Fear Street 🔪
Like many millennials who grew up in the U.S., I read and watched Goosebumps in elementary school but never transitioned to R. L. Stine's more grown-up Fear Street series. This is okay because now there's a film series adaptation ready to watch on Netflix. And I saw it. Based on some limited wiki reading, I see that Leigh Janiak's Fear Street Trilogy (2021) isn't meant as a direct translation. She adapts the original's setting and themes to craft a tribute to horror in three parts. The first two, 1994 and 1978, pay homage to the slasher flicks of their respective era. The final part connects the pieces to a witch hunt in 1666. It sure does pull its narrative thread through with success, though it wanders about on its way there, leaving me with mixed feelings at the finale.
*** spoilers ahead ***
Part One is its best act, as it seems Janiak has the most fun playing within the Scream template. It feels like she's actually having a cinematic conversation with Wes Craven. The opening is a clear tribute to that film's opening down to the slow-mo stabbing, but Janiak decides to prolong the death scene with a dramatic score and more slow-motion. It's as if she's affirming the idea that horror has gone full glamour with its kills. 1994 also casts a more diverse and nuanced group of teens, indicating an evolution of the genre. Forget the shy final girl archetype. Kiana Madeira plays the lead, Deena, a band geek who has a complicated lesbian romance with the closeted Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who moved to the rich town. The cheerleader Kate (Julia Rehwald) is also a pill pusher. Deena's brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) is a computer nerd, who happens to be black. And the reckless kid, Simon (Fred Hechinger), seems to challenge gender norms. He's the witch mascot at the football game and hangs out with Kate in the girl's restroom likes it's no big deal. Ok perhaps that's more to do with his rebellious nature than queerness, but there's enough there to make it work in my head canon.
The football game sets the stage perfectly for the core tension of this trilogy: bewteen the have and have-nots. It's Sunnyvale vs Shadyside. The rich vs. poor. Future successes vs. doomed failures. Janiak needn't even show the game on screen, because the quick back and forth between the two teams brawling and Deena and Sam arguing says more than enough. It's this type of dynamic pacing and tuat action that keeps Part One tense all the way through. At times its deft script and dialog feel like a mix of Freaks and Geeks and Buffy, but 1994 doesn't skimp on the consequences. Kate's death via meat slicer, in particular, was the hardest to watch. Too bad, the trilogy only sometimes pays off its table setting. The films, at times, feel color-blind, too focused on white women's oppression over more insight on its few characters of color.
The 1978 portion felt too much like a side-story with a cast that couldn't quite live up to Part One. It felt like Janiak wasn't having as much fun with this one. 1978 was a decent-enough Friday the 13th rip-off that didn't add much. Compared to Part One, the stakes felt significantly lower. The town rivalry was reduced to a summer-camp game. It's central conflict never won me over. The opposing sisters that came together in the climax played it too melodramatic for my taste (the slow-mo was too much this time). Also, the needle-drops got too frequent and obnoxious at this point. We get it; you want a cool soundtrack to sell.
1666 improves things, partly because the cast from Part One returns as new (older) characters. It's all shown through a vision Deena has. She embodies the "witch" Sarah Fier and envisions her friends as the townspeople. Maybe, it's was too much to expect Part Three to change its tone and cinematography to resemble more grounded period pieces or even the moodiness of contemporary horror films like The Witch. It stays pretty consistent with the rest of the parts. Again, I wish Janiak had been as adventurous with the filmmaking as she was in the beginning. That said, she does make a point to challenge the evil witch cliche.
Part Three brings Deena and Sam's romance full circle as it's revealed that Sarah Fier was hung for loving the preacher's daughter (played by Olivia Scott Welch). Though I'm personally getting tired of the forbidden gay love story. But it all make sense here, building upon the drama set up in Part One and corrects the all too common (and sexist) false narrative of the evil witch. Sheriff Nick Goode (Ashley Zukerman) and his family tree were the evildoers summoning killers all along. The seeds of this twist were there in the beginning. The teens were rightly skeptical of authority even though Sheriff Goode tried to convince Deena that he was on her side. The moment the Sheriff jailed the black janitor was probably the films most blunt commentary on race. It was nice to see him get out and enact revenge in the end. Generally, it was satisfying to see a franchise like this one characterize the police as the bad guys and redirect the heat from a wronged woman to a family lead by white men who gain their wealth and status by sacrificing the innocent.
Alas, it all goes on too long when the story flashes forward to 1994 for the conclusion. The climax at the mall turned into an action film full of too many reviving killers. It all comes to a happy ending, though, with Goode dead and outed as the bad guy. His Mayor brother denies involvement and gets off scot-free, which is realistic. The best part: Deena and Sam get their happy gay ending, complete with a kiss and not one but two Pixies songs played back-to-back (that makes three Pixies songs on the soundtrack). Look, I'm a huge Pixies fan from way back, too. But at this rate they're not going to be cool anymore.
This has been day 30 of 31 days of horror.