Updated: Aug 7, 2021
[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]
Netflix’s recent three-part adaptation of R. L. Stine's Fear Street novel series is a fascinating piece of postmodern pop fiction—and not just because it takes a bloody hatchet to the well-worn tropes of the horror genre (indeed, to multiple sub-genres thereof); collectively, the films exemplify (and, in some cases, stealthily subvert) the traditional structure of a trilogy.
From its neon-drenched cold open to its gore-soaked climax, Fear Street Part One: 1994 is the prefect first chapter. There’s a reason that so many superhero movies continue to depict origin stories: for the audience, learning new information is fundamentally appealing, and introductory adventures are inherently inventive, establishing the characters and rules of the setting. The format is hardly fool proof, of course: providing too much exposition risks slowing the pace to an excruciating crawl, while providing too little will inevitably leave viewers confused. Fortunately, 1994 walks that particular tightrope with grace and aplomb, maintaining a relentless forward momentum without ever sacrificing narrative context. The goals, stakes, and obstacles are always clearly defined, and the complications are consistently exciting.
Sadly, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 sprains its metaphorical ankle on a figurative root mid-chase, suffering from both Middle Chapter Syndrome and Prequel Syndrome. It spends the majority of its running time elaborating on—and occasionally even outright reiterating—what we already know, rather than adding new wrinkles to the formula; what little is revealed is too clumsily implemented to be legitimately surprising. It’s also far less stylistically innovative than its predecessor, drowning in its own pastiche; with very few exceptions, it’s nearly indistinguishable from the countless other Friday the 13th clones that have emerged since 1980.
Thankfully, Fear Street Part Three: 1666 manages to avoid 1978's numerous mistakes. Although it, too, features an extended flashback (which evokes the exquisitely minimalistic period chillers produced by Ari Aster and Robert Eggers), it utilizes the device to its full potential, re-contextualizing and re-inventing the story from the ground up; its various twists and turns have genuine weight, significance, and consequence. When our heroine returns from her psychic journey into her hometown’s sordid past (accompanied by a title card that reads 1994 Part Two), the shocking truths that she has unearthed have prepared her for her final confrontation with the Evil that has not only been hunting her and her friends, but also poisoning her community for centuries. All of the lingering plot threads (including the mall janitor’s business card, a seemingly minor gag in Part One) converge in a spectacularly satisfying showdown with every single colorful antagonist introduced in the previous installments.
I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate conclusion for such a quirky, unconventional cinematic saga.