Contains spoilers for the Fear Street trilogy.
Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy is another project that may revolutionise the streaming platform. The streaming service is home to award-winning movies like Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma as well as popular new franchises such as Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard, Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead and its spin-off Army of Thieves; based on the success of these movies, Netflix has proven that it has the potential to kickstart another franchise. Based on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street book series, director Leigh Janiak created a universe that was meant to be experimentation for Netflix. Initially, the trilogy was meant to be released in the theatres across three months; however, the streaming service took it to their hands and premiered it across a three-week binge festival.
In the age of streaming (and the pandemic), home-viewing sparked excitement, as the trailers revealed gory deaths and masked killers that were familiar in previous iconic slashers like Scream, Halloween and Friday the 13th. The Fear Street series subverts a lot of the genre’s expectations and includes a lesbian couple who are not normally shown in horror and slasher films.
The trilogy is an interconnected slasher series set in three different time periods where the town of Shadyside is haunted by the curse of a 17th-century woman named Sarah Fier, who was hanged after being accused of witchcraft. In contrast, the next-door neighbour, Sunnyvale is the complete opposite with no crime nor bad luck surrounding their town. The first movie in the trilogy takes place in 1994, follows a group of Shadyside teenagers who gets roped into the witch’s curse; the story continues in 1978 set in a campsite massacre; then in the final movie set in 1666, explores the origin of the Fier’s curse in the town of Shadyside.
‘Fear Street Part One: 1994’: Bloody Murders, 90’s Nostalgia, and Subverting the Genre
Fear Street Part One begins with a sequence at a mall, where Shadyside high schooler Heather (Maya Hawke from Stranger Things) is chased and stabbed to death by her friend Ryan Torres (David W. Thompson) who had killed eight more people the same night. The town of Shadyside is known for its spontaneous murder sprees and is plagued with issues surrounding drugs and poverty that spans over three decades. While no one knows the exact reason behind it, there are theories that Sarah Fier, a 17th-century witch, might be responsible for what happened. This theory is questioned by Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and his AOL pals, with whom he spends most of his time in the basement, playing games and not making any friends in the real world. While Josh is smart and informed on the town’s gory history, his sister, Deena (Kiana Madeira) is more sceptical of this theory as she sulks about the end of her relationship with her girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who left for Sunnyvale following her parent’s divorce. Deena and her friends, Katie (Julie Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger), work at the grocery store while selling drugs on the side to fund their escape from the town.
The plot heightens when a fight breaks out between Shadyside and Sunnyvale students which results in a car accident that lands Sam in the hospital. Her blood is left at the site of the crash, which causes her to see a vision of Sarah Fier. Following a gory killing spree at the hospital, the teenagers report it to Sherriff Nick Goode (Ashley Zuckerman) but he does not believe them. When Sam mentions that she saw a vision of Sarah Fier at the crash site, Josh tells them that she had disturbed the bones of the witch which is why the past killers are after her. In the process of attempting to find a way to save Sam and survive the night, they discover that there was one survivor C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs) that had survived the murderous spree in Camp Nightwing in 1978.
Fear Street Part One offers a mix of 90s nostalgia of music and iconic slasher series like Scream (1996) and The Shining (1980). The opening sequence of Heather’s murder is a direct callback to the opening scene of Wes Craven’s Scream which also featured the shocking murder of a character portrayed by a prominent actress. Similarly, when the gang are trapped in a classroom together, one of the killers is breaking down the door with an axe; it is a direct reference to the now-iconic scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. While the teen slasher is definitely familiar with its predecessors, it does not attempt to copy them and instead subverts these expectations. One of the many indicators of this is Deena and Sam’s relationship. In previous horror series, there are not many queer relationships that are the centre of the movie, let alone a lesbian character that is the protagonist. It’s refreshing to see an LGBTQIA+ couple on screen, especially one that gears towards teenagers and the ups and downs of adolescent relationships in high school. It’s rare to see a queer relationship flourish particularly in the 90’s and given the circumstances the group is in, it heightens the stakes even further.
