The Fear Street trilogy is a gateway to horror films for many, but also a welcome return home to a genre one writer had left behind.
As a youngster, I was the sleepover kid. I was always going to them or having them. Looking back, I realise it was a really cost effective way for my parents to have birthday parties and fun days for me. Sure, it cost them a night’s sleep as 10-year old girls nattering until 3am is now my adult nightmare. But a few cheap pizzas from Asda and a VHS rental (or in many cases, picking up a second hand film at a car boot sale) came at minimal cost and huge reward.
As I got older and my love of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Charmed and Darren Shan novels took hold, my dad became delighted. An avid vampire and horror fan, he was able to invite me in to a world of cinema my mum hated and my brothers had never been interested in. He recommended films like Carrie, Fright Night, The Lost Boys and The Exorcist.
The best part of these recommendations though, was the freedom he gave me. He’d tell me about them all, explain why I might like them, then leave a need stack of VHS tapes next to the TV, ready for the next sleepover for me to discover them on my own terms with my friends. Nothing delighted me more than suggesting a midnight horror movie to my terrified friends, relishing in the community of shared fear and discovery.
This love or horror films – particularly the slasher genre – developed as I got more into modern cinema and followed 2000s teen flicks like Jeepers Creepers and Wrong Turn. But as the genre developed, as it cycles around every few years, I grew older and more aware of the world and the real threat of violence to young women. Soon, films like Saw and Hostel that portray people being abducted or tricked didn’t feel fun, they felt like potential truths. By the time I turned 18 and moved out of home, horror wasn’t my friend but my nightmare fuel.
In the last 12 years, there have been many new sub-genres within horror, some I have been brave enough to watch (always with another person, preferably in the cinema). And whilst I have loved many – such as Hereditary and Happy Death Day – I have never quite recaptured that spark of watching I Know What You Did Last Summer for the first time, or finally finding a copy of Halloween in a 50p bin to watch with my cousin.
That is, until Fear Street.
The Fear Street Trilogy is a three film saga that debuted on Netflix over the last three weeks, each film released separately with the last dropping over the weekend. An experiment in the difference between films vs television in this new age of streaming, a clever and open acknowledgement that almost no film, especially those based on properties like the R.L. Stine novels, goes without sequels. Netflix (which took the project over) and Leigh Janniak – who co-wrote and directed all three films – decided to film and release all three in close succession. And did that experiment work.
One of the best and worst things about horror franchises new and old are sequels. When I discovered that 50p Halloween VHS, it was a two film box that contained the sequel, Halloween II. You’re damn right that after the first film finished, I immediately shoved that second cassette in to see what happened to Michael and Laurie next. I maintain it’s still a brilliant sequel as it picks up in the immediate aftermath, prolonging the story.
The Scream films, show the negative sides of sequels. Whilst Scream 3 has its merits, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t stands out as different to the two previous films, in tone and style. Likewise, Scream 4 which I maintain is the best of the sequels still poses issues as it all but cancels the ending of Scream 3 – a common occurrence in the sequel landscape.
But what is it about the Fear Street trilogy that had me feeling like an excited 14 year old kid again?
Firstly, the homages and references to horror films of the past. Fear Street 1994 had the 90s kid in me screaming with joy. Fear Street 1978 had me remembering the joy and fear of watching Friday The 13th for the first time. Fear Street 1666 made me angry I no longer own my annotated copy of The Crucible.
Janiak has been asked in interviews how she feels about these films being found by younger audiences who perhaps aren’t in the appropriate age bracket. She was delighted. One of the joys of being a horror fan as a kid was the hunt for a new film: testing whether or not you were ready for an 18 certificate, sneaking that recorded VHS that you were told you were too young for off the shelf, or staying up late and catching something late at night that perhaps you were a little too young to see. In the age of streaming, horror films have never been more accessible to younger audiences, but Fear Street unlocks a history of horror (more specifically slasher films) that perhaps they wouldn’t know until watching.
I’m not one of those young kids. But what Fear Street did for me as an adult was remind me how much I loved finding those films, how much I loved living in a franchise and the never ending revolving door of sequels all gorier than the next. It was also a delight to collect the references, to remember films I had long forgotten and think about which franchises I never finished.
What it also did was turn the idea of sequels and trilogies on their head, proving to be sequels within sequels, linking multi-arc stories and showing the power of having fully thought out endings. All allowing for a circular trilogy that felt immensely satisfying in its final showdown and closing minutes. Here, Netflix and Janiak has reminded me how much I love horror franchises, but also shown us a way to harness their power.
The Fear Street trilogy as three individual films I thought were great. As a trilogy, they are remarkable for their ingenuity. They’ve reignited a spark in this forgotten horror fan, who can’t wait to scour the halls of CEX for every Halloween sequel ever made…
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