the loss of a group of Shadysiders at the hands of an unexpected serial killer, our lead Deena (Kiana Madeira) confronts her ex girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who has jumped ship over to the good side of life in Sunnyvale, resulting in a wild ride brawl. When Sam’s new boyfriend Peter (Jeremy Ford) and a few of his football buddie follow the Shadyside bus out of town, threatening them, Deena decides to retaliate alongside her two friends Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) and accidently causes a car crash that leaves Sam in the hospital but also links her to the Fier Witch when she accidentally disturbs the legends grave.
This leads to the reacquainted couple, the drug dealing friends and Deena’s knowledgeable younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) being stalked by a horde of killers from Shadyside past who are out for blood, specifically Sam’s blood. Now the fun can really begin with blacklight set pieces, frantic editing, 90’s needle drops and intriguing re-animated killers whose only mission is to bring us the gore and murder we so crave. The staples of a slasher are there with the film giving us masked killers, high school drama and mall based escapades that are satisfying on all levels. The tone manages to balance being one of playful nostalgia and brutal kills which is a testament to the great directing and writing.
Then there’s the fact that the characters manage to be likable and sympathetic, unlike some of the most famous slashers that seemed to revel in letting asshole characters creatively get their comeuppance. Central couple Deena and Sam are easy to root for and, as their relationship redevelops, it’s their obvious chemistry that makes them so endearing. Kate could have been sidelined as a bitch character and Simon could have easily been the drug addled loser, yet both are fleshed out and integral to the story with great comic relief moments and even a brief romantic plot. Then there’s the charming, serial killer expert Josh who never gets cast aside as the younger brother but is instead our fountain of knowledge and adorable relatability. When deaths begin to torment the central group it makes it shocking and horrifying because we actually care for this ‘brat pack’ group of teens.
Fun is the keyword for Part One. It revels in the visual and audio tropes of the 90’s with respect and affection. From AOL internet chat rooms to creating mixtapes for your crush it brings a sweet nostalgia that doesn’t feel too overplayed and isn’t a replacement for actual style and true storytelling, instead it’s an enhancement upon a great narrative with well written leads who we actually worry about. Fear Street Part One: 1994 really sets up the world of the trilogy and begins the exploration of the mythology of Shadyside whilst not feeling like just another ‘intro’ film without its own substance.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978
We journey back to the peak of Slasher Horror, to the Golden Age of chainsaws, masks, kitchen knives and stalking killers. This entry takes particular inspiration from the Summer Camp Horror sub-genre with clear homage to Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp but once again with its own supernatural twist on the proceedings. It follows a lot of the formulas we expect and walks us through some familiar footprints before breaking the rules and making sure this isn’t just a paint by numbers rip off.
Our survivors from Part One are not given a long time to recover and their respite from this cursed nightmare is short lived when Sam seems to become possessed by the Fier Witch and needs saving once again. Deena and Josh must call upon a reluctant survivor of the curse, C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), who grudgingly tells them the story of how she managed to live through the Camp Nightwing massacre, transporting us back to the summer of 1978.
Once again it’s the Sunnyvalers vs. the Shadysiders, but this time it’s a camp game of ‘capture the flag’ that pits the haves against the have-nots. Ziggy (Sadie Sink) is a jaded and cynical Shadysider who knows that nothing good is coming her way purely because of where she was born. She is at odds with her older sister, camp counselor and Sunnyvale wannabee Cindy (Emily Rudd) who is determined to better herself and fit in, even if it means spending all her savings on a ‘good girl’ polo shirt. Cindy is joined by a few other councillors from the wrong side of the tracks including her sweet and loving boyfriend Tommy (McCabe Slye), pill popping and sex having typical slasher couple Alice (Ryan Simpkins) and Arnie (Sam Brooks) and the positive vibes hippie Joan (Jacqi Vené). Between the councillors and the campers there’s a whole bevy of potential victims ready for when an axe murderer begins terrorising the camp.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 has a much slower build up time before the antics begin. It explores the class divide between the two neighbouring towns with Ziggy being relentlessly bullied by the cruel and snotty Sunnyvalers and forming a love interest with a young Nick Goode, the sheriff of Sunnyvale in Part One, as they exact a Carrie style revenge on the queen bee bully. There’s tension between Cindy and Alice that stems from the former’s desperate desire to escape the bleak life outcome she sees for herself and how that ruined a friendship they once had. In essence, it allows these characters to be more well rounded, just like the first film, we care about them, and their struggles, so when the axe starts swinging we genuinely worry about who’s next on the chopping block.
