“I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down”
The first installment in the Fear Street trilogy of Netflix films was a loving, if not sometimes heavy-handed homage to the resurgence of the slasher genre of the mid-’90s when Scream took the world by storm. It had way too many obvious needle drops and it didn’t really kick in to being good until its final act, but when it succeeded, it succeeded valiantly. Its middle chapter, 1978, paying homage to the Friday the 13th-esque slashers of the late-’70s/early-’80s hit a bit of a speed bump though. Perhaps it’s the lack of reverence I hold for this particular era of horror, but there was a business to the film that left it feeling all over the place and unfocused, despite some satisfying kills and some emotional engagement. Interestingly enough, Fear Street’s final chapter, 1666, pays homage to an era of horror that we are still in, that of the bleak indie horror à la The Witch. It’s perhaps the first time I’ve ever seen a film pay tribute to something so recent and ongoing, but it’s a daring choice that in and of itself brought me back onboard with the Fear Street trilogy.
And luckily, after being knocked down, Fear Street finds its footing in Part 3: 1666 to not only redeem itself from its lackluster middle chapter, but also to end on the best installment of the entire trilogy.
After returning the hand of the witch Sarah Fier to the spot of her burial, Deena (Kiana Madeira) relives the vision of Sarah Fier’s last days on Earth in 1666, before the split of Sunnyvale and Shadyside, with the faces of her family and friends populating the modest puritan village. This vision provides Deena with the key to defeating the evil plaguing Shadyside in 1994, discovering the threat was in front of her face the entire time.
It’s very difficult to describe 1666 without spoiling a metric shit ton of information from the first two films, as well as without spoiling some of the legitimately gaggy twists that come down the line in the final connection of the three seemingly separate stories. However, there is something to be said in 1666’s ability to enhance and contextualize many of the plot devices and such that brought down some parts of the previous two chapters. With the story revealed in its entirety, there is a deeper appreciation for the way that director Leigh Janiak weaves the intertwining elements together to make a pretty rock-solid blanket of fear.
But I also need to address the elephant in the room that almost made me lose faith in 1666 before I acclimated to it…the accents. I’m not sure if there wasn’t a dialect coach on board this film or if they just didn’t prioritize it, but as a collection of Irish immigrants played by the North American actors, they are all struggling to say the absolute least. Different dialects float in and out, North American accents bust through, and there’s just a general sloppiness and lack of coherence between any two characters. This hits early on, and while the story picks up to engage you more with the narrative and less with the accents, it doesn’t change the fact that most everyone sounds like they’re doing a drunk impression of Anya Taylor-Joy playing the Lucky Charms guy in some sort of gritty reboot.
Speaking of things involving Anya Taylor-Joy, there is an obvious connection to be made here to Robert Eggers’s 2015 film The Witch as some major inspiration here. While it definitely begins with an almost suspect amount of visual inspiration, I can gladly attest that this begins to deviate heavily from the style of The Witch and more into the realm of the very underrated WGN America (rest in peace) series Salem in that it loses its chill very quickly and becomes a far more heavy metal retelling of the witch panic of the colonies. This has its perks in that a film that seemingly has no boundaries in how far it’s willing to go to effectively create dread in the viewer, but also its cons in just how contemporary the whole thing feels. Sure, this accommodation was made for its obviously younger target audience who probably don’t want to hear people speak old, historically accurate dialects of English, as they probably already get that enough in their English classes, but the point still remains in that the immersion isn’t always there.
What is there, though, is a really substantial amount of dread that is far scarier than anything in the previous two films combined. Focusing less on the slasher element of horror and more on actual horrifying things that can turn a community into a group of ravenous finger-pointers seeking revenge against the violent transgressions committed against their community. Unlike something like The Crucible that illustrated how quickly petty squabbles can turn into violence, this film really gives the villagers eager to blame someone a bit of an incentive given the extreme violence committed against their village. I can understand, even if I find it reprehensible, wanting to blame someone for the loss of life, particularly in the ways shown here. It’s a lot more engaging from a psychological perspective and just puts a pit in your stomach.
And then there’s the finale of the trilogy as a whole. I liked it! That’s all I’ll say because it really is best left unspoiled, but the connections come full circle and make all three films feel like a coherent trilogy that paints a grander picture of things.
I’m not familiar with R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series of books for young adults, but if there was a way to make a trilogy of films like this every summer (or more preferably, Halloween), then I would welcome it with open arms, warts and all. These films aren’t perfect, I would even say one was flatly disappointing, but there’s something to be said about the thrill and excitement that comes from a horror event. It’s not a showcase of the best and brightest vision in horror, but it’s a unique, fun way to tell a grander story beyond just that of your typical slasher. Fear Street Part 3: 1666 ties everything together with a darker, quieter tone (way more up my alley of horror) with some truly horrifying things on display here. It does take a sharp, and a bit jarring, left turn as it concludes its story, but how it justifies itself within said left turn is a satisfying way to end a generally solid trilogy, with a particularly effective finale.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 available for streaming on Netflix July 2nd, 2021.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 available for streaming on Netflix July 9th, 2021.
Fear Street Part 3: 1666 available for streaming on Netflix July 16th, 2021.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.