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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

The Fear Street Trilogy

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

Director: Leigh Janiak

Country: USA

Ever since the enormous success of Stranger Things, Netflix has understood and capitalised on the popularity of bingeable horror. Its latest venture is Fear Street, a trilogy of horror films released weekly based on books by RL Stein, the author of the iconic Goosebumps series. The first instalment – 1994 – is a teen slasher that bears more than a little resemblance to Scream. The second – 1978 – revolves around a holiday camp and is clearly an homage to Friday The Thirteenth. The third – 1666 –is about witchcraft and brings all three storylines together. Anchoring the three films are Deena (Madeira – Dark Matter) and Sam (Scott Welch - Shithouse), a lesbian teen couple who are the scream queens of this new film franchise. So let’s take a look at each film as they are released.

Fear Street Part One: 1994 ***

Starring: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Herchinger, Maya Hawke

When a girl (Hawke – Stranger Things) is brutally murdered in the local mall by a man in a skull mask, this is the latest in a series of murders going back generations. The media proclaim the town of Shadyside the “Murder Capital of the USA”, which teenager Josh (Flores Jr. – Your Honour) is convinced is due to the influence of a witch that possesses people and forces them to kill. With the help of his friends Deena, Sam, cheerleader Kate (Rehwald) and stoner Simon (Hechinger – The Woman In The Window, News Of The World) they begin to realise that supernatural forces may be at play as the murderers of the past begin to haunt the present.

This instalment is at its best when it unabashedly tips its hat to the genre conventions it is ascribing to. The skull-faced killer looks and moves exactly like Ghostface from the Scream franchise and its lingering in plain sight before maniacally hurtling towards its victim is the stuff of nightmares that have haunted moviegoers since the ‘90s. But with Skullface dead within minutes of the film’s opening, ghostly conventions replace the simplicity of what looked to be a teen slasher and it’s a shame that we hadn’t been allowed a murder or two more before we head into narrative complexity.

And therein lies the problem that haunts (do you see what I did there?) horror franchises aplenty and the reason why we always care more about the first episodes of a series of American Horror Story than the last; rising tension is actually far more enjoyable than the actual climax. With multiple killers and multiple ghosts, it becomes increasingly less about jump scares and more about an onslaught of stabbing, chopping and slicing. But then, this is markedly aimed at a younger audience, with instant gratification at the forefront of the filmmaker’s bloody vision over the long game of a slower burning horror. RL Stein’s work is, after all, pulp fiction and so are these films.

The film’s successes are twofold, however. Firstly, our clutch of teenage archetypes are a total success, with Benjamin Flores Jr.’s Josh a likeable underdog and the lesbian protagonists making for a welcome change from their usual hetero counterparts. Secondly, the period features are what really makes this film. With the trilogy aiming clearly for retro as its USP, it succeeds like a Buzzfeed listicle on the composite parts of a 90s slasher: grunge music – check, baggy jeans and plaid shirts and butterfly chokers – check, off-white desktop monitors and AOL internet browsers – check. To all intents and purposes, it looks like director Janiak sat the art director and cinematographer down for a Scream marathon and said “I want it to look like that”. And it does. It really does.

UK Release: Out now to watch on Netflix

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 ***

Starring: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, McCabe Slye, Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Gillian Jacobs

The survivors track down Ziggy (Jacobs – Community) the survivor of a similar attack in 1978 to ask how she survived. She tells them her story, which is all told in flashback. At Camp Nightwing, Ziggy (Sink – Stranger Things) and her sister Cindy (Rudd – The Romanoffs) are caught in a murderous rampage as one of their peers becomes possessed by the same spirit we met in Part One. What follows is a bloodbath as teenagers flee around the camp in terror as an axe-wielding murderer hacks his way through them, one by one.

Again, as genre horror goes, this is fairly effective and dons the boots of a 70s slasher movie well, with its soundtrack, costuming and set-dressing inciting the period really effectively. Narratively there’s less going on than in Part One, except the gradual Scooby Doo-style revelations of easily obtainable titbits about the ghost that’s haunting them, with the work conveniently already done for them by a character despatched within the first few minutes of our arrival at the camp.

Apart from vignettes that bookend the film and link it to the others, this is could easily be a stand-alone piece. But just like Part One, this film is at its strongest at its simplest, when it revels in its teens running from a psycho-killer. It only falters when it distracts from this with the franchise’s madcap over-arching plot. Also, though Part One is decidedly part of the Queer Canon, Part Two is unfortunately not, deciding to revert to more traditional tropes, with all of its 1978 cast decidedly heterosexual.

UK Release: Out now to watch on Netflix

Fear Street Part Three: 1666 **

Starring: Starring: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Ashley Zukerman, Gillian Jacobs, Benjamin Flores Jr., Elizabeth Scopel

Director: Leigh Janiak

Country: USA

With all the carnage caused by witch Sarah Fier in the first two instalments, we are transported back to 1666 when the young Fier (Madeira) is promised to be married to local puritan Solomon Goode (Zukerman). At a full moon celebration with her friends, she takes some hallucinogenic berries and engages in a “dalliance” with her friend Hannah (Welch), but the two are spotted. The town’s harvests are failing and when talk turns to a blight caused by witchcraft, the pair are accused of causing it with their sinful behaviour. So as the torch-wielding villagers hunt the couple, the girls’ sights turn to making an actual deal with the devil to save themselves.

It looks, smells and feels like The Crucible and The Village meets Sabrina The Teenage Witch, but after spending the first act in 1666, our timeline snaps back to 1994 to bring all three strands together in an action-packed supernatural gore-fest. And it certainly delivers as characters are stalked, chased, battle and slash one another, but with so much pursuit and so much blood, you can’t help but forget what this was all about in the first place. The plot is so overblown and complicated that it’s lost the original genre simplicity that was the first two films’ biggest success.

To further complicate things, the performers of Parts One and Two are multiroling here, which feels like we’re watching multiple seasons of American Horror Story at once. So when the narrative strands start to come together, questions of “Are they descendants? Is this just a coincidence? A directorial choice?” are unhelpful against a backdrop of straightforward slice and dice and bleed and stab. So while the first two instalments were clear homage to genre movies, this final film is just a big old mess with far too much happening and far too little thought behind the cohesion of the project’s larger whole.

Fear Street is a film series that had real aspirations of living up to its epic scale, but overwhelmed itself on the way. This probably would have worked better as a series, but the Netflix generation who want more than just a one-off two hour movie will be lapping this up, despite its shortcomings.

UK Release: Out now to watch on Netflix


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