Taking A Nostalgic Stroll Down Fear Street

SPOILER WARNING – This blog post contains massive spoilers for Netflix’s Fear Street Trilogy (1994, 1978, 1666)

I was fifteen-years-old in 1994, and I loved horror movies. I still do, but back then I was still in the process of discovering the classics and mainstays. I believe I had already seen most of the Friday The 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, and Halloween films. While I was still a year or two away from going back further to things like Universal Horror classics, and Hammer Horror franchises. It was around this time (1996) that the first Scream movie took it upon itself to deconstruct elements from a very specific type of horror movie: The slasher flick.

It was actually Scream that made me go back and find the deeper catalogue of slasher flicks like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Prom Night, The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, Terror Train, The Funhouse, Madman, and the like. Scream then begat a era of similar movies that featured teenagers in some half-winking, slashery situations such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Disturbing Behavior, Urban Legends and, of course, numerous Scream sequels. But it was only a few years after Scream when I lost interest in slasher flicks, and that was due in large part to the fact that I was no longer a teenager myself. As such, I wasn’t really finding the lives (or deaths) of the characters especially relatable. So, I went off and expanded my horror movie palate in different directions.

But Netflix was very clever in their approach to casting out the widest possible net for their Fear Street Trilogy. Yes, the core characters are teenagers in-peril. But they are teenagers in the year 1994, and then in the year 1978, and then way back in 1666. Much like Netflix’s other retro hit Stranger Things before it, Fear Street ropes in viewers from my generation with nostalgia, while also appealing to the current crop of teenage viewers with teenage character who aren’t so very different than they are – even with 20+ years of history between them. However, unlike Stranger Things, Fear Street is very much R-Rated horror. Fortunately, for teenagers of today, no one is carding them on the way into the theater (give or take a Parental Lock Password). Personally, having been a teenager in the 90’s, while also watching slasher films of the 80’s and 70’s, Fear Street managed to double-hook me in.

But here’s where things get more interesting – The first entry, Fear Street: 1994, opens with a famous young actress being murdered in a mall by a masked killer. Which was very Scream of them. But, rather than playing the long game of “who is the killer and when will they strike next” the killer is immediately unmasked and shot by the local sheriff. So, Scream basically plays out in the first ten minutes of the movie.

Through the rest of FS: 1994, more killer are revealed. And these killers are very much supernatural in-nature. This first film lays out some details about a supposed curse over the town of Shadyside placed on it by a witch named Sarah Fier, wherein a person is possessed every decade or so, and goes on a killing spree. We are introduced some previous killers with effectively creepy character designs who were possessed in prior decades, as they rise from their graves. More specifically – they rise from a giant, gooey, black heart that resides in a cave beneath the town to kill anyone who sees a vision of Sarah Fier. In this case, the unfortunate target is Sam, who had the lousy luck to bleed in the wrong place, which triggered a connection to Sarah Fier.

The evil is seemingly defeated by the end of FS: 1994, at the very gory cost of the primary heroines’ friends’ lives. But then there’s a hook at the end: Sam becomes possessed in much the same way as the killer from the beginning of the movie, leaving her girlfriend Deena, and Deena’s brother Henry, to try and save her soul. It’s a cliffhanger much like you’d have seen in almost every Friday The 13th, Nightmare On Elm Street, Halloween, or any other slasher franchise. Happily, I only had to wait for a week – rather than a year or two – to see the next installment.

This was another part of the brilliance of Netflix’s release strategy. The same sort of near-instant gratification they offer by dropping entire seasons of TV shows at one time is emulated, only with movies. The story arc of Deena, the possessed Sam, and Henry actually forms a framing device around the next two movies. Yet another clever trick used by Writer/Director Leigh Janiak, and her creative team, to ensure viewers stay invested through all three movies.

Fear Street: 1978 begins in 1994, with our protagonists tracking down Ziggy, who was the lone survivor of the previous Shadyside massacre at Camp Nightwing back in 1978. This then launches us back to the year 1978, where we see how that all played out. Ziggy, the local “weird girl” formed a very sweet bond on the last day of camp with popular boy (and future sheriff) Nick Goode just before all hell broke loose, ending with Ziggy’s sister (and many other campers and counselors) being slaughtered by another counselor after he is possessed.