It also allows for further exploration of the Fier Witch mythology. Possession is back on the menu and whilst fleeing the axe wielding murderer Cindy and Alice find themselves in a cavern underneath the camp that seems to be the site of whatever ritual is damning the kids of Shadyside. There’s markings on the floor, names scratched into stone walls and a diary that seems to give them some hope to ending this onslaught. It’s this adage of the supernatural that makes this more than just a slasher knock off and keeps it coherent with the previous film.
Don’t worry though, it’s not all filler no killer with this middle film. The ending ramps up with an insatiable bloodlust that gives us even more gore and splatter than its predecessor. The twists and turns of the ending make the anticipation for the third installment all the more heightened and keep the mystery of the witch hidden for one more chapter.
Fear Street Part Three: 1666
It all ends here. Fear Street Part Three: 1666 flings us back to colonial times and finally reveals the story of the Fier Witch mythology. Deena is transported into the body of Sarah Fier, and in a similar style to American Horror Story we see a whole new group of characters but played by our familiar actors. It’s a nice way to make something so different, the gothic old country styling of this film, feel comfortable with the welcome return of actors who didn’t quite make it through their instalment.
It begins as most teen driven films do, with a party. It may be the 1600’s but that doesn’t mean that drinking, drugs and debauchery are off of the menu. The adolescents of Union, the name of the settlement that would become the rival towns of later years, including unmarried Sarah Fier, her friend Lizzie (Kate) and the pastor’s daughter Hannah (Sam) collect potent berries from a witch like widow and spend the night frolicking around a fire. Unfortunately Sarah and Hannah are spotted being intimate with each other and that, of course, leads to a witch hunt.
Evil has landed at Union, the fruit is rotting, the paranoia is spiking and it seems to culminate in one hell of a gruesome act by a possessed pastor that took the gore and consequences to a whole new level. Misogyny and homophobia runs deep in the accusation of the two lovers and it soon becomes the great gaslighting of Sarah Fier. It’s a grueling ordeal that fully explores the real evil behind the cursed land and manages to twist the expected whilst still tying back to each previous installment. The stakes are higher, the tensions palpable and the results sour as we come to the inevitable end of Sarah Fier and the return to 1994.
Back in the neon landscape of meta dialogue, needle drops and high energy it’s a great juxtaposition to the colonial paranoia of the first half that proves Janiak definitely has a giant board full of string connections and sticky notes that meticulously plotted these three films together. All the trauma and all the tragedy these Shadysiders have suffered since the town was created comes to a satisfying climax with one final epic battle and some instant vengeance on those who have benefited from these uneven circumstances. Bring on the glow in the dark paint guns and Freddy vs Jason style battle between not just our heroes but the re-animated killers as well. It’s a fist pump ending that feels earned over the past 6 hours, or 328 years.
I’m not forgiving the accents used in 1666 anytime soon, but even that couldn’t stop this from being an enjoyable ending to an incredible trilogy. The cast throughout the films have been impeccable and brought life to nuanced and entertaining characters, showing generations of the downtrodden in sympathetic lights. It’s a super fun trilogy that entertains from the very first opening song all the way to the post-credit sequence. The tease for more films is there, with Janiak showing interest in continuing the legacy of Fear Street and most of those who watched it being ready to board that train with her. As the director who has brought life to old genres and childhood ideas I am fully behind her expanding this universe and I’m ready to watch more about our cursed killers of Shadyside.
Shot back to back over 106 days there’s a great cohesion between each of the films and the overall narrative of Shadyside and it’s residents. Leigh Janiak directed all three of the films and was involved in the writing process of each one alongside contributions from Phil Graziadei, Zak Olkewicz, Kyle Killen and Kate Trefry. The release of these films became an event, something to look forward to every week, and the experiment by Netflix clearly paid off as the reviews rolled in for this saga. It’s incredible to think about the success of this event released, female directed, female led trilogy that centres a young cast and a queer relationship at its forefront, and it gives hope for more diverse production and distribution in films that make the future of Horror feel very exciting right now.