From the Vault: Netflix’s ‘Fear Street’ Trilogy Is the Perfect Love Letter to Slashers

Even with how many unique TV series and movies Netflix is releasing exclusively to their platform, Fear Street is a very one-of-a-kind type of movie. Composed of three separate movies taken from RL Stine’s YA book series, each released a week apart from each other in the summer of 2021, Fear Street feels like a cross between Goosebumps, The Blair Witch Project, and dozens of slashers that serve as a clear inspiration for each one of the trilogy’s entries. The result is a wonderful, entertaining Netflix project that fans and critics all loved, an original film series filled with frights but that you also have an immense amount of fun watching.

Fear Street Part One: 1994 follows a group of high school students living in the town of Shadyside — a small suburban community known as the “murder capital of the US,” owing to the high number of massacres and serial killers active since the town’s settlement in the mid-1600s’. The local residents of Shadyside attribute its high mortality rates to a curse placed upon them by a witch (Sarah Fier) before her execution in 1666.

At the center of this friend, the group is Deena Johnson (Kiana Madeira), a teenager and Shadyside resident who is left angry and bitter when her girlfriend, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), breaks up with her after moving to Sunnyvale (Shadyside’s neighboring town, populated by rich, upper-class citizenry).

After a Shadyside prank against a group of Sunnyvale students goes wrong, Deena tries to rescue Sam after she interacts with the spirit of Sarah Fier, triggering the witch’s curse and causing the spirits of Shadyside’s worst serial killers to come after her.

In Fear Street Part Two: 1978, Deena’s remaining group of friends (those who survived the events of Part One) try to find out a way to reverse the curse that seems to have been placed on Sam, contacting a survivor of a previous Shadyside massacre (Gillian Jacobs), who tells the story of the horror she witnessed at a local summer camp in 1978.

And in the finale, Fear Street Part Three: 1666, Deena explores the true story behind Sarah Fier’s execution and witnesses the first of Shadyside’s many murders, uncovering the secret horrors behind the town’s curse, all the while trying to break the curse before it kills Sam in the present (1994).

If Stranger Things captured the heart, spirit, and general tone of 1980s sci-fi and horror, Fear Street does the same for the ‘90s, ‘70s, and technically even the 1660s’, capturing the feel of the slasher subgenre — a perfectly molded, carefully created trilogy that not only measures up to the most popular slashers out there, but actually surpasses many of them. The decision to split the film into three stories that all intertwine with each other helps create a mystery that you become invested in, wondering (along with the teenage cast) what the hell is going on in Shadyside, and getting a full history of the town’s dark past along the way.

It’s one of the few slashers that feels in-depth, fully explored, and legitimately scary, in lieu of the usual cheesiness, cheap scares, and surface-level presentation of the genre. There’s no mindless, sex-crazed teens wandering around spooky forests in their underwear, no gratuitous sex or over-reliance on nudity, nor is there any clever postmodern exploration of the slasher as in Scream, The Cabin in the Woods, or Ti West’s brilliant new movie, X.

Instead, the filmmakers (Leigh Janiak and her writing team) launch into their own version of the slasher subgenre, adding plenty of nods to everything from classic horror franchises like Scream to Friday the 13th. What we’re left with is essentially an R-rated version of Scooby-Doo set within the context of a supernatural slasher film, a mystery where the main teen cast try to figure out the truth about an ancient curse supposedly plaguing Shadyside.

It’s hard to judge each movie based on their individual merits — even though the series is a trilogy, it feels more like a miniseries than it does three movies, and should almost be judged as a whole rather than individually (because of this, I highly recommend watching them back to back as soon as possible rather than separately). However, when looking at the quality of each film by itself, each Fear Street entry is still a remarkable movie, each of them managing to possess a palpable sense of eeriness and dread that lasts throughout their entire runtime.

Part One does a fantastic job introducing us to the world of Shadyside and Sunnyvale, helping us learn the local history, who the central characters are, and the ancient curse of Sarah Fier that hangs over the entire community. It introduces the central storyline we’re meant to follow, and provides a diving off point for the series to take in its later two entries, both of which help expand the story, continue to build up the mystery of the witch’s curse, and (in the case of Part Three) solving that mystery with a more than satisfactory explanation.

When considered alone, Part Two is perhaps the best of the three. Its retro 1978 summer camp settings allow for obvious tie-ins and allusions to classic slasher movies (Sleepaway Camp, The Burning, and of course Friday the 13th), but what’s more, it isn’t just a second part to an overall story — if the producers had decided to release 1978 on its own without 1994 or 1666 bookending it, it would still make for a great, self-contained film.

Though obviously influenced by a lot of the summer camp slashers of the ‘70s and ‘80s, 1978 might surpass the quality of its influences (it’s definitely better than any Friday the 13th movie, anyway), coming across as genuinely scary, and also avoiding genre cliches those earlier golden age slashers are rife with (or subverting them, in the case of certain characters like the rebellious stoner Alice [Ryan Simpkins], who is among the most fleshed-out stock characters in any horror movie I personally know of).

Compared to the earlier two Fear Street films, 1666 might technically be the weakest of the three, not having the genre conventions to fall back on as 1994 or 1978 had done previously (1994 specifically channeling Scream and 1978 a whole bunch of summer camp slashers). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad film by any stretch of the word, drawing the main storyline of the three films to a close and explaining the mystery behind Sarah Fier’s curse in a clever, wholly unexpected manner. Its historical settings also allow the filmmakers and main cast for an original take on the witchcraft craze of the late 1600s, while also jumping ahead in time to its main 1994 settings to show the final battle between Deena’s friends and the ghosts of Shadyside’s serial killers.

Taken as a whole, Fear Street is the perfect movie for a wide range of viewers — if you love Stranger Things, vintage slashers, supernatural occult movies or films about witches, or even Goosebumps, you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy these movies. A rare kind of horror trilogy where every entry is entertaining in their own right — avoiding genre stereotypes, but also paying numerous homages to the movies it’s been influenced by — it’s a fresh, smart, original series of horror movies, and one that I commend Netflix for releasing (the weekly release was a wonderful added touch, and an approach Netflix hopefully takes with future releases or potential multi-part film series).

Though the films failed to attain the theatrical releases they had originally been intended for (thanks to the pandemic), the three Fear Street movies were a major critical success, each earning incredibly high ratings on IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic. Based on its enthusiastic reviews, Janiak and her crew have also discussed the possibility of returning to the series again — perhaps focusing on one of Shadyside’s past serial killers like the 1950s’ “Milk Man” character — a project that would be very interesting to see her undertake.

Even if Janiak never returns to the series, though, the three films that make up Fear Street will almost certainly remain a highlight among Netflix’s massive catalog of TV shows and movies, existing as perhaps the most underrated trilogy of films you’ll find on any streaming platform right now — the perfect viewing option for a late-night movie on a summer weekend or closer to Halloween.

All three Fear Street films are currently streaming on Netflix

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Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).