Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Review: Fear Street Trilogy

Joseph William Draisey looks at Netflix's new horror trilogy and how well it balances its vast influences.

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Fear Street: 1994

Squandering the opportunity to call the film Smells Like Scream Spirit, Leigh Janiak’s opening gambit to the Fear Streettrilogy marries grunge and gore for an angsty outing in the world of the macabre. The slashers of yesteryear are reanimated and promptly return to preying on teens, thanks to the curse of a vengeful witch, in a plot fit for Scooby Doo. Naturally, a collection of misfits band together to battle the forces of darkness that threaten their suburban existence.

After witnessing a Drew Barrymore substitute – played by charismatic upcomer Maya Hawke – taunted and torn asunder by a masked assailant during the prologue, I found myself far too often doing my best Marty McFly impression: “Hey, I’ve seen this one, this is a classic!”.

Fear Street: 1994 quickly devolves into a collage of horror set pieces, arranged into a rather perfunctory tribute. A Crimson Ghost lookalike terrorises small-town America, two years prior to Wes Craven’s Ghostface; a siren modelled after Mandy Lane seduces and slices the unsuspecting; and a late entry from a legally-distinct Jason Vorhees (circa Friday the 13th Part 2) completes the trifecta of carbon copies. But, after all, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, as the proverb teaches. Eventually, I learned to park my cynicism and began to discover a genre of joyfulness that has been missing from the slow-burn arthouse chillers of late. Credit to the editorial department for crosscutting the menagerie of subplots, and keeping the film on its feet.

However, 1994 never manages to shake its conflict of interest. By using the intellectual property of the beloved R.L. Stine, Fear Street inherits a child-friendly address – reflected in its exposition and dialogue exchanges – which becomes jarringly incompatible with its appetite for bloodletting and substance abuse, bagging itself an 18 certificate. Consequently, the film falls between two stools: its content being too mature for the young, yet pitched at a level which is too young for the mature.

6/10

Fear Street: 1978

Hearing Alice Cooper growl “school’s out for summer” in perfect harmony with a symphony of screams during the teaser trailer admittedly restored my faith in Fear Street. Unfortunately, faith was sorely misplaced, having endured the final product.

A change of scenery reconvenes the story at Camp Nightwing, a bloodbath in waiting, as revellers shrug off all omens of the witch’s curse.

Once again, we are treated to a Frankenfilm – Carrie, Friday the 13th and Halloween form what should be a horrifying amalgamation, yet remain firmly on the slab, a mound of lifeless flesh and bone.

Each of its influences are sequentially revisited, beginning with Carrie, which is explicitly referenced as almost a defence against artistic plagiarism rather than any form of homage. Seemingly because its evocation contributes nothing to the plot and, if anything, distracts an increasingly frustrating habit of Fear Street. Getting to see the bully drenched in ‘pig’s blood’, a rather unsubtle reversal of Carrie, is nowhere near as delightful as the grand finale of its inspiration.

Likewise, the bootleg Jason Vorhees attempts to surpass his predecessor in infamy, by swinging an indiscriminate axe – taking aim at camp counsellors and the children they supervise alike. Friday the 13th’s later instalments – specifically Part VI: Jason Lives and Part VII: The New Blood – had their wings clipped, courtesy of the MPAA, with imposed cutaways and rewrites. Let loose from the noose, Fear Street allows the Camp Nightwing Killer to indulge in the schlock that Jason was denied in the late ‘80s. Unfortunately, the darkness this instalment teases quickly loses its nerve, due to its pandering towards a younger demographic; the film decides to self-censor and never commits to being the video nasty its inspiration almost was. This is perhaps the most crushing defeat of Fear Street as it began to refuse the rules of its predecessor and start playing by itself.

Being named after its year of release, it is only fitting for John Carpenter’s Halloween to resurface through shot mimicry. In the immortal words of Sheriff Brackett from Carpenter’s classic: “Everyone’s entitled to one good scare”, a key ingredient Fear Street: 1978 lacks, despite being seemingly well-versed in the horror pantheon. Failing a good scare, it has the chance to turn your stomach, but even then its propensity for splatter has been diluted since the full-blooded first instalment; and opting for digital effects whilst emulating the era of practical continues to be a cardinal sin. Though there are glimmers of Halloween preserved, the film manages to replicate the most improbable resuscitation since Michael Myers in 1978, to which I audibly objected.

But it is not all doom and gloom. The portrayal of a younger Nick Goode – the underdeveloped sheriff from 1994 – played by newcomer Ted Sutherland, is undoubtedly the finest performance and an admirable attempt at kickstarting the heart of this would-be monster.

3/10

Fear Street: 1666

Equipped with accents that make Monty Python’s French Taunter seem like Oscar bait, the Fear Street ensemble turn their hand to folk horror – welcome to New England, 1666.

Regardless of whether the story is taking place in 1994, 1978 or 1666, the characters use the vernacular of 2021, which renders the, frankly, volatile accent work a hollow gesture of period-appropriate authenticity. Established characters from previous eras playing their New England counterparts causes further contrivance, it all feels dangerously reminiscent of amateur theatre.

Grumbles aside, 1666, by a country mile, is the leanest instalment - with a knack for closing subplots instead of opening anew. Despite flirting with an array of narrative directions, this chapter commits to the straight and narrow, capturing a Salem-esque hysteria and packaging such things in an intriguing subtext.

Atmospherically, the obvious cinematic reference points are The Blood on Satan’s Claw, The VVitch and Hagazussa, but repeatedly I was reminded of Resident Evil 4, an unexpected but welcome nostalgia kick from my misguided youth. As it dances among tombstones and scampers through the surrounding woodland, the energetic camerawork also boasts an Evil Dead quality – and in keeping with Raimi’s sequels, 1666 indulges in its fair share of B-Movie quips.

By its third outing, Fear Street has married its sprightly cinematography to its dynamic editorial chops, and in doing so manages to justify its reverse chronology storytelling. But just as the film proves its discipline, it remains determined to trip over its own feet before the runtime clocks out, as a clumsy needle drop deems the sultry tones of Liam Gallagher apt for closing curtains.

Almost the number of the beast, 1666 conjures up just enough devilish delight to satisfyingly end the gamble of the Fear Street trilogy, serving as a reminder to keep your horns up, despite the mixed bag that is modern horror.

7.5/10

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