FS: 1978 might be my favorite of the three films, since it doesn’t really need to do the heavy expositional lifting of FS: 1994 or handle the job of wrapping everything up like FS: 1666. It’s honestly the most straightforward installment, and it has the emotional advantage of offering a tragic ending of Ziggy watching her sister being murdered, while her sister watches Ziggy being stabbed and believing that she failed to save her. But Ziggy does survive. Well, technically, she’s brought back to life by Nick Goode performing CPR.

But that brings us back to 1994, where Deena and Henry ask a grown-up Ziggy where to find Sarah Fier’s severed hand. They had found Fier’s body back in FS: 1994 but, according to the legend, they needed to bury the hand with the body to end the curse. So, they retrieve the hand, and Deena goes to bury it with the body. But, much like Sam before her, Deena gets a nosebleed from being too close to Fier’s remains. Unlike Sam, Deena’s mind is actually swept all the way back to 1666, when the curse is said to have begun.

Fear Street: 1666 actually only spends about half of its runtime in 1666, where Deena sees the town as it was when it was still just a colonial village. The kicker is that she’s seeing it all through Sarah Fier’s eyes. The time spent is 1666 moves quickly to the point where horrors are unleashed upon the village due to someone’s deal with the devil. The films uses the cast from the previous two installments to fill out the roles of the villagers. In an ironic twist, the actors who play characters that survived the previous films are killed, while the actors who play characters killed in the previous films survive. It caps of with the first possessed killer slaughtering a chapel full of children, and cutting out their eyes (as well as his own) before he is killed by Sheriff Goode’s ancestor Solomon.

This being 1666, a witch hunt is promptly launched. Sarah and her secret beloved Hannah are accused by the town asshole after he was spurned by Hannah. Hannah is captured, but Sarah makes a run for it. She hides out at Solomon Goode’s home, as he’s always been kind to her, only to discover that Solomon is the one who cast a curse on the village in order to attain power. Sarah is recaptured by the lynch mob, and hanged from a tree after she promises Solomon that she will expose his evils one day. That day, as it turns out happens in 1994.

When we get back to 1994, Deena shares her new knowledge with Ziggy and Henry, that the Goode family has continued this deal with the devil for more than 300 years. Every decade or so, the eldest son of the family allows a townsperson to become possessed, and go on a killing spree. This casts every interaction between Ziggy and Nick from FS: 1978 into a very interesting new light. If there’s one complaint that I have about the Fear Street Trilogy, it’s that the emotional payoff between the adult version of Ziggy and Nick is never really explored. At any rate, the key to ending the curse is to kill Sheriff Goode. Now, Nick’s brother is the mayor of neighboring Sunnyvale, so killing Nick doesn’t really end the bloodline. But, considering Nick is the one who cast the curse in both 1978 and 1994, I guess that offers as much explanation as we’re going to get.

In the end, we’re brought back to the mall, where the undead previous killers attack again. But our heroes manage to survive using some interesting tricks they picked up in FS: 1994. Deena chases Sheriff Goode into the tunnels beneath the mall, which are the same tunnels that were formed way back when Solomon first made the deal, and cast the curse. A chase ensues that ends with Deena stabbing Sheriff Good through the eye, thus killing him and ending the curse. The giant, gooey, black heart in the caves shrinks down to nothing. The killers in the mall disintegrate. And Sam is freed from the possession.

If we hadn’t been given a proper conclusion at the end of this trilogy, I’m sure my opinion would have soured on it. Happily, that was not the case. I’ve never read any Fear Street books, or frankly any R.L. Stine at all. By the time those came along, I was already reading the likes of Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and Dean Koontz. I’m sure this means that I missed some Easter Eggs throughout. But it also means that I can recommend the Netflix Fear Street Trilogy to anyone, even if they are also unfamiliar with the source material.

All the installments are highly entertaining, with barely an ounce of fat on them. So check them out now or, perhaps even better, add them to your list for Halloween season viewing. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed a new teen slasher flick, and I’m very happy to have now found three of them. Fifteen-year-old me would absolutely approve.

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