There was the possibility that this was going to be three separate reviews of each film, but why not just join it all together for convenience and screw the old website data! Also, it just seems a bit tidier. Anyway! The Fear Street series has finished, and they have been buzzing the socials for weeks now. So are they any good?
Fear Street Part One: 1994
In the town of Shadyside, violence and death are all too reoccurring, while over on neighbouring Sunnyside, life couldn’t be better until a group of teenagers accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for the murders that have plagued the town for hundreds of years.
With a killer opening, the Scream comparisons are apt, but only to an extent. This is more the TV Scream than the features, but it works okay enough but other than one scene later in the film, it never tops the tension in that opening, dragging itself until it wakes up again near the final act. The uneven nature of the film never shakes you, and you are left frustrated.
Fear Street 1994 flounders on multiple occasions, and with a great premise and important themes highlighted well. Unfortunately, they’re just bogged down by needless moments; this is a feature that should be heavily cut down to a streamlined hour. In addition, by trying to do so much world-building for the rest of the series, we are left twiddling our thumbs as characters constantly explain the history, goings-on and theories of this universe. This lack of trust by the writers in not believing that having their audience understand everything visually with the odd bit of exposition drags the film down badly.
The moments that do work do so tremendously well; as mentioned, that opening is great. As the group ventures into that supermarket, there is a pretty memorable death, yet in the film presented, it almost seems misplaced in how violent and gory it is. These moments, however, are few and far between, with the guff in the middle frustrating by how repetitive it is to other films of its ilk.
What does work is how well presented it is with The Mortuary Collections (There is a lot of semblance between that and this series in tone) Caleb Heymann. This is a slick, good-looking film with Heymann, and director Leigh Janiak fills their film with an abundance of colour, and when they want to get gruesome with their death scenes, they do great work.
The cast is a mixed bag as Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, and Julia Rehwald shine the most. You ease into their characters and despite some struggling dialogue. Still, their performances are believable enough to carry us through the rougher moments. However, when some falter, it is all too clear in the range of abilities from the young cast. That said, no one is distractingly terrible, but when the three female leads are as strong as they are, the difference is noticeable.
The script pops up with some fairly cringe-worthy dialogue and moments meant to be funny but falls by the wayside. A struggle the film has is the relationship of Deena and Samantha; instead of this being a relationship between two teens, it tries to paint itself as the greatest love story ever told. The two have several fairly believability stretching moments together that would suit characters who are far older. This is despite the two actresses giving everything to make it work.
With a middle act that does nothing for the film, it could be cut to pieces to make it more digestible. We are wasting time here, and at worst, it causes the audience to become bored. If you are going to have a flabby middle, then do something with it; there is zero tension in those moments. The forced nature of the tone of Fear Street 1994 comes across less like a love letter to 90s slashers and more just like a rehash with a better budget, and that is such a shame.
This deliberate decision making unwelcomely fills the film and truly leaves you cold to what is being presented before you. Worse of all, the film forgets what it is homaging. In 90s slashers, so many characters die, here for the most part, until that memorable scene, characters get away with barely a scratch. More side characters were needed to be included if only to rid them in gruesome fashion to keep the momentum and tension of the film going.
Speaking of which! This will crop up repeatedly in the reviews of this series, but the constant barrage of needle drops is far too distracting for the films own good. Couple this with a score that is one of the most overbearing in recent memory, and we have a film that is terrified, genuinely terrified of letting silence flor through it. Yet, somehow Leigh Janiak can grapple back the tension by sheer visual force as she certainly is not helped by the music.
In the end, we have a film that is fine and serviceable, but not as great a start to a trilogy of films that it should be. Luckily for us, the second instalment raises the game.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978
As Deena tries to save Samantha, she looks to someone who survived a summer camp murder spree 16 years earlier. The connection between now and then continues as we witness the horrible events that could have led to the murders in Shadyville in 1994.
By far away, Fear Street 1978 is the best of the trilogy Fear Street 1978 knows what the spec was and runs with it in moments of throwbacks of 80s camp slashers. With Sunnyside and Shadyside split even back then, we continued the socio-economic themes present in 1994.
As we learn of what happened at the camp, we are visually allowed to learn of the lore of Shadytown and Sarah Fier as the story is presented in an easily consumable fashion with only a few instances of exposition. There is no exposition for the sake of it, and when it can be shown to us, Janiak does so gleefully. She also presents us with a far darker tale, and perhaps this is why it works as well as it does. It is a film that doesn’t hold back, and you can see clear as day how freeing this is for the director. In comparison to 1994, Fear Street 1978 feels so much looser, as if the chains are off and Janiak can be freer with her story.
Perhaps it was the use of the always reliable Jacobs, who sells her fear and paranoia of her nightly routine far better than we have seen previously or the fact that we were allowed to see it visually instead of having characters spell it out for us, but everything in 1978 just runs smoother. In truth, the entire cast here is a step up from either 1994 or 1666, with Rudd and Sink the continual heart of the piece. By having a well-rounded cast, we can feel an attachment to them that wasn’t entirely present in the first film.
With two sisters who are polar apart, one a trouble maker who is continually bullied by the Sunnyside group and the older sister in Cindy, who tries all she can to be a part of that precious group, their dynamics are set. But with that head bunting dynamic, they are still sisters, so as the murderer roams through the camp, they need to get to one another.
