The Fear Street Trilogy is now showing on Netflix.
Let’s start by returning to the Autumn of 1994, where The National Lottery had just launched, Sunday trading laws had been reformed, and The Shawshank Redemption was showing in cinemas. Meanwhile, Love is All Around with Wet, Wet, Wet and Blur are discussing Parklife in the charts as a group of Friends meet for the first time on NBC. 1994 marked my 17th year on planet Earth, as I enjoyed nights out at the cinema, copious Blockbuster video rentals and treasured moments away from college. However, by all accounts, my 1994 was dull and decidedly safe compared to the teens of Shadyside, USA. 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, horrific murder is not an isolated occurrence in Shadyside, as death appears to run through the veins of the small town. Some believe that Shadyside is cursed by a witch, Sarah Fier, who was burned alive by the townsfolk centuries ago. One of those people is young Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), who lives for conspiracy theories, witches and an alleged curse in a local AOL chat room.
Meanwhile, his older sister Deena (Kiana Madeira) is mourning the end of a secret relationship with Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who has suddenly ditched her in favour of the preppy and famous boys from the neighbouring town Sunnyside. But 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.
What no one knows is that 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 the lives of Deena, Sam, Josh, Katie and Simon as the town’s curse is reignited in a series of events that dovetail 1994, 1978 and 1666.
Fear Street is loosely based on R.L. Stine’s books, but its opening story is a clear homage to 1990s horror. From Scream to I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legends, and Stephen King’s IT, Leigh Janiak’s horror often feels like a nostalgia piece. But while Fear Street: 1994 may play with many of the tried and tested tropes of 90s horror, it also joyfully subverts them. 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. Much more than a homage, Fear Street: 1994 is a smart dissection of 90s horror.
The result is a decidedly familiar yet fresh trip into classic teen horror, its story rich in humour and gore as it honours and rewrites the decade it inhabits alongside a soundtrack of 90s classics and a rich orchestral score. While Fear Street: 1994 may sag slightly midway through, the world it builds is fascinating, rich and diverse, and it’s clear the world-building aspirations are equal to American Horror Story as we wait to be taken back to 1978 in Part Two.
Thankfully, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 builds on the creativity of the first outing through an intelligent, engaging, accomplished homage to 1970s and early 80s slasher horror. Building upon the story arc created in 1994, we are taken to the lakeside serenity of Camp Nightwing in 1978. Here we meet two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Ziggy (Sadie Sink) is rebellious, sharp, and a perpetual outsider, while her older sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) is desperate to escape the labels Shadyside has afforded her. Camp is already underway as we join Cindy and Ziggy. What ensues could be labelled as a love letter to Friday the 13th. But, in the same way 1994 subverted and celebrated the 90s horror, Fear Street 1978 equally offers an intelligent homage and exploration of the popular campsite slasher. Director Leigh Janiak dovetails elements of Friday the 13th (1980) and Sleepaway Camp (1983) while smartly maintaining the atmosphere born in the first instalment.
Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts’ score is pure genius as demonic choruses, string sections and horns reflect the best in orchestral horror. Listen closely, and it’s clear the music is a homage to Jerry Goldsmith’s The Omen, Harry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th and Benjamin Wallfisch’s IT. At the same time, Caleb Heymann’s cinematography bathes the audience in golden autumnal hues before descending into darkness as the blood begins to flow. Fear Street Part Two is a slasher triumph, and that neatly brings us to the finale of 1666.
At the end of Fear Street: 1978, we rejoined Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr) in 1994 as they tried to solve the puzzle of the Fier curse by reuniting the witch’s hand with the remains of her body. However, as Deena placed the hand with its rightful owner, she was transported mentally to 1666, where she inhabited the body of the late Sarah Fier.
As we meet Sarah Fier (through the eyes of Deena) and the townsfolk of Union, it’s clear that Sarah is not evil or corrupt; she is just a young woman trying to survive in a town built on religious intolerance. Here her life with her young brother (played by Benjamin Flores Jr) mirrors our 1994 characters. Sarah is intelligent and wise; her only joy is her family, applejack and dancing in the woods with her friends. But Sarah also plays with fire as a relationship blooms with the pastor’s daughter, Hannah (Olivia Scott Welch).
In the closing chapter, Arthur Millar’s The Crucible, Egger’s The Witch, and Clay’s Fanny Lye Deliver’d act as the inspiration as Fear Street 1666 takes a different road from the opening two parts. Here, the traditional slasher is replaced by folk horror in our tour through horror and its rich sub-genres. But equally, Fear Street: 1666 maintains its teen horror aesthetic as themes of class, race, gender, and sexuality ripple through the village. While Fear Street 1666 clearly has one foot in the past, its story, like all the best horror, is very much rooted in the present as we reach a delightful and clever conclusion.
In all three chapters, Janiak has achieved something rare in horror, a trilogy of films with no weak instalment. There is no doubt the back-to-back filming schedule helped this, as did the ongoing cast, but equally impressive is the translation of RL Stine’s books. Fear Street manages to take young adult fiction and fashion it into something distinctly different, an older teen horror trilogy that equally plays well with an adult audience. It’s deeply impressive, and the format undoubtedly deserves more outings.