Netflix released Fear Street 1666 last week, marking the end to their big summer Fear Street Trilogy event. The past few weeks have been nothing short of horrific fun while watching all three films. Let's jump in and explore why it's always fun to return... to Fear Street.
I don't know if it was the illustrations or the font that captivated me about Fear Street books. I was in the 5th or 6th grade, thumbing through a Scholastic catalogue in class and there was an image of The Stepsister. Before even reading the description I knew this book was full of suspense and horror, and I wanted to read it ever so badly. I was obsessed with horror movies and books. Combine the two together and I was set for life.
R.L. Stine's long running series seemed like it would indeed be a part of my life for the long haul, each new release continued to draw me in. I was hooked. I loved these characters, felt like they were my friends. I envisioned that my eventual high school experience would follow along the pages of the Fear Street teens. I'd even write my own mini teen horror stories or act out a variety of Fear Street stories with my toys, typically with my She-Ra or Swans Crossing figures. I had a good thing going with that universe, and I just knew it would never end.
Eventually the books stopped being released and I slowly moved on to other works of suspense and horror from the minds of V.C. Andrews, Stephen King and Dean Koontz. (We really need to talk more about how great the stories are by Dean Koontz.) Anyway, Fear Street soon became a loving part of my pre-teen/early teen years. Along with Christopher Pike's works as well, but those stories deserve their own blog post. While my Fear Street books would go and then return to my collection, many years would pass where these books would just be hanging out on my bookshelf, content to be looked at every now and then.
A few years ago R.L. Stine brought Fear Street back, with all new novels and covers that were reminiscent of the originals. I was there, giddy to bring each release home. This time around though, I was much older. As much as I love buying books, the duties of boring adult life prevent me from really reading like I used to. I simply needed another way to experience the thrill of Fear.
Enter Leigh Janiak and Phil Graziadei who co-wrote a screenplay for a Fear Street movie trilogy. Janiak would direct with the trilogy being released on Netflix. What they were able to put together, along with the incredible cast, was nothing short of pure terror and horror. If you have not seen these movies, I would stop reading this blog post, because there's a lot that is going to be spoiled. So, click on something else. Maybe immerse yourself in my toy soap opera All My Toys for the time being? Or any of my other lovely and corny posts.
Are you still here?
If you doin't mind spoilers I am sure it is fine to still be here, but you might want to really go now. Maybe watch the Fear Street trilogy? That sounds like a lovely idea, I would enjoy watching them again, but I am trying to write this all down!
Alright, I think it's safe. I am trying my best to figure out how I want to share my thoughts with these films, starting with 1994, because not only is it a trilogy that contains many things I love about horror, it also resonated on a personal level.
To start with, the main focus of the first movie is about badass band member and big sis Deena (played by Kiana Madeira) essentially trying to save her cheerleader girlfriend Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch) from evil. I might not be a lesbian, but as a trans woman, I am always thrilled to see queer representation in media. I will never be in a place where I am like, "Ya know, there's just too many gay folks in these stories." No. Never. That representation matters to me, because I grew up knowing I was totally different, being treated terribly for that difference, and aside from gross stereotypes, I never saw many positive portrayals of queer people in the kinds of stories that I was obsessed with. I can't think of a horror movie growing up where an important part of the story involved a gay person fighting for their love.
So, at the end of Fear Street 1994, when we realize that Sam is not in a good place and she stabs Deena, my first gut reaction was, "Fuck. Really? This is how this story is going to go?" My stomach turned. Most stories and media that I have watched with gay characters through the years, ya know, the notion of happily ever after is not something that comes to fruition, which is a let down, because being a member of society where larger messages are thrown out into the ether that people like me are sick, or evil, or sub-human, I can't tell you how important it is to see positive outcomes in stories like this. Yes, I know, stories are not real, but there's a lot that can be conveyed in a story. Stories matter.
I ended up with egg on my face though as the stabbing of Deena was not going to be the end of this movie. There was way more. As I would continue to watch, the pieces started to fit a little. "Oh, this is not going to be the end of Deena and Sam, we've got ourselves a fight for their love going on!" I was hooked. Beyond hooked.
