Join us as we explore each instalment of Netflix’s new Fear Street Trilogy. This live blog will be updated weekly from July 3rd – July 17th.
Warning this blog contains spoilers.
Fear Street Part One: 1994
Let me start this blog by taking you back to the Autumn of 1994. The United Kingdom has launched the National Lottery on BBC One, Sunday trading laws have been reformed, and The Shawshank Redemption has arrived in cinemas. Meanwhile, in music, Love is all Around with Wet, Wet, Wet and Blur are talking about Parklife. Across the pond in the USA, Boyz II Men are making love to you, and the pilot episode of Friends is just about to air on NBC. While in politics, Bill Clinton is facing accusations of sexual harassment in the White House.
For me, 1994 heralded my 17th year on planet earth; my life outside of college, a mix of cinema, laughter with friends and weekend trips to my local Blockbuster video. Mobile phones were nowhere; the internet was evolving; the DVD was in its infancy, and my Levi’s were my most treasured possession. However, by all accounts, my 1994 was dull and decidedly safe compared to the teens of Shadyside USA. After all, in Shadyside, a teen bookstore worker has just been stabbed to death in the local mall; her masked killer none other than her boyfriend. But, this is not an isolated occurrence in Shadyside, as murder, tragedy, and destruction appear to run through the veins of the small town.
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Meanwhile, the town goes about its daily business, its residents choosing to ignore the ongoing tragedies surrounding them. However, some believe Shadyside to be cursed by a long-dead witch, Sarah Fier. Her body burned alive centuries ago as she cast a wicked spell on the tiny town. And, for young Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), this fear is real as he talks conspiracy theories, death and the macabre in a local AOL chat room. Meanwhile, his older sister Deena (Kiana Madeira) mourns the loss of her secret girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who is now involved with some of the preppy popular boys from the neighbouring town Sunnyside. However, at least Deena has the support of her close friends Katie (Julia Rehwald), a rebellious cheerleader who deals drugs on the side, and Simon (Fred Hechinger), a chilled-out dude who defies social labels while working at the grocery store.
However, the murder of the young bookstore worker is just the beginning of a new wave of violence and destruction in Shadyside. A wave that will consume Deena, Sam, Josh, Katie and Simon. The town’s curse reignited as the witch reaches up from the soil of her death and touches Sam. With Deena, Josh, Katie and Simon suddenly becoming Sam’s protectors as the ghosts of Shadyside’s killers past and present come out to play. But, the events of 1994 also dovetail with a campsite massacre in 1978, a series of murders from the 1960s and the town’s origins dating back to 1666. And it’s here that Fear Street: 1994 begins to build its world of horror in a similar vein to American Horror Story.
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What becomes clear from the outset is that Fear Street (loosely based on R.L Stine’s books) plans to reflect the horror movie journey from the 1960s to the 1990s. Its opening story a homage to 1990s horror, from Scream to I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legends and Stephen King’s IT. However, Leigh Janiak’s horror is so much more than a mere nostalgia piece. While Fear Street: 1994 may reflect many of the tried and tested horror tropes of 90s filmmaking, it joyfully subverts each one. After all, here we have a strong lesbian character in the lead role; an ethnically diverse ensemble and a male who defies the masculine stereotypes of 90s cinema. Meanwhile, Fear Street: 1994 delights in subverting audience expectations of who will croak next. Its story deliciously humorous, packed with pop culture references and unexpected twists and turns.
Shadyside is a town of outsiders, its community struggling with poverty, its history one of despair and tragedy. Here, there are no sprawling picket fence enclosed houses. Instead, we have a town of urban decline compared to its rich sister town of Sunnyside. And this once again subverts and twists 90s horror into something fresh, different and new. The town itself a subversion of the middle-class American dream of 90s cinema. Here, Fear Street’s horror not only plays to classic slasher tropes but the ability of a town and its history to trap each new generation.
