Fear Street Part 3: 1666 (2021)
End the curse
After a couple of satisfyingly gnarly chapters, Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy comes to an end with Fear Street Part 3: 1666. Loosely based on R. L. Stine’s best-selling YA novels of the same name, the first installment paid tribute to the Scream-type slashers of the nineties, while the second part ventured back to the campsite carnage of the eighties. Now, this final Fear Street takes us all the way to the beginning of the story, 1666 to be precise, for a witchy folklore tale that puts all the pieces of the Sarah Fier mystery together.
With each subsequent entry going backwards in time, it’s surprising to think that telling a story in reverse has worked so well thus far, but filmmaker Leigh Janiak has done a stellar job in keeping things fresh whilst showing us how events have led to the 1994 timeline. Regrettably, though, Fear Street 3 is the weakest of the trilogy due to some iffy creative decisions and a substandard final act. But don’t fret, it’s not all bad. Fear Street Part 3 still possesses a couple of unpredictable twists and turns and features enough buckets of blood to ruin poor Sissy Spacek’s evening.
If you recall, Fear Street 2 concluded with our heroine Deena (Kiana Madeira) returning the severed hand of witch Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel) to her decayed corpse, then being thrust back to the 17th century, literally finding herself in Fier’s body. With Deena now seeing through the perspective of the witch who’s believed to have caused the dreaded Shadyside curse, she’s able to live out the horrific events that have shaped the town’s bleak history. It’s here where Fear Street 3 begins to lose some of its footing, the movie doing an American Horror Story by having previous cast members return to play different roles; Emily Rudd, Julia Rehwald, Sadie Sink, and Benjamin Flores Jr. portray descendants or loose relations of their previous characters, and it’s pretty darn distracting. It’s a baffling creative choice that confuses rather than captivates.
Anyhow, Sarah is living in the small, muddy colonial settlement of Union before it was divided into the ill-fated Shadyside and the prosperous Sunnyvale. Just like Deena, Sarah is secretly in love with Pastor Cyrus Miller’s daughter Hannah (Olivia Scott Welch); but, being Puritan times and all, this secret relationship could land them in some hot water. One night, Sarah, Hannah, and their friend Lizzie (Julia Rehwald) sneak into the tent of a reclusive widow named Mary (Jordana Spiro) to get some forbidden berries. Instead, they stumble onto a book of black magic. From there, they make their way to a village party, where Hannah blows off a horney drunk guy, Caleb (Jeremy Ford). Irritated, the girls sneak off to get intimate but are spotted by Mad Thomas (McCabe Slye) and exposed as sinners.
After that, the town gets hit with a slew of terrible misfortune. Their produce goes rotten while the pigs begin to eat one another. Even Pastor Miller (Michael Chandler) gets possessed by an evil force and turns into an eye-gouging killer, murdering a bunch of children in the chapel — one of the most gruesome set pieces in the entire trilogy. Of course, hysteria and Satanic panic kick in, with the villagers blaming witchcraft for their bad luck, chiefly Sarah and Hannah’s actions. The two attempt to flee, but Hannah is captured, with the townsfolk planning to execute her at dawn. Sarah runs off into the woods. Hoping to clear both their names, she must now try to figure out who cursed their settlement before it’s too late; I dunno, perhaps it might have something to do with the widow and her occult book of the damned?
The first hour of the film is essentially a Crucible-type flashback that’s nowhere near as fun or cheeky as the previous playful throwbacks. What’s more, the whole 17th-century aesthetic feels stagey and doesn’t come across as authentic, mainly when compared to the excellent cinematography and production design of the prior entries. Additionally, the cast, with the exception of Kiana Madeira, don’t necessarily fit their roles either, their old-timey Irish accents coming off as hokey. Ashley Zukerman, for example, who portrayed Sunnyvale Sheriff Nick Goode in 1994, plays his ancestor Solomon Goode here and feels somewhat miscast, while Benjamin Flores Jr., who played Deena’s kid brother, now plays Sarah’s brother and delivers a stiff performance that’s akin to reading lines for a high school production.
Screenwriters Phil Graziadei, Honeymoon (2014), Kate Trefry, Stranger Things (2017-19), and Janiak do a good job in tying loose threads of the overarching narrative together, eventually revealing the true nature of who’s behind the town’s doom-and-gloom — and it’s a genuine surprise, even if the final revelation doesn’t pack as much of a punch as I’d hoped. Moreover, we get an explanation as to what that icky blob we saw pulsing under Shadyside in 1978 is, as well as all the other Satanic paraphernalia we’ve seen throughout the story. Writers also pose an interesting question regarding witchcraft and wrongdoing in general — basically, if you’ve already been falsely accused of a crime, what’s to stop you from actually committing that very crime to save your own ass?
Then, about an hour or so into the film, just when you’re getting used to being in 1666, we abruptly jump back to 1994 — a title card dubbing the last hour 1994: Part Two — where we’re reunited with Gillian Jacobs and the gang for the big finale. However, instead of doing something new or innovative for the climactic showdown, we end up back at the shopping mall where the saga opened for a rather drawn-out finale. Our heroes battle a horde of masked undead killers and the ‘big bad’ in order to save Shadyside and shut down the curse for once and for all, ultimately saving Sam from her wicked possessed state. We get a montage featuring The Offspring’s ‘Come Out and Play,’ the now obligatory Day-Glo cinematography by returning director of photography Caleb Heymann, more references to Stephen King’s Carrie (1976), neon paint, and Super Soakers, because, why not? Heck, even Darrell Britt-Gibson’s spray can vandal Martin, whom Josh met at the police dispatch in 1994, is back for the last hurrah. It’s not a bad finale, but it just seems a little been-there, done-that.
Watching the concluding chapter of Netflix’s Fear Street, it’s hard to believe that this series was initially conceived for a theatrical release. It’s got a semi-episodic nature to it and works well within the constraints of a streaming service, where people can tune in week by week or binge the whole thing at once.
Ultimately, Janiak and her entire team should be commended for what they’ve achieved with the Fear Street Saga; it’s a gory, spine-chilling, spooky story told over several decades