Other aspects of FS 1994 that really spoke to me was the diversity in the main cast of friends. It wasn't just a group of white friends, which has tended to be the standard in Fear Street stories and most of the horror movies I have seen. When I looked at Deena, her Shadyside historian brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and close friends with savvy business skills Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) I saw a reflection of the friends I hung out with as a teen. People of various colors, some queer, most far from super rich with just enough dose of '90s alternative cool without being lame. It was much appreciated, and while I can hear the, "Why do shows always need to cram diversity down our throats?" crowd, I don't ever see it as diversity being crammed down our throats. I grew up with diversity in my friend group which informed so much for me, a very basic white dorkette, and as a result I like seeing that diversity reflected back in the media I consume.
The first movie in the trilogy also did a fantastic job of recreating those '90s feels. From the Scream-like opening, to the mall's stores/items, right down to the music, it felt right. Especially that opening. When I first saw Scream in theaters, that entire scene with Drew Barrymore was terrifying. I remember shaking in my seat and feeling so uneasy. This was Drew Barrymore! And something bad was about to happen!
I don't think I was shaking in my seat at the opening to FS 1994, but I was glued to my screen and nervous for B. Dalton employee of the month Heather Watkins, played by Maya Hawke (who is no stranger to fighting for her life in a mall.) It was a nod to slasher openings while also being a little different. That slightly sped up scene before she is stabbed, it seemed scarier to me as opposed to a more traditional slow motion sequence with the killer coming in for a stab.
The copies of old Fear Street books looking fresh and new in the bookstore was also very nice, though they were not called Fear Street. I did like the wink with Robert Lawrence as the author. (That is R.L. Stine's first and middle name, I live for things like that!) Seeing those books had me fondly recalling the excitement of going to the mall bookstore and seeing what twisted terror might be waiting for me. It also had me secretly hoping that there would be some kind of tie-in or merchandising miracle of reprints of Fear Street books with classic covers. A dorkette can dream, right?
Music set the mood with this first entry quite well. From the songs to a thrilling score, everything just sounded good. Sometimes movies set in the distant past might look and sound a little like the past, but they don't always invoke a feeling or memories of the past. Hearing the music really created that bridge for me, and maybe I am a bit biased because I was a teen in 1994, but it all worked. I could see though how it might seem overdone for others.
Fear Street 1994 also did not skimp on the gore. Axes slamming into skulls and a bread slicer becoming an instrument of death showed that this was not a horror movie for the faint of heart. And while I suppose some might be cheering on such gory sights, it became all the more heartbreaking. Towards the end of the movie when Deena and her friends are in the grocery store, I had really begun to care about these characters. I was ready to see them survive this night of madness.
When Kate's head is sliced into mush or the axe is driven right into Simon's head, I gasped and felt my heart sink. Just like when Sarah Michelle Gellar's Helen Shivers was hooked in I Know What You Did Last Summer. I was gutted! I understand that in a horror movie there will be loss, it's a huge part of the genre. I was so upset though and I kept saying, "If they kill Josh, I am going to be so pissed!"
For me, good horror is not about the body count that the killer racks up, but instead, rooting for characters we grow to care about with the hope that they will survive. And Fear Street 1994 delivered that experience. The whole trilogy did, and that is what made it so enjoyable for me. Even classic slasher fare that boasts high body counts like the Halloweens and Friday the 13ths of the world, every now and then there would be some spark in a character that would have me hoping they got to survive the mess they were in. That has always been my hallmark of enjoyable and beloved horror. I would also include A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels too in that regard as well as some others, like Scream, but we are not here for that! I need to focus! My goodness!
It's all about Fear Street! I know I have not touched upon the douche baggery of Sunnyvale and other aspects of FS 1994 that set up the whole trilogy, and I hope to, but this is where I wanted to start, with the pieces that really had me loving this first movie. I am in the process of gathering more thoughts and will write about Fear Street 1978 and 1666 soon, but for now, I think this will do.
Let me know what you thought of Fear Street 1994! Did it scratch that horror itch or were you left feeling empty with your insides on the floor? I hope you are all doing well! And, if you are interested in a horror podcast, might I suggest Midnight Social Distortion by Mark O. Estes? I love following Mark and learning his thoughts on horror in Instagram, and his podcast is new and covers so much. There was even a recent episode memorializing Helen Shivers. It's freakin fantastic. I cried. I laughed. I silently paid my respects to dear Helen. I am behind on his episodes regarding Fear Street, but I will catch up. You can check the podcast by clicking here or the Midnight Social Distortion link above.
So stay tuned! There's always more! I hope you are all doing well. See ya soon!