Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy is more than the sum of its parts. So regardless of niggles with individual installments, it’s hard to deny that this is an unusual and bold project for the streaming service and the director of all three, Leigh Janiak. Part three is the most ambitious of the lot, taking us back to colonial America and a time of superstition and religious fervor.
By reuniting Sarah Fier’s severed hand with the rest of her remains, Deena Johnson (Kiana Madeira) of the 1990s suddenly finds herself transformed into the body of Sarah circa 1666—reliving her memories of the final days before she was hanged as a witch. Janiak uses cast from the first two movies to play the residents of the encampment that will become Shadyside, giving a sense of legacy to this origin story; a sense that history is repeating itself.
Simon and Kate (Fred Hechinger and Julia Rehwald) from Fear Street ’94 are back as Isaac and Lizzie here. They’re still funny, still risk-takers, and a night of festivities in the village on the full moon kick off a series of events which lead to Sarah’s downfall.
The film is a lot of fun and possibly the best of the three, but there are some obvious problems from the get go. Firstly the 1600s colonialist accents are extremely inconsistent, and knowing how these actors normally sound from the first two movies and the ’90s-set bookends here does not help. It’s distracting but it’s not a dealbreaker. Then there’s the anachronistic element. While trying to maintain a sense of teen horror fun, we’re being asked to believe that late teenage women in the 1600s were sneaking out to parties and getting high on berries and applejack rather than keeping busy dying in childbirth. But if you can let that go, there’s an awful lot to like here.
Lovers united throughout time, Sarah and Hannah (with the latter played by Olivia Scott Welch, aka Sam from the ’90s) are caught making out by the town drunk Thomas (McCabe Slye, Tommy Slater from Fear Street 1978) who spreads the gossip amongst the community that the girls are together. Hannah is the preacher’s daughter and she’s forbidden from seeing Sarah. The town turns against Sarah, her only ally being Solomon Goode (Ashley Zukerman – Nick from the ’90s), a reclusive man whose wife and child have died. But the homophobic witch hunt fast turns into an actual witch hunt when the town appears to suddenly be cursed. Crops rot, the well dries up, a sow randomly eats her entire litter of piglets, and the local preacher, Cyrus Miller (Michael Chandler), is behaving very strangely.
It must be witchcraft, the town decides, and all fingers point toward Hannah and Sarah.
With strong undertones of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and to a lesser extent Robert Eggers’ The Witch, this is folk horror with a sprinkle of teen slasher on top. It’s darker than the first two films in terms of subject matter but also color palette (if you’re watching at home you’ll need to make sure the room is properly blacked out to avoid missing bits), and comes with some decent shocks and revelations.
Meanwhile the overarching story of how Deena might be able to save Sam with the help of Deena’s brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and Camp Nightwing survivor Ziggy (Gillian Jacobs) is tackled in a chunky add-on. There’s not a massive amount of room for gags in the 1666 story given that we know it will end in a young woman being hanged, so the ’90s portions make up for that amply, taking us back to the mall where the series began and bringing home the Stranger Things vibes. It also makes good nostalgic cracks at the ubiquity of CK1 (the perfume) and how crap the Discman was.
Throughout the series of films, Fear Street has always explored peripheral themes about class, gender, and sexuality, and Fear Street 1666 is no different, tying up loose ends both narratively and thematically. This finale does have a good go at explaining the internal logic of exactly what’s been going on and while, yeah, it’s a bit of a stretch and perhaps doesn’t hold up to too much scrutiny, the whole series is packed with such charm, flair, energy, and genuine love for the genre that it’s easy to forgive. Fear Street Part 3: 1666 might not be perfect but it’s a thrilling end to an experimental and unusual approach to horror that’s familiar and fresh in equal measure.
All three parts of the Fear Street Trilogy are now available to stream on Netflix.