Other characters like Katie and Simon are also personalities that are not common in the slasher genre. In their predecessors, characters tropes like dumb blondes and jocks were killed off immediately because they did not contribute to the story. In Fear Street Part One, both of them fight head-on with the killers with Simon providing drugs and EpiPens to kill and resuscitate Sam and Katie trying to distract the killers from getting to Sam. Though their stories were short-lived due to being murdered, their efforts to plan and help the others survive the killing spree was heroic.
The first movie of the trilogy is highly thrilling and has several gory scenes that keep the audience at the edge of their seat wondering what is going to happen next. While this ambitious trilogy started with an adventurous and scary chase to save Sam from being murdered, the story is not over yet. Following Deena and Sam’s reconciliation, they are interrupted by C. Berman, who informs them that the curse of Sarah Fier is never over. This acts to provide context for the upcoming sequel as Sam gets possessed and attacks Deena but is eventually subdued, leading to a suspenseful cliffhanger.
‘Fear Street Part Two: 1978’: Summer Slashers, Campers, and Demonic Presence
The second instalment of the Fear Street trilogy continues with Deena and Josh seeking out the help of C. Berman to save Sam. The movie begins with C. Berman sharing the story of the camp massacre, leading to a flashback to Camp Nightwing in 1978, which was attended by kids from both Shadyside and Sunnyvale. After being bullied by Sunnyvale residents at the camp, Shadysider Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink from Stranger Things) finds a mysterious book with occult mappings in the nurse’s office and is heavily reprimanded by her sister, Cindy (Emily Rudd), who is more distraught about how Ziggy’s actions reflect on her attempts at leading the perfect life. Later, when Cindy and her boyfriend, Tommy (McCabe Slye) are on cleaning duty, a supposedly possessed Nurse Lane (Jordana Spiro) attacks them but is restrained and escorted out of the camp. They come across the notebook in the nurse’s office with Alice (Ryan Simpkins), Cindy’s former best friend and her boyfriend Arnie (Sam Brooks), who deduce the book shows the way to Sarah Fier’s house. Upon reaching the location on the map, the group discovers the witch’s mark in an underground tunnel, where Tommy gets possessed and brutally murders Arnie. Though Cindy and Alice manage to escape into the tunnels, they are left trapped inside and Tommy changes course towards Camp Nightwing.
At the camp, the attendees are participating in the Colour War when Tommy storms in and begins to kill the children. The camp counsellors, a younger Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland) and Kurt (Michael Provost) quickly send back the remaining campers home by bus but Ziggy heads over to the outhouse to search for a missing camper and learns that Cindy and Alice are trapped under it. In the midst of attempting to rescue them, Tommy finds her but Ziggy escapes while he murders another counsellor. Cindy manages to further crawl through the tunnels and climbs up a vent leading to the camp, just in time to rescue Ziggy from being killed by her murderous boyfriend. Meanwhile, Alice finds Fier’s hand and plans to take it back to her grave for the killings to stop but when Ziggy’s blood spills on it, she is plagued by a vision of the witch before being hunted by the reanimated past killers of Shadyside, including Tommy. The sisters run to find Fier’s grave and reconnect it with its missing hand and end the curse; instead, they find a rock carved with the words, “The witch forever lives”, revealing that Sarah Fier was never buried there. As the Shadyside killers close in, Cindy sacrifices herself to save her little sister. Nevertheless, Ziggy is fatally stabbed but survives after receiving medical attention, revealing her name as Christine and that she was C. Berman all along. The movie ends as Deena and Josh return to Fier’s actual grave, which was discovered by Sam in the Fear Street: 1994, and Deena sees a vision of Sarah Fier before witnessing her memories, thus prefacing the events of Fear Street Part Three: 1666.
As the middle child of the trilogy, Fear Street Part Two is definitely bloodier and gorier than the first instalment. However, considering the heights that Fear Street Part One reached with the audience, this sequel was definitely a miss. The return of nostalgia with several references to Friday the 13th is evident in scenes such as Tommy slashing people with his axe, Ziggy running through the woods to get away from her bullies, and the points of view shots of Kurt and an attendee being intimate with each other. Though these references are great and tie in with the horrors and gore of Fear Street Part One, it fails to match with the pace of its predecessor.
