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‘Fear Street’: A sprawling, bloody revival of the slasher flick

| Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

Leigh Janick’s “Fear Street” is an ambitious and wholly entertaining homage to classic slasher films such as “Friday the 13th,” “Sleepaway Camp,” “Halloween” and “Scream.” “Fear Street” follows a group of teens from the rival towns of Shadyside and Sunnyvale as they try to stop a series of brutal murders that are somehow related to the killing of the alleged witch Sarah Fier in 1666.  Style perhaps outweigh substance in the case of these films, but “Fear Street” is an incredibly fun watch worthy of any horror fanatic, gorehound or intrepid newcomer to the genre’s time.

“Fear Street Part 1: 1994” kicks the trilogy off with a bang, introducing the audience to Shadyside and Sunnyvale, the legend of Sarah Fier, the Shadyside murders and our main characters all within the first twenty minutes. From there, “1994” moves at a breakneck pace through a nightmarish combination of slasher tropes, gallons of blood, supernatural terror and small-town secrets that are better left unspoken. Our heroes are Deena (Kiana Madeira), her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), their classmates Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Deena’s ex Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who has a supernatural hit placed on her. Our heroes’ mission is to stay alive, save Sam and figure out how to stop the Shadyside murders. Oh, and there’s a witch that is conjuring every single murderer to ever reside in Shadyside and setting them all on the hunt for Sam. Gore and intrigue abound as the twist-filled plot leads us toward the second part of “Fear Street.”

“Fear Street Part 2: 1978” picks up right where the previous film left off, at least for the first five minutes, before throwing the audience back to the summer of 1978 to follow a group of ill-fated campers as they spend their final days at Camp Nightwing. This entry in the trilogy primarily focuses on a camper named Ziggy (Sadie Sink) and her older sister and camp counselor Cindy (Emily Rudd). Being that this is a summer camp slasher flick, “1978” is a far gorier, far more sexed-up vision of the Shadyside murders. “1978” is far more cynical in its approach to the Shadyside murders, feeling more akin to “Carrie” and “Friday the 13th” than “Scream.” This ultimately amounts to “1978” feeling much darker than “1994,” and yet there is still the same tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that permeated throughout “1994”. I think this combination of Wes Craven style self-awareness combined with Sean S. Cunningham style cynicism and gore makes for an eminently watchable and highly enjoyable viewing experience.

“Fear Street Part 3: 1666” marks a shift in both tone and style for the trilogy. The first hour of the film eschews the aesthetics and slasher tropes of the first two entries, instead presenting the audience with a folk horror story reminiscent of “The Witch,” “The Scarlet Letter” and “The Crucible.” The first hour of “1666” finally reveals the true story of Sarah Fier to the audience and reveals to Deena and Co. how to stop the Shadyside murders. The second half of “1666” snaps back to 1994 and follows Deena and Co. as they confront the evil that infects Shadyside and attempt to end the Shadyside curse, which culminates in a glorious Dayglo bloodbath that is intercut with Deena’s hallucinatory battle with the Shadyside witch. It feels to me that “1666” tries to do something different to differentiate itself from “1994” and “1978” but falls short of the high expectations that the previous entries set.

Despite its sprawling story, the “Fear Street Trilogy” remains engaging for every second of its five hours and thirty-one-minute collective runtime. There is a bit too much backstory given about Sarah Fier, meaning that whenever someone starts to talk about her it begins to feel like exposition dumping. It’s almost like Janick doesn’t trust the audience to remember the details of Fier’s legend.

“Fear Street” lives and dies by two things: needle drops and pop culture references. While these can be fun and draw the viewer into the world of the story (as in “Stranger Things”) they can also be incredibly distracting. “1994” in particular has what I would consider to be too many needle drops, in one scene “Insane in the Brain” is immediately followed by “Creep.” It seems that Janick really wants the viewer to know that this story takes place in the ’90s. The same thing occurs in both “1978” and the latter half of “1666.” Of course, the first hour of “1666” is noticeably devoid of needle drops, which have become such a cornerstone of Janick’s storytelling that their absence creates a dramatic stylistic shift. “Fear Street” is riddled with pop culture references and abounds with references to other horror films. If you name a Slasher film, it’s likely Janick included at least a nod to it somewhere in “Fear Street.”

Visually, “Fear Street” is more akin to “Stranger Things” than any horror film. The colors are vibrant, the blacks are very dark, and the whole trilogy seems to have an obsession with Day-Glo and neon lights. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the whole trilogy just looks like a Netflix original. This is not a knock against “Fear Street,” but I think ditching the sleek and well-polished Netflix look would have benefited the trilogy greatly. Slasher flicks are not known for their well-polished aesthetics; rather, they are frequently gritty, grimy, and altogether visually unsettling. A good slasher makes the viewer feel like they need a long shower after watching it. “Fear Street” looks safe and lacks the grime factor that makes the world of classic Slasher flicks feel dangerous.

We come to care for the characters we follow, the deaths hurt when they come and given that this is a slasher trilogy, there is a substantial body count. The kills in “Fear Street” are merciless and evoke a visceral in the viewer. Janick is unflinching in showing the brutal kills, which are all stomach-churning thanks to a brilliant combination of practical and digital effects wizardry. There’s enough blood and gore here to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty horror connoisseur.

As a whole, “Fear Street” is an entertaining, if superficial, revival of the Slasher genre.  This is not “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” or “American Psycho,” there is not a ton going on below the surface, the skin-deep symbolism of a white polo shirt is about at subtextual as “Fear Street” gets, but this does not detract from its entertainment value. These are excellent popcorn flicks and make a great entry point for anyone curious about to the Horror genre. Grab some friends, a bucket of popcorn and your TV remote and give “Fear Street” a chance.

 

Fear Street

“Fear Street Part 1: 1994,” “Fear Street Part 2: 1978,” “Fear Street Part 3: 1666”

Starring: Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Olivia Scott Welch, Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd

Director: Leigh Janick

If You Like: “Scream, “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween”

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

 

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About Justin George

Justin is a Senior studying Film and Anthropology. He has a particular interest in film preservation and Horror, Cult, and Underground Cinema. When not writing about films, he can be found talking about films, watching films, or making films.

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