CULTURE TRUMPET – REVIEW – The Fear Street Trilogy

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Based on RL Stine’s (Goosebumps) Fear Street books, this new horror trilogy tells a story of witchcraft, possession, curses, persecution and revenge spread across 300 years.

Part One opens in 1994, as yet another brutal death cements the town of Shadyside’s reputation as the murder capital of the country. A group of teens, including Deena (Kiana Madeira), her ex Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), come to discover that the countless deaths over hundreds of years may be connected, and the latest murder was not simply down to a crazed psycho, but the result of a centuries old curse, cast by a witch, Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel), that soon brings a host of long-dead local killers back to life, and on a very messy rampage of death. Not everyone makes it out in one piece…

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Picking up directly after Part One’s cliffhanger, with one of group fighting for their very soul, Part Two wastes little time before taking us back to 1978, as we join a new influx of kids spending the summer at nearby Camp Nightwing. Acting as a semi-prequel, Part Two gives us younger versions of some characters we already know, while filling in more of the background of the curse, cast by Fier in the 1600s, as she was executed for witchcraft (and more, as we shall see…). Once again, the main group of characters, headlined this time by Cindy (Emily Rudd), her sister Ziggy (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink) face off against a brutal axe murderer killer as picks off the camp’s residents one by one. They quickly figure out what’s really going on, and manage to vanquish the evil, or so they think…

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Part Three takes us back to the beginning of the legend, as a vision of the past sends Deena to 1666 and into the body of Sarah Fier herself, as we learn about the twisted events that led to her death. In the small Puritan settlement of Union, fear and suspicion rule, especially after the local priest brutally murders his congregation’s children – did he go mad, or was he possessed? In search of answers, fingers are soon pointed, and accusations thrown around, and it’s not long before Fier is made the scapegoat. Armed with this new insight into events, and with the help of one of the survivors of the 1978 camp massacre, Deena and the gang may finally be able to rid Shadyside of its curse, and save their friend’s life.

Anyone seeing the name RL Stine and thinking they’re in for some spooky but family friendly fun, à la Goosebumps, should brace themselves – Fear Street is most definitely not one for the kiddywinks. Written (with different collaborators across each film) and directed by Leigh Janiak, the trilogy starts as it means to go on, with an extremely tense and bloody opening sequence, that leaves us no doubt we’re in proper horror territory.

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While based on a series of books, this trilogy is proud to display its cinematic influences. Part One is a smart update on Scream, with its cast of teens fighting off deranged killers, and while at first we may think we’re in for the same old cliched story and characters – the resourceful girl, nerdy brother, stoner dude, jocks, cheerleaders, ineffective cops and the rest – the plot keeps things fresh enough to keep us interested. There’s some nice humour in the dialog, though it’s not quite self-referential and knowing as Scream, and the soundtrack, featuring a series of 90s bangers from the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Garbage, Radiohead, Snoop Dog, The Prodigy and more, is fantastic throughout (you can listen for yourself here).

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For Part Two, we’re firmly in late 70s/early 80s slasher territory. Of course we’ve got a big old dollop of Friday The 13th, but there’s also a generous helping of Sleepaway Camp, The Burning, among others, all topped off with a light garnish of Carrie. Once again, the roster of characters is all present and correct – the camp bullies, nerdy kids, clueless camp counselors, and the rest. The visuals are once again helped by a great selection of songs.

For Part Three, Janiak quotes Terrance Malick’s The New World as an influence, which you can certainly see. There’s also hints of The Crucible and The Witch in there as well, along with the expected cast of characters including the fire and brimstone preacher, the forbidden lovers, the gossip stirrers, and those with far darker secrets to hide. The attention to period detail in the sets and costumes is just as impressive as the first two films, and there’s a real ‘lived in’ quality about the town, which was built entirely on location.

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The cast are all excellent. While Sadie Sink is essentially the lead of Part Two, it’s Kiana Madeira as Deena who really holds the trilogy together with a great performance. Also worthy of a mention is Benjamin Flores Jr as Deena’s younger brother Josh. Part Three gives many of the young cast dual roles with 1666-based characters, and, a few variable accents aside, they show some admirable range. All three films have some nicely done – and mostly practical – gore effects, and they’re certainly not shy about showing them to full effect.

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Most of all though, I think Janiak and her creative team, including DoP Caleb Heymann and Production Designer Scott Kuzio are to be congratulated for giving each film its own distinctive style – bright neon-drenched Part One, golden summer-hued Part 2, and dank grey Part 3 – while also keeping them clearly of a single piece across the trilogy. These three films were no doubt a huge logistical undertaking, and to have the same creative team onboard throughout has clearly paid off.

There really is a lot to like here, and while these films may not be remembered as classics, they tell a sprawling, interesting tale in an energetic, fun and satisfactorily gory way. With only one other feature and an few TV episodes under her belt, Janiak has proven herself a genre director to look out for, and I can’t wait to see what she brings us next.

Part One - 1994:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Part Two - 1978:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Part Three - 1666:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Overall:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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