Few things have made me happier than the return of R.L. Stine to the pop culture zeitgeist (which in the age of Twitter is the equivalent to a tasty snack instead of a definitive meal), so when a trilogy of films adapting the Fear Street series was announced I got excited. Goosebumps was a fun set of books that I genuinely enjoyed as a kid, but his other series was a more vicious and expanded world that is all of a sincere horror saga, campy parody, and bloody fun. Sneaking slashers under the radar when I was a kid gave me a taste for this kind of creative macabre, so I looked forward to this dropping on Netflix after years of waiting.
The results? Well, they’re interesting. I had a lot of fun, but this could have been handled a smidge better. Director Leigh Janiak did a great job, though, and I’m happy to say that I had a wonderful time with this miniseries that’s been labelled a film trilogy.
While the trilogy is displayed as Fear Street: 1994, Fear Street: 1978, and Fear Street: 1666, the stories are actually just one arc set in 1994 with extended flashbacks. The series follows Deena (Kiana Madeira), a resident of the ostensibly-cursed town of Shadyside, as she grapples with the loss of her girlfriend, Samantha Fraser (Olivia Scott). It’s 1994, a time when being a lesbian was a dark mark of shame to many Americans, and this under-the-table relationship was tumultuous enough before the breakup. Sam has left for Sunnyvale, a neighboring town that lives in prosperity while its sister-city is labelled the “murder capitol of the United States.” When historic slashers from the town’s past rise from the grave to hunt down Sam, Deena steps in to help save her ex from certain death.
I enjoy the patina of casual prosperity that exists over Sunnyvale while watching Shadyside residents clamor for meaning. The first installment of the trilogy openly discusses class warfare in the context of 90s American socio-economic politics, with people forced to grapple with situations they can’t escape due to financial hardship and public scrutiny while others can live happily in the sun. This theme won’t carry through, but it makes for a Scream-esque story that’s full of meta commentary on the nature of slasher characters. Drug dealers are good people, sometimes the seventeen-year-old friend of your older sister can return your crush, and schools are apparently just unlocked for anyone to enter at all hours. Standards of multiple horror films enter the fray to battle it out, but none of the elements feel excessive. The needle-drops dance back and forth across the line, equal parts enjoyable and irritating, but they manage to leave enough flavor to help place the era. Major issues only arise when the film runs on too long, overstaying its welcome and asking us to stick around for more. Major reveals that will have an effect on later installments are drawn out beyond necessity, which undercuts some of the genuinely emotional moments left in the film’s back half.
It does serve as a great segue into Fear Street: 1978, which gives us more of Sadie Sink (of Stranger Things fame) as “Ziggy” Berman, lone survivor of the Camp Nightwing Massacre. Arriving at the home of the adult Ziggy (Gillian Jacobs), we are then transported back to her youth and given a glorious homage to films like The Burning and Friday the 13th. Horny teens and splattered blood are familiar to everyone, allowing for a more comfortable setting this time around. Geography becomes important to the narrative of the trilogy, and we get to see much of what’s above and beneath the ground so that when the final installment drops our brains have already mapped the entire town. It’s an interesting trick, and one that only works in this week-to-week format. The setting has been lovingly created above ground, but the cave systems mercilessly remind us that they’re filmed on soundstages in a way that still feels appropriate to the era of homage so…I’ll allow it.
Perhaps the biggest win is Fear Street: 1666, an anachronistic piece of folk horror that serves as both a feature-length reveal and the payoff to all of our character arcs thus far. It wants to be The VVitch , but it can’t let go of it’s teen slasher roots and the film is all the better for it. Costuming and sets aren’t made with quite the attention to detail that Robert Eggers gave his puritanical piece of witchy horror, but they are beyond adequate and allow for immersion into a queer tale of colonization and patriarchal dominance. It’s a delightful bit of Americana, nakedly displaying parts of our national history and underlying issues that we are still fighting to do away with. It’s capped off with a finale that is thrilling, hilarious, and eerie all at once.
Fear Street isn’t perfect (and would have been better as a miniseries), but it’s an entertaining time at the movies and I only wish these had been released theatrically on this same schedule. Experiments like this are why I still stand by some of the choices made with streaming services over theatres, and I hope to see more of this kind of output.
Fear Street is currently streaming on Netflix.