By Erica Quinones
Netflix’s “Fear Street” trilogy resurrected more than just zombie killers, reviving classic horror tropes in a modern tale of love and death.
“Fear Street,” directed and co-written by Leigh Janiak, is based on R.L. Stein’s teen horror series of the same name. The films were released weekly on Netflix from July 2 to July 16.
The films follow the story of Shadyside, an allegedly cursed town doomed to experience mass violence by Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel), who was hanged for witchcraft in 1666 after the first of many mass murders.
While the desolation of Shadyside has caused many residents to fall into despair, the films’ teenage protagonists pursue an end to their bloody curse in three eras: 1994, 1978, and 1666.
Their attempts take them through shopping malls, summer camps, and colonial towns, each film revealing more of the mystery until the gory finale.
There, the protagonist, Deena Johnson (Kiana Madeira), is possessed by Sarah and shown her story, which is reenacted by the previous films’ casts. Thus, it is revealed that Sarah’s only crime was being a lesbian, and the real witch was Solomon Goode, who passed his craft down to Sheriff Nick Goode in 1994 (both played by Ashley Zuckerman).
As far as killers go, the trilogy’s stalkers fall closer to Michael Myers than Freddy Krueger, being humorless and toeing the paranormal line even before zombification.
While each killer is aesthetically distinct, their personalities as slashers are overshadowed by homage.
As Alison Willmore said in The Vulture, Part One’s Skull-Face killer is clearly reminiscent of “Scream,” Part Two evokes Jason Vorhees in both setting and axe, and Part Three’s setting is reminiscent of “The Witch.”
However, while the slashers are overshadowed by their inspirations, one aspect that distinguishes “Fear Street” from other slashers is how fun it can be.
Whenever the films return to 1994, they bring grungy, neon aesthetics and invigorating ’90s music. The kills oscillate from campy to artistic, adding what Willmore called “a little lyricism” to the deaths and an emotional strength in the second film’s climax.
As Natalie Winkelman wrote for New York Times, “the trilogy eschews the doom-and-gloom sobriety of recent horror successes like ‘Bird Box’ and ‘A Quiet Place,’ or the nihilism of ‘The Purge’ franchise.”
Especially in the first film, between its energy, aesthetic, and quick-witted protagonists, viewers can almost forget it is a horror film. That is, until the slasher part of this flick literally shreds their victory.
But the protagonists never stop fighting. Deena and her brother, Josh (Benjamin Flores, Jr.), make plan after plan to save Deena’s girlfriend, Sam Fraser (Olivia Scott Welch), from the bloody influence of Goode.
The second film watches as Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd) fights off and decapitates her ex-boyfriend and eventual murderer, Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye), to save her sister Ziggy (Gillian Jacobs).
“Fear Street” is about fighting to make a difference, especially when those who are meant to protect you are the ones who threaten your existence. And that theme resonates with the trilogy’s heart: Deena and Sam’s love story.
The films are slasher flicks by blood, but what drives the plot and emotional through-lines is Deena’s struggle to first protect Sam from an untimely demise and then from herself when she is possessed.
In an interview with SYFY WIRE, Janiak said that her co-writer, Phil Graziadei, who is a gay man, reminded the writers that “the love [Sam and Deena] are sharing is universal…but also it’s a queer love story…They’re dealing with things that are specific to feeling like their love is other or maybe not good enough, and so that was really important to preserve.”
And that queerness is preserved. Sam and Deena may exist in a more progressive society than Sarah — only Sam’s mother is openly homophobic — but they are still cognizant of the hate that could end their lives like it did Sarah’s.
Sarah is hanged because she rejects men’s advances. She and her lover, Hannah Miller (also played by Welch), are accused of witchcraft by a man whom Hannah spurns. Sarah is captured and framed by Solomon after rejecting his marriage proposal. They are not only persecuted because of their same-sex attraction, but because they refuse to comply with compulsory heterosexuality.
As Victoria Rose Caister wrote from GameRant, it is a horror story with which Sam and Deena relate, which resonates with many LGBTQIA+ people.
That queer generational trauma is central to the trilogy’s conclusion. Sarah possessing Deena and the decision for Madeira to play both heroines in Part Three shows that Sarah reaches out to people who understand her story, as Welch and Madeira said in SYFY WIRE. Sarah reveals to Deena that despite the horror and violence the queer community has faced, today’s queer kids are not alone in their fight.
But where so many of these horrific love stories end in tragedy or nihilism, the optimism of “Fear Street” gives an already underrepresented love story a uniquely optimistic ending.
Sarah possesses Deena once more to kill Goode, and Deena and Sam meet at her grave to pay their respects and share a final kiss.
As Deena stands over Sarah’s grave, musing that, “We’re still here because of her,” the film concludes on the idea that bigotry may be generational, but it is not unstoppable. Love wins in the most literal and brutal sense.
Photo courtesy of Flickr