By Alex McPherson

Well, dear readers, the time has sadly come for the conclusion of director Leigh Janiak’s “Fear Street” series. Fortunately, “Part 3:1666” ends the trilogy in an emotionally fulfilling, adrenaline-fueled fashion.

Without going too far into spoiler territory, “1666” sees Deena (a wonderful-as-ever Kiana Madeira) being transported back in time in Sarah Fier’s body, originally played by Elizabeth Scopel, to witness the origins of the curse that’s haunted Shadysiders ever since. The film features a new cast of characters, but most of them are portrayed by the same actors from former installments, some of whom adopt similar dynamics. Most notably, this includes Olivia Scott Welch, who plays Sarah’s love interest in “1666,” as well as Sam, Deena’s lover, in 1994. Ashley Zukerman, who embodies Sheriff Goode in 1994, also makes a meaningful return as Sarah’s friend Solomon, who holds his own secrets.  

Although there are opportunities for hard-working Sarah to relax, her story is relentlessly grim — containing themes of superstition, intolerance, and hatred of the Other that have remained prevalent throughout human history. As Sarah finds herself embroiled in a web of deceit, misogyny, and fateful events that have long-lasting repercussions on Shadyside’s future, there’s little hope for escape. Once her tragic ordeal wraps up, Janiak sends viewers back to 1994 once again, as Deena, Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), and janitor Martin (Darrell Britt-Gibson) attempt to rescue Sam from demonic possession and use their newfound knowledge to finally end the curse.

Tonal inconsistency notwithstanding, “1666” is a disturbing, intelligent, and rewarding finale that successfully ties up loose ends while enhancing what’s come before. Janiak delivers an experience with more layers than both “1994” and “1978,” capping off the overarching narrative with panache. 

“Fear Street” has progressively grown creepier with each entry, and “1666” is the eeriest of the bunch. Indeed, by bringing viewers back into such an antiquated period, the film is able to distill its horror into a more potent, disquieting brew. Most plot developments even feel scarily plausible on some level, drawing comparisons to the Salem Witch Trials. Along with convincing set design and a more immersive atmosphere than its predecessors, “1666” is able to conjure dread-inducing moments aplenty. Janiak’s serious-minded approach, at least for the first half, underscores the monstrousnesses of Sarah’s bigoted townsfolk just as much as the actual supernatural forces at play.

It’s initially jarring to be sent so far back in time and see actors we’ve grown attached to inhabiting different people, with questionable accents, but Janiak uses this dissonance for subversive effect. Throughout the films, for instance, the Shadyside curse inspires a sense of fatalism in many residents that they’re stuck in an endless cycle of death and alienation from the outside world. Seeing recognizable faces where it all began heightens viewers’ desire to see Deena and friends right the wrongs of the past in the present, attempting to break the pattern once and for all.

Additionally, forbidden love rests at the heart of Sarah’s flashback, and “1666” is able to use that connection to forge an attachment with her from the get-go, utilizing viewers’ investment in Deena and Sam’s relationship to heighten poignancy and encourage reflection on biases that carry over across timelines. Sarah remains an intriguing character on her own, and her plight is easy to become invested in as she gradually begins to doubt herself yet retains bravery in the face of humanity’s worst instincts.  

With an ever-mounting sense of hopelessness, Sarah’s tale isn’t easy viewing, replacing subtlety with visceral impact, but it leaves a chilling aftertaste. Then, however, “1666” takes a hard left turn back into the self-aware, occasionally cheesy tone of “1994” to wrap things up. The tonal shift is certainly jarring for a bit, but once viewers become acclimated, there’s pleasure to be had in watching the heroes make their triumphant last stand — not just for themselves, but for the future of Shadyside itself. 

Some elements, like the major plot twist, feel undercooked, and the second half resembles the largely scare-less final act of “1994,” yet it’s still oh-so-fun to see what happens to these courageous characters. For all the haunted-house-roller-coaster pacing, the revelation effectively adds a new layer to the previous films, encouraging viewers to rewatch them and examine how all the pieces fit together. 

Whether or not viewers can overlook the semi-fractured feel of “1666,” there’s little denying that Janiak and company have created an impressive whole, one that has matured over its duration to form an ambitious, albeit far-fetched, allegory targeting resonant societal truths. There’s definitely imperfections to be found in each film, but Janiak’s R. L. Stine-inspired project reaches its stride in “1666,” leaving the door open for future adventures in Shadyside.

