Horror movie fans had some reasons to celebrate this July when Netflix unleashed upon its streaming service an unusual teenage horror trilogy – Fear Street which is based on a series of successful books written by American author R. L. Stine. The stories take place in a fictional town in America called Shadyside which seem to be cursed with a long history of mass killings. The stories are linked to a curse that was supposedly set upon the people of Shady side by a witch who was hanged in 1666.
The trilogy takes the opportunity to split the tale of Shadyside into three different periods in order to bring the story to a complete circle that includes the origins of the witch as well as what happens in the present day setting (which is in 1994). The first in the series focus on what happened in 1994 to a bunch of teenagers and how they fight to survive when the curse of the witch is summoned and they get chased around by a bunch of serial killers who are somehow brought back alive. This first film felt generic to me and was just average. The story wasn’t really anything very original, and the teenagers did all the standard stuff like screaming and running about, making silly mistakes, and getting killed horribly one by one. It also failed to invoke the 1990’s nostalgia as it felt self conscious with the injection of songs from the era, without taking care of anything else into consideration.
The bloody and gruesome ending led to the cliffhanger link to Part Two 1978. As the title suggests, this takes place during the 1974 killing spree that happened in Shadyside’s summer camp. This time, the pacing was better, the plot more coherent as the focus was kept on what happened in the camp, and succeeded in having a more nostalgic feel to it thanks to better song choices. It reminded me bit of the excellent Season 9 of American Horror Story which had a similar theme and even a similarly styled title “1984”. While Fear Street is clearly inferior to AHS, this Part Two at least delivered in terms of the violence and horror. The characters were more interesting and the situations they got themselves into more tense and entertaining.
I felt that the series peaked with Part Two, as the following Part Three 1666 proved to be a downer. Part Three took us back to the origins of the witch and the background story of how she was cursed as one and how the legacy was born. Central to this plot is a lesbian relationship between the two main characters, something that is mirrored in the present day 1994 story. This was taboo in 1666 and hence linked to the condemnation of one of the girls as a witch and bearer of ill fate to the village they were in. While a background story is normally interesting and used to provide all the answers to tie up the loose ends in the earlier movies, 1666 simply failed to evoke much empathy to the victims. The surprise revelation at the final act was conveniently dealt with as the story took us back to the present day 1994.
The problem with Fear Street is that it does not provide us with anything new and that we have seen much better versions of this sort of stories before. To present it as a trilogy one would expect the story to be exceptional and compelling enough to make you want to catch the next chapter one after the other. Only Part Two manages to feel a bit livelier with its more energised cast and tenser moments, creating a bit more motivation for us to stay around to watch Part Three. The differing style and results of these three parts is a bit surprising given that all three movies were directed by the same person Leigh Janiak. Hopefully there will be no plans to follow-up with any more Fear Street movies as there are plenty more of these Fear Street books around.