Let’s rewind to the summer of 2021, when Netflix graced us with Fear Street, a three-part film series for horror fanatics and childhood R.L. Stine enthusiasts alike.
The trilogy itself (directed by Leigh Janiak) is a lively and surprisingly gory homage to horror films, particularly slashers, of the past. Think Scream for Part One, Friday the 13th for Part Two, and The Witch for Part Three. Admittedly, Fear Street is incredibly eclectic—for better or for worse. Yet there’s purpose beneath its bloodshed. Accompanied by standout performances and unprecedented queer representation, Fear Street is sure to upgrade any horror fan’s watchlist.
Part One: 1994
The trilogy kicks off with promise. Stranger Things alumna Maya Hawke is thrust into the role of scream queen Heather (a true Drew Barrymore type). She’s essentially there to be slaughtered for shock value, which although tropey, is surprisingly effective. We’re then introduced to our protagonists. Deena (Kiana Madeira) is the trilogy’s lead. While thrown into the spotlight, I can’t help but have mixed feelings about Madeira’s performance, perhaps due to some wildly odd character interactions. She’s accompanied by Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), her complicated ex-girlfriend. Sam’s alright. Her character has shining characteristics—sheer willpower to survive, for example. Unfortunately, she’s overshadowed by a star-studded ensemble though.
Regardless of the sub-par lead characters, I absolutely love that we get a sapphic relationship in horror media that feels central to the story, rather than played for a joke. Despite my difficulties with the couple as a whole, I consider these films a step in the right direction towards diversifying horror, as it’s always been a genre that calls for subversion.
The film (and in fact, all three films) excels at excitement, equipped with a brisk pace that celebrates its slasher mojo. It’s essentially one long sequence of cat and mouse elevated by engaging side characters and some gruesome practical effects (for instance, the infamous bread slicer). Accompanied by a whip-smart soundtrack, great visuals, and an intriguing witchcraft mystery, Part One keeps you on your toes.
Part Two: 1978
This one is my absolute favorite of the three. It plays out like a traditional summer camp slasher with its cheesy Sleepaway Camp-esque antics. Sadie Sink assumes the role of Ziggy, giving the strongest performance and subsequently becoming my favorite character in the trilogy. Her sister Cindy is played by Emily Rudd and who provides us with a solid performance as well. I bought into the pair’s sibling dynamic, making Part Two the storyline I found myself most engaged in.
The setting of Camp Nightwing radiates with nostalgia. Stereotypical teen characters don colorful 70s summer attire, while counselors and pre-teens alike gear up for the most over-important game of color war I’ve ever seen. This marks a peak in the sweltering rivalry between Sunnyvale and Shadyside, two towns adjacent to each other, but divided in economic and social status. Introduced and developed in Part One, Part Two advances Fear Street’s take on class imbalances and systemic discrimination. I find this to be an interesting topic of exploration that surprised me while watching the series. The rivalry between Shadyside and Sunnyvale is constant throughout all the films, and the entire curse upon Shadyside that causes innocent individuals to turn bloodthirsty is brought upon by extreme oppression passed down through multiple generations. This theme is covered more throughout Part Three in time for the big twist, but Part Two is successful at evolving it.
Part Two also works hard to further explain the deal with Sarah Fier and her accusations of witchcraft. She serves as the main overarching antagonist of the series, or at least the first two films. While a bit heavy-handed, this film spells out a lot without exposition-dumping as Part One had a tendency to do. Instead, it adopts that quick pace from the first film and ups the ante. My final takeaway after watching this though: they certainly killed a lot of kids.
Part Three: 1666
In an interesting shift in tone, Part Three takes us all the way back to 1666 to watch the events of Sarah Fier’s demise unfold. Now—is this historically accurate in any way? Most definitely not! Nonetheless, Part Three presents a nice change of pace. I especially enjoyed seeing all my favorite actors from the other two parts return in different roles, however brief their arguable “cameos” may have been. This storyline actually parallels much of the past ones and specifically Sam and Deena’s relationship in Part One. It’s revealed that Sarah Fier was in a forbidden romance with her close friend, Hannah Miller. The actresses portraying Sarah and Hannah are the same ones who played Sam and Deena, which I really enjoyed.
The energy of this film is slower and genuinely creepier than the others. It gets especially more brutal near the end of the 1666 segment. Speaking of, this film is partly a sequel to Part One, continuing its 1994 storyline, and cementing closure for the Sam and Deena saga. That does make it slightly disjointed, but since the trilogy already jumps through time frequently, I didn’t feel this time skip to be distractingly jarring. We get to watch Sam, Deena, Josh (Deena’s younger brother played by Benjamin Flores Jr.) and an older Ziggy end the curse and reveal its true origins. This is where we learn that Nick Goode, the sheriff of Sunnydale and brief love interest of Ziggy back in Part Two, is behind the whole curse. Turns out through some casual deal-making with the devil, the Goode family was binded into providing human sacrifices gathered by Shadysiders in exchange for wealth and prosperity. Without going into a full recap, my reaction to this twist was not profound. In fact, I am slightly impartial to it. I feel the film could have done without it while still making Sarah Fier a sympathetic character. Still, I understand its place in the trilogy’s entire commentary, as Goode is indicative of those with privilege abusing their power to ultimately harm the less privileged and prosper from their misfortune.
Part Three was a strong, but less rewatchable conclusion to an amusingly flawed collection of films. My pick is 100% Part Two for an experience that will transport you to the sleazy, campy, grizzly world of amazing late-70s slashers. Regardless, you should make sure to watch all three consecutively to get the entire story. Fear Street, in my eyes, shows signs of an already blossoming slasher resurgence. The trilogy proves that slashers aren’t just mindless vehicles for violence, but instead, sometimes meaningful works of social commentary and representation. I’ll likely continue to rewatch the Fear Street films over time, and I certainly welcome any continuation… a possible Part Four, perhaps?