“Fear Street Part 3: 1666” is the last film in a 2021 trilogy now streaming on Netflix, adapted from R.L. Stine’s book series. Directed by Leigh Janiak, it stars Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Gillian Jacobs and Ashley Zukerman. Rated R for strong violence and gore, language, some sexuality and brief drug use, it runs 1 hour, 54 minutes. Alex’s Grade: A-.

By Alex McPherson

“Fear Street Part 1: 1994” is an immensely enjoyable slasher flick with real heart beneath its ultraviolent set pieces.

Based on the “Fear Street” books by R.L. Stine, “1994” unfolds in the rural town of Shadyside, Ohio. Shadyside has a history of heinous murders stretching back hundreds of years, which some denizens believe involve possessions by a witch, named Sarah Fier, who was executed in 1666. Shadyside residents harbor an intense rivalry with the considerably wealthier neighboring city of Sunnyvale. Our protagonist is Deena (Kiana Madeira), an angsty, rebellious high schooler reeling from a breakup with her ex-girlfriend, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who recently moved to Sunnyvale.

Sarah’s curse potentially rears its head again when a skeleton-mask-donning psycho goes on a rampage at a local mall. After a confrontation with Sunnyvalers along a roadway, Sam disturbs the witch’s burial ground and unleashes an evil that resurrects killers from Shadyside’s past to exact revenge. Together, Deena and Sam — joined by Deena’s brother, Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), and friends Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald) — must band together to lift the curse and live another day. 

With charming characters, palpable stakes, and high production value, director Leigh Janiak’s “Fear Street Part 1: 1994” is a finely crafted horror film that represents a strong start for her “Fear Street” trilogy.

With hints of “Stranger Things” from the get-go, amplified by a brief appearance from Maya Hawke herself, Janiak’s first entry strikes an effective balance between self-aware fun and nerve-wracking suspense, with a couple of genuinely shocking moments. Indeed, this isn’t a sanitized, family-friendly romp, even though the high school melodrama is sometimes humorous. Blood flows freely, and while the film isn’t exactly “scary,” due in large part to exceedingly predictable jump scares, there are several moments where the carnage hits viciously hard.  

“1994” depicts its youthful characters without condescension, treating them as three-dimensional people with their own flaws, desires, and colorful personalities, portrayed with youthful verve by a pitch perfect cast. All these characters are familiar archetypes, but there are a few wrinkles that add texture, emphasizing their vulnerability in ways that are often amusing, but also build emotional attachment. Deena, skillfully portrayed by Madeira in a standout performance, has a troubled home life and is sent spiraling from her breakup with Sam, resenting her while also being unable to let go.

Sam is similarly layered, being forced to make difficult decisions later on. Josh, a nerdy, inquisitive chap with detailed knowledge of Shadyside’s history, is an instantly likable character who winds up essential for the group’s survival. The squirrely, immature Simon works hard to support his family, while Kate — a high-achieving student — hustles drugs to help pay for her future.

Less noteworthy are the killers themselves — referencing classic horror films such as “Scream” and “The Shining.” They’re over-the-top and not grounded enough to instill genuine fear, but they deliver in the film’s harrowing second half. Combined with fast-paced editing, atmospheric lighting, and a solid score by Marco Beltrami, however, the threats faced by the central characters work well enough to create an edgy, stressful feel to numerous sequences, where plot armour is certainly not guaranteed. 

Sure, the dialogue is a tad uneven and the story doesn’t exactly beg to be closely analyzed, but “1994” knows exactly what kind of film it is and leans into tropes while standing out on its own merits. This is a thrilling, nostalgic watch for fans of the genre and newcomers alike. Hopefully the next installments, releasing on Netflix July 9 and July 16, are equally as successful.

“Fear Street Part 1: 1994” is the first of a movie trilogy on Netflix, based on the with the others — 1978, to be released July 9, and 1666, to be released July 16. The first one, directed by Leigh Janiak, stars Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Fred Hechinger, Benjamin Flores Jr. and Julia Rehwald. It is rated R for strong bloody violence, drug content, language and some sexual content and runs 1 hour, 47 minutes. It started streaming on Netflix July 2. Alex’s Grade: B+