Fear Street Part Two takes its time to reach the backstory of Sarah Fier and it is significantly slower compared to the first instalment, which got right to the chase within the first five minutes of the movie. The excitement of the summer camp and its setting is refreshing but Fear Street Part Two continues to use the same formulas which are used in the first instalment and the classic slasher movies. There is not enough excitement or emotion to balance out the horror, aside from Ziggy and Cindy’s sisterhood that feels worth noting. It’s an adventurous sequel that explores the curse of the witch while also withholding some of the information to keep space for the brutal massacre that takes place in the movie. Fear Street Part Two feels like Janiegh was trying to tie up some of the loose ends of the previous film, which pushed the whole story to be perceived as recycled material. Despite the amazing performances by Sink and Rudd, they make the best of their roles and provide exceptional performances. There are similarities between these characters from the two movies in this trilogy but mostly in the scenes that depreciate their lives in Shadyside.
Fear Street Part Two brings a lot of bloodier scenes, that’s true. There is no shortage of inventive deaths and it ultimately brought enough curiosity to see what is in store for the last movie of the trilogy.
‘Fear Street Part Three: 1666’: History of Shadyside and the End of the Trilogy
The first half of Fear Street Part Three continues directly from the end of the previous movie. Deena finds herself in the memories of Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel) and reliving the days leading up to her death. Sarah has feelings for the pastor’s daughter, Hannah Miller (played by Welch) and a secret party in the woods, they run off and get intimate. Their actions are witnessed by a mysterious figure, whom they assume is the town madman. The next day, Hannah’s father, Pastor Cyrus Miller (Michael Chandler) starts acting strange and murders the local children, leading the settlers to believe they are under a curse. The pastor is killed by Solomon Goode (Zuckerman), in whom Sarah confides that she may be the reason for the curse. During the town meeting, both Hannah and Sarah are falsely accused of witchcraft and the settlers call for their execution. Hannah and Sarah attempt to flee but only the latter is successful; in a panic, Sarah hides in Solomon’s house where she finds tunnels leading to a stone carving of a witch’s mark as well as a book on occultism. Upon realizing that Solomon was the one who brought the curse on their settlement in exchange for wealth and power, Sarah attempts to escape but is attacked by Solomon, who cuts off her hand and drags her to town to be hanged. To spare Hannah’s life, Sarah confesses to being a witch and just before she is hanged, she curses Solomon. Her body is later moved by Hannah and their friends to give her a proper burial.
In the second half of the movie, dubbed Fear Street Part One: 1994: Part 2, Deena comes back to reality upon learning the truth behind what happened to Sarah Fier. She realises that Solomon’s ancestor, Sheriff Nick Goode has been sacrificing innocent Shadysiders to fuel his wealth and power, like his ancestors before him. After explaining her vision to Josh and Ziggy, the trio figure out a way to kill Nick and save Sam. They recruit the help of mall employee, Martin (Darrell Britt-Gibson) to lure Nick to the mall and set him as bait for the Shadyside killers. Meanwhile, Nick realizes that Deena has discovered his role in the killings and the past killers of Shadyside reanimate to hunt Deena. The group manages to trap the Shadyside killers inside the mall while Ziggy dumps Deena’s blood on Nick, thus throwing the killers on his trail. However, he escapes into the tunnels with Deena following after him. They end up in a scuffle where Nick is exposed to the physical manifestation of the curse; as a result, he is plagued with visions of Fier and the murders his family had caused over the past three centuries. His distraction proves to be fatal as Deena finally manages to kill him, leading to the reanimated killers to vanish and the curse finally reaches its end.
Fear Street Part Three is an ambitious final entry to the summer slasher trilogy. The first half of the movie is set in the 17th century before the two towns are divided and contextualise the cursed history of the feud between Shadyside and Sunnyvale. By seeing the events through Sarah’s eyes, it mirrors the relationship between Sam and Deena in Fear Street Part One. There aren’t many Easter Eggs or references to slasher films in the first half due to the time period but the presentation of the movie is highly similar to Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015). It gives the audience a glimpse at the life in the settlement and the politics during the 17th century, which demonized queer relationships and is deemed as misogynistic in today’s society. In an ironic twist, the reason for the unfortunate events within these movies roots in one man’s obsession with power and wealth.