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The result is a fresh yet equally nostalgic trip into horror, its story rich in humour, gore and jump scare’s as it subverts and rewrites the 90s horror movie. While at the same time honouring the decade, it chooses to reflect with a soundtrack of thumping 90s classics, dovetailed with a rich orchestral score.
While Fear Street: 1994 may sag slightly midway through, the world it builds is fascinating, rich and diverse. And as the final credits roll, it’s a world that we are only just beginning to explore as we receive a sneak peek at what is to come as we travel back to 1978. Here, it becomes clear that Fear Street plans to reflect and subvert the 70s slasher horror with the same style and panache. Fear Street: 1994 is a joy to watch, so grab the popcorn, dim the lights and take a walk into Shadyside, if you dare.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978
Horror sequels can either fly or fall like a stone, with very few managing to better their first outing. Therefore, I approached Fear Street Part Two: 1978 with a feeling of trepidation. After all, its first instalment was intelligent, visually engaging, self-aware and beautifully written and directed. However, just ten minutes into the sequel, my doubts were consigned to history. And I found myself asking, “Is this one of those rare sequels that will improve upon its first outing?”. The answer was yes; Fear Street Part Two, while following the same narrative line as its predecessor, feels more accomplished. Its performances, direction and narrative arc building on the energy of the first instalment while also offering us something new.
At the end of 1994, our surviving teens Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and his older sister Deena (Kiana Madeira) found themselves facing a new danger. Having thought they had outsmarted the witches curse surrounding Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), the pair quickly realised that she was still possessed, as she attempted to gut them with a knife. Now, at this point, you may remember that Deena had phoned the mysterious C Berman (Gillian Jacobs) asking for help earlier in part one, a local woman who had survived the curse in the 70s. And as part one came to an end, C Berman finally phoned Deena back, explaining the curse could not be defeated. However, as part two starts Deena and Josh are determined not to give up, finding the reclusive C Berman, who recounts her experience of the witches curse at Camp Nightwing during 1978.
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Her story starts with two sisters, one rebellious and perpetually in trouble, Ziggy (Sadie Sink). At the same time, her older sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) is desperate to escape the social trap of Shadyside. Her daily life a mixture of denial and hope as she tries to emulate the perfect kids of the neighbouring Sunnyside. As we join Ziggy and Cindy, the camp is underway, with Cindy working as a camp counsellor alongside her loving boyfriend. However, beneath the campsite, a new horror patiently awaits release. Its deadly power rooted in the 1666 curse of Sarah Fier that haunts Shadyside.
It would be easy to label the slasher horror that ensues as a love letter to Friday the 13th. But, in the same way, 1994 subverted and celebrated a series of 90s horror classics, Fear Street 1978 equally plays with 70s and early 80s horror. Here, director Leigh Janiak laces Friday the 13th (1980) with Sleepaway Camp (1983). While at the same time maintaining the elements of Stephen Kings IT and Stranger Things found in its first instalment.
The result is a fun, dark and blood-soaked slasher that places character development above cheap scares. Here, the themes of social disadvantage so clearly established in the first film thread through the camp atmosphere as Sunnydale and Shadydale meet in an ocean of rivalry and discrimination. Each of the camp leaders only further segregating the kids in their care into haves and have nots. But, where 1978 excels is within the strong, resilient female characters that take centre stage—each celebrating and subverting the scream queen image of early 80s horror.
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However, 1978’s ability to engage and enthral does not just sit within its silly yet sincere continuing story and superb performances. Much of the credit for this delicious slice of modern horror sits within its score, cinematography and direction. Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts score is pure genius from start to finish. Each demonic chorus, string section and horn reflecting the best in orchestral horror. Listen closely, and this is a score that pays homage to Jerry Goldsmith’s The Omen, Harry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th and Benjamin Wallfisch’s IT. Meanwhile, Caleb Heymann’s cinematography bathes the audience in golden autumnal hues that descend into darkness as blood begins to flow through the camp. And that brings us to Janiak’s superb writing and direction. Fear Street 1978 is expertly paced, frivolous and engaging, its vision delightfully creative and ever-evolving.