While 1994 was afraid to kill off its characters, we have no such problem here in 1978, with the vast majority of the cast being offered up for a swing of the axe. By having the threat of not knowing who will die and when the tension is allowed to build (funny how that happens), we are left guessing the whole way except that we know the fate of one of the sisters, much like we know how Sarah Fier fate doesn’t turn out as well as she would like in 1666, we know a sister is going to die here, yet this fate is better portrayed than in Fear Street 1666.
Though there is a moment at the end that should be full of tragedy and emotion, yet sadly we are left almost laughing as the characters keep not only surviving but talking as they are brutalised with knives and an axe deep into the chest multiple times. It is not expected that everything has a strong basis of reality, especially in a horror film. Otherwise, they would end in the first 15 minutes. But, when an axe is plunged deep into someone’s chest, they are not going to look to their side and speak to someone. Reality is firmly stretched here, and for a film that seemingly tries to keep itself centred with the deaths, we are left with a bit of a head-scratcher.
There are faults, of course, how a character survives via a method of aid that they shouldn’t perplex, constant reminders of who the characters are, and again, that score rears its overbearing head. But what slightly has us not filled with the appropriate tension is the fact that despite all of this death. We are constantly thinking of how it will connect to the 1994 timeline and 1666. So again, it is an awkward problem of being a middle film in such a trilogy.
By trying to world build for so long again, we could cut a huge chunk of time out of the film, and the temptation to skip ahead through some moments rises continually, especially when we are given just crumbs to what was already presented, making the whole flashback in time a bit of a moot point. Again gut the film, and it becomes good enough to stand alone.
Fear Street Part Three: 1666
As Deena discovers what happened to Sarah Fier, we are flown into the colony of Union, the birthplace of Sunnyside and Shadyside. As the disease begins to rampage through the colony Sarah and her friends get caught up in allegations of witchcraft; with Sarah’s fate already known, how will what Deena see’s during this time help her in 1994?
Director and co-writer Leigh Janiak does some great work in embedding us into this new world. With cast members from the previous two films, we have a very American Horror Story vibe presented, and in features, it feels quite fresh, and you quickly buy into it. Taking from some of the great settler witchcraft films of yore, Fear Street again wears its influences on its sleeve. Yet as we see Sarah’s story, it all feels a tad lacklustre, as if we could have experienced more of her strife, but this is to be expected in the limited time frame we are given.
The small things that detach you from these films and frustrate you in 1666 and other than yet again, the score becomes far too overbearing, and with a character walking through a village to introduce the audience to the cast should not have a score as loud as it is. In 1994, the fear of having even a second film without a musical compliment shroud this film. When characters are talking, and you have to put subtitles on as they are whispering while this score takes over your ears, it makes it utterly distracting.
Speaking of distracting, the less said about the attempted Irish and Scottish accents here, the better due to their awfulness that beings nothing to the film. It is hard to imagine audiences being angry at the cast keeping their original accents. It feels as if they are all trying for the same accent is what amuses the most. For a film as horribly ADR’d (is that a word) like this, you would think that they would catch when actors lose the accents, yet here we are living a nightmare for your audio senses.
However, what has always worked well in this series of films and especially so in Fear Street 1666 is the visuals, especially when the horror comes to the fore. The church scene will live long with you due to its haunting effectiveness. The whole opening half works tremendously, and you get gripped in the story of Sarah Fier, and while it all snowballs rather quickly for the colony of Union, you buy into it. Fear has gained a firm hold of these people, and their actions are expected considering what we know of the period.
Other than the accents, the highlight of Fear Street 1666 remains the cast, everyone is on point here, and they do some excellent work. Like the series, they are full of charm and energy, and they help carry you during the less effective moments. Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch do their best work in the series during that opening in Union. They get the opportunities to fully stretch themselves as a range of emotions rifle through their characters.
The pacing of this opening half is also quite frenetic. We are thrown into this colonial setting. We have to hit the ground running with introductions that jars you from the expected slower-paced films that we saw previously. The jarringly slow second half almost screeches all of the momentum to a halt, which perplexes as you would assume that Janiak would want just to keep ramping up the tension of her film that she does so well in the first half.
The sense of dread dissipates so quickly here that you are left cold by the direction that finale half ventures towards, which is a dying shame. Fear Street 1666 also misses out on learning more about the tragic aspect of Sarah’s fate. We already know what will happen, so we should expect her demise to be the saddest of events. Instead, it feels like 1666 just tries to wrap that portion of the story up quickly instead of prolonging the misery. Have us fall in love with that character, her hopes, not just a middle of the road arc.
With a bloated second half that really should have been cut down to a final act, it is just too clunky and jarring to work in this manner, with it becoming pretty apparent that we should have had this film series broken down further to a more consumable format considering the story it is telling. While visually appealing, there never seems to be much going on behind the eyes, and we fall into a rather formulaic finale. These characters and this story deserved more, and with repeat viewings, this is a film and, in truth, a series that will suffer greatly.
Overall all three films have their moments, with 1978 being the clear strongest, but they never reach the potential that they should have. This is not to say the overall series was disappointing, but they can never fully carry through with their premise enough to keep you engaged. As features, they flounder, but as mentioned, if cut down to a four-part series, then they would work so much better. Sadly when thinking of the trilogy as a whole, they are rather bland and forgettable.
Three films filled with nostalgia and some decent moments is not enough to make this a highlight of the year in which it was sold as being. Horror fans love bad horror; they also love good to fantastic horror. However, what cannot be forgiven is the middle of the road, corporate horror that we have here. It feels cheap (except for all of those songs) and not authentic. The best the Fear Street films can be described as is the MCU of horror series, riddled with enough to interest you but not nearly enough to entertain a genre fan.
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