Fear Street: Diverging from Traditional Horror Movie Stereotypes
What better way to celebrate the spooky season than with a movie that raises the hairs on the back of your neck and makes you check those locks on your door an extra time? Scary movies are an easy way to get yourself in the mood for the chillier weather and darker nights. While we all have our favorites that we revisit time and time again, consider diverging from the familiar and streaming the Fear Street trilogy for your next watch. The trilogy encompasses the elements of classic horror/slasher films while flipping popular horror stereotypes on their heads, breathing life into a genre that overwhelmingly lacks diverse representation.
Based on the horror young adult novels written by R.L Stine, author of the popular children’s series Goosebumps, the Fear Street trilogy was rolled out on Netflix one at a time within a span of three weeks, with each movie being a standalone film while continuing the story as a whole. The plot stretches throughout the features, giving the storyline room to breathe while compelling audiences to press play on the next part in the series immediately after the credits roll.
Through its three parts, Fear Street: 1994, Fear Street: 1978 and Fear Street: 1666, takes us to the town of Shadyside, a city plagued by tragedy and grotesque crime. Mass murders committed at the hands of seemingly normal Shadyside citizens throughout the decades gave birth to the idea that the town is cursed. The origin of the curse stems from Sarah Fier, an accused witch who was hanged in the settlement centuries ago. While Shadyside’s name is constantly plastered across news outlets, dubbed “Killer Capital USA”, the city of Sunnyvale sits mere miles away. Contrary to the dismal happenings and racial and ethnic diversity of their neighbor, Sunnyvale is extraordinarily prosperous, affluent and riddled with white people who are constantly awarded opportunities and good fortune.
It’s in this setting that we meet Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), ex-girlfriends recently torn apart by Sam’s move from Shadyside to Sunnyvale. At Deena’s side are Shadyside’s biggest misfits, including her younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and her best friends Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald). Deena and Sam’s relationship drama hardly remains the main conflict after Sam unknowingly connects with Sarah Fier from beyond the grave, releasing the spirits of past evil killers created by the witch. Why exactly does Sarah Fier have it out for Shadyside citizens? This is the central question that propels the story forward.
Fear Street: 1994 follows our main characters as they battle against the malicious forces out for blood. Near the end of Part One, Deena and Josh discover the existence of C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the sole survivor of an infamous massacre said to have been prompted by the witch’s curse. It’s at this point we transition into Fear Street: 1978, as C.Berman recounts the horrific events that took place at Camp Nightwing. Built at the site of Sarah Fier’s hanging back in 1666, the camp is a summer destination spot attended by both Shadyside and Sunnyvale kids. Even though the rivalry between the two dueling cities burns strong, the campers and counselors are faced with a bigger problem than who will win capture the flag when a possessed counselor embarks on a murder spree. The culmination of the two parts leads to the final film in the series, Fear Street: 1666. Set in the settlement of Union, a Puritan community composed of devout religious believers, we finally get to meet the supposed witch, Sarah Fier, and various other integral characters (all played by the same actors and actresses from the first two movies). When the colony begins to experience disturbing and life-threatening events, such as a poisoned water and food supply, many of the townspeople start to suspect the work of a witch to be the cause of misfortune. There are a lot of revelations that come in the first hour of Part Three that smartly and neatly tie together all three films, crafting one brilliant trilogy.
Even though the Fear Street universe spans 350 years and webs itself through three vastly different time periods, the queer relationship between Deena and Sam remains at the heart of the story. Their relationship survives the duration of the three films and paths the way for future queer narratives to be incorporated into horror films. The trilogy breathes life into a genre that traditionally lacks and, even at times, disrespects the demographics hardly represented in the horror category. Typically, marginalized characters, both in race and sexuality, are the first ones to die in horror flicks. It defies the “final white girl” trope, and, when the true villain is finally revealed, separates itself even further from standard horror archetypes. Not only does Fear Street center a queer love story, but it also features characters of color at the base, even homing in on topics of racial inequality and prejudice. Through the visualization of the stark contrasts present in Shadyside and Sunnyvale, it highlights the predatory nature of the rich taking advantage of a society’s underclass.
For filmmaker Leigh Janiak, this was her central mission, saying she wanted “to tell stories about people that normally would not have been highlighted, even though, obviously, they existed. There were queer people in the ’90s and ’80s and ’70s. There were Black people. There was a whole swath of people that are underrepresented in horror movies or die very quickly.”
Fear Street also proves successful when it comes to cashing in on nostalgia from classic horror movies such as Scream, Friday the 13th and Halloween. The trilogy pays homage to the films that built and refined a genre while setting itself apart from typical conventions to invent something wildly fresh.
Important societal messages also revolve throughout the three installments. Take Fear Street: 1666 for example. By transporting us back to colonial times in the age of heated misogyny, the audience sees how women who threatened the power of men were treated, some even being accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death. These women colored outside the tight lines painted for them and were cast out for not fitting into the standards of tradition.
After finishing the trilogy, it’s natural to wonder if the story would have worked better as a limited series instead of a trio of films. Part Two and Part Three, although branded as standalone films, are fragmented and at times perplexing if a viewer watches them out of context. However, if you come in with the mindset that you are watching three parts of a whole, the narrative is well worth your attention.
The existence of the Fear Street trilogy is a huge leap in the right direction. Realistic depiction of queer love in a genre where gay characters are usually invisible and undertones of key societal issues help to make the trilogy have an impact beyond just entertainment. There are plenty of conventional horror elements that make each movie a massively enjoyable watch, but the biggest punch that Fear Street packs is its ability to inspire and challenge the norm, even with tons of carnage present.
Fear Street: 1994, Fear Street: 1978 and Fear Street: 1666 are now streaming on Netflix.