Fear Street is a love letter to horror

WARNING : This review contains huge spoilers.

Released in summer of 2021, the Fear Street trilogy challenges more problematic horror tropes while also paying homage to classic horror. The first film in the trilogy, Fear Street Part One: 1994, opens with the traditional first kill scene (seen in films like Halloween and Scream). A girl closes up the bookstore she works at in the mall only to come face to face with a killer. A fairly generic chase scene follows culminating in the girl’s death. As a result, our audience’s first impression of this movie is its dedication to classic horror. Classic horror continues to be referenced throughout the rest of this first film: the 90s aesthetic, the skull mask killer (a nod to the antagonist from the Scream films), and the location of the mall and school as the killer’s hunting grounds. It’s obvious the creators are veterans of the horror genre.

However, the Fear Street trilogy doesn’t just set out to recapture horror nostalgia for its viewers. Its goal is to create a film that uses the best parts of horror tradition to subvert expectations and create an altogether more interesting and diverse story. We see this first through the final girls of the trilogy. In horror, the final girl is the one character who survives the massacre and is often the one who defeats the villain. The final girls in the Fear Street trilogy are the lesbian couple, and the one who defeats the evil is a queer black girl. With horror classics having been less than kind to black and queer characters (black characters always die and queer ones usually end up being villains), it’s incredible to see a queer black girl, her girlfriend, and her little brother survive a horror movie and defeat the villain. A subversion of especially problematic horror tropes.

The villain of Fear Street is another subversion. For the first two films, the audience is led to believe that a witch has cursed the poorer part of town, Shadyside. Every few years, the witch will possess someone in Shadyside and have them murder other Shadysiders as revenge for the town hanging her in 1666. However, Fear Street Part Three: 1666 reveals the true villain is Sheriff Goode and the rest of the Goode family. Since the 1600s, the Goode family has been sacrificing Shadysiders so the other half of town, Sunnydale, could grow richer. The witch had found this out, but was hanged for being queer before she could denounce the Goodes. So, she cursed the Goodes in the hope that their misdeeds would someday be discovered.

This subversion of the witch’s curse trope ties into another trope common in horror: police inefficiency. For many horror movies to work effectively, the police have to be bad at their jobs and have to fail at catching the killer. This trope has become especially common in slashers and has often been criticized for how ridiculous it can get. However, Fear Street chooses to embrace this trope and instead use police corruption and class inequality as an explanation. Sheriff Goode isn’t inefficient, he has an agenda that serves the rich and the power hungry.

Fear Street makes use of classic horror tropes to examine who the true villains in horror are. Horror exists as a vehicle to explore real life fears, often being influenced by the era it exists in. We think for example of the haunted house movies coming out after the housing market crash of 2008, the zombie genre’s rise after the Red Scare, or the slasher film’s rise during the Reagan era. Now that more marginalized voices are making their way into mainstream horror, homophobic, racist, or classist tropes are being challenged and explored in more depth. We are being offered new perspectives on a genre which has so often prioritized a more conservative gaze.

Despite mainstream horror often demonizing and killing more marginalized groups, marginalized people have often found themselves drawn to the horror genre. Black horror directors like Jordan Peele found horror the perfect vehicle for representing the experiences of black people in the United States. And queer filmgoers found themselves relating to the monsters in film (especially with queer-coded villains in movies like Scream or Hellraiser). The horror genre has always appealed to those who had more to fear from the world than just the monsters in their closets. It’s nice to see film trilogies like Fear Street exploring those perspectives in the mainstream.

Image: mandi leah on Flickr.

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