The result is one of the best slasher horror sequels I have seen, as Fear Street unpicks and reforms the traditional slasher into something new, creative and different. Its ability to lace humour, scares, and gore into a rollercoaster of horror fun, both inspired and brilliant.
Fear Street Part Three : 1666
So, here we are, the final instalment of the brilliant Fear Street trilogy. I think it is fair to say the past three weeks have sped by, with the Netflix horror trilogy surpassing most expectations. But, as we reach the finale, Fear Street: 1666, does Janiak’s beautifully crafted trilogy end with a bang or a whimper?
The end of Fear Street: 1978 saw us pulled back to 1994 as Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr) tried to solve the puzzle of the Fier curse. And as the final scenes came into view, Deena rushed to reunite the witches hand with her body to stop the continued death and destruction in Shadyside. However, as Deena placed the dead hand with its rightful owner, she found herself inhabiting the body of the late Sarah Fier in 1666.
It is here where Fear Street: 1666 starts, as we finally meet Sarah Fier (through the eyes of Deena) alongside the townsfolk of Union. However, Sarah is not evil or corrupt; she is just a young woman trying to survive in a settler town of religious fervour, rumour and superstition. Here, her life with her young brother (played by Benjamin Flores Jr) mirrors the 1994 characters who carry the story. With themes of disadvantage, struggle and acceptance crossing time and place. Sarah is intelligent, wise and understanding of the simmering fear that swirls around the small village. Her only joy caring for her family and dancing in the woods with her friends as they secretly indulge in applejack.
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However, as a relationship blooms with the pastor’s daughter, Hannah (Olivia Scott Welch), Sarah soon discovers just how vile and oppressive the village can be. Here, the village hatred is not based on mystical powers or enchantments, but religious doctrine and homophobia. However, as the village crops fail and the pastor goes mad, murdering the village children. Sarah’s secret relationship with Hannah becomes the centre of attention as rumours, hate and religion mix to accuse both young women of witchcraft. Sarah runs from the village, her only support Solomon Goode (the ancestor of Sherrif Goode). But, all is not as it first seemed, with the curse of Shadyside running much deeper than just Sarah. Her final act, one of protection rather than harm.
Borrowing heavily from Arthur Millar’s The Crucible, Egger’s The Witch, and Clay’s Fanny Lye Deliver’d, Fear Street 1666 takes a different track from its predecessors. Here, we shift from the traditional slasher into a religious, community and colonial horror. There is, of course, a risk in shifting gear in a final instalment. But, smartly, Fear Street: 1666 knows this and ensures it maintains its teen horror aesthetic. Here, the town youngsters are wise to the hatred that permeates their parent’s world but powerless to change it. The messages built within the previous two movies, alive and well as themes of class, race, gender and sexuality, ripple through the village. If this sounds scarily reflective of our modern world, it should. Make no mistakes, while Fear Street has one foot in the past, its story, like all the best horror, is rooted in the present.
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Fear Street clearly understands generational change and the ongoing fight for equality. And while its core messages are wrapped in a fun rollercoaster ride of horror, that does not make them any less potent as the trilogy draws to an end. Here, themes of societal change are rooted in the critical role each new generation plays—their voice, essential in helping our world find new solutions to the problems older generations ignore. Fear Street may play with nostalgia, but this is a vibrant modern-day story of the need for change.
The Fear Street trilogy has provided us with a series of brilliantly performed, rich and engaging interconnected stories from its opening movie. With Janiak ultimately achieving something rare in horror, a trilogy of films with the same high standards. There is no doubt the back to back filming schedule helped this, as did the ongoing cast. But even more impressive is the translation of RL Stines books into a horror formula that bridges the generations. Here, Fear Street has found something new in its ability to take young adult fiction and fashion it into something distinctly different. And as the final credits of Fear Street: 1666 roll, make no mistakes; this is a formula that will be back for a fourth roll of the dice.