The second half of the movie provides a satisfying end to the trilogy. It ties up the loose ends of the previous films and presents an appropriate conclusion to the story, bringing together the Shadyside Killers, brutal murders, and going back to the scene of the first murder in the trilogy where everything began. There are moments of explosive tension that produce gruesome moments in the entire movie and though it was rushed at some moments, the second half comes around to a full circle when Deena, Josh, Ziggy and Martin re-attempt enhanced versions of their traps in the first movie, this time successful.
The Fear Street trilogy is an excellent collection that subverts horror tropes with queer characters that are not usually centred in slasher movies while also shedding light on the very real issues we face today. The timeless condemnation and panic that started with the discovery of Sarah and Hannah’s intimate relationship mirror the horrors faced by actual queer people in their attempts to survive in a society that vilified them.
Shadyside and Sunnyvale: White Supremacy, Wealth Disparity and Systemic Oppression
One of the most prominent aspects of this trilogy is the social and economic differences between Shadyside and Sunnyvale, which are depicted as being vastly different. While Sunnyvale’s suburbs have gorgeous houses, neatly trimmed lawns and no crimes, Shadyside is recognized as the “murder capital” of the country and is regularly plagued with drugs and poverty. The town of Shadyside is populated by people of colour fighting poverty, drugs, and the killing sprees that seem to occur on a regular basis. These differences are shown in Fear Street Part One when Deena’s classmates visit Sunnyvale for a vigil in honour of the victims of the mall massacre, hosted by their wealthier counterparts. The quiet and quaint suburb has a history of white supremacy and disparities regarding race and wealth that began over 300 years ago because of one white man’s greed for wealth and influence. When he summoned the devil and cursed the land of Shadyside in exchange for power, it is symbolic of the systemic oppression that is very true to the history of America.
According to this article, throughout the three movies, Sunnyvale residents have always gotten control over things and it’s clear that ordinary Shadysiders like Tommy are viewed as scapegoats and victims of the limited system they are allowed. This is evident as when he gets possessed by Goode’s curse, he only targets his fellow neighbours from Shadyside and none from Sunnyvale. The writer states that “even this bears similarities to white supremacy and the interconnected systems of subjugation.” This rings true when young Sheriff Nick Goode in Fear Street Part Two, acts as an ally to Ziggy and convinces everyone that Tommy had just “snapped” when he killed a bunch of people. For people like Nick, this kind of behaviour from a community that is marginalised and has a history of murder sprees is something that is deemed more believable as people from poorer backgrounds are assumed as being more likely to commit crimes.
For the most part, the trilogy talks about the curse of Sarah Fier and the murderous spree in Camp Nightwing but the story becomes fully unravelled when Deena’s witnesses Fier’s memories of 1666. She discovers how everything, from Shadyside’s misfortune to the deaths of her friends, had all been collateral in one man’s attempt to gain power and wealth. The Goodes, depicted as white men, did not care about the potential loss of life and this narrative was continuously controlled by them for centuries.
The roots of generational trauma and white supremacy is recognized through the cause of Solomon and his ancestors, who gained social and economic wealth and gained status by becoming politicians and members of law enforcement at the cost of innocent people. It took a new generation of teenagers like Deena and Josh to fight and rewrite history. Their determination to defeat Goode’s curse is claimed as heroic and ironically acts as a metaphor for society’s fight against prejudice and white supremacy.
Callback to Classic and Contemporary Horror
On top of trying to connect the story from one movie to another, the Fear Street trilogy references many iconic slashers and horror films. While the audience is immersed into the world of Shadyside and Sunnyvale from the beginning to the end, the callbacks to iconic movies such as Scream, Friday the 13th and The Shining, made the trilogy particularly more enjoyable. The numerous and creative ways of killing these characters are directly influenced by previous slashers, and that is what keeps the momentum going for possible Fear Street movies. There is no denying the cultural impact that these movies have had on the horror genre and how they have continued to influence modern art forms. Ultimately, the experience of watching these movies as they were released on a weekly basis is the proverbial cherry on top when viewing this trilogy as we are consistently treated to callbacks to classic and contemporary horror free of cost, all in the comfort of our own homes.
Edited by: Raayaa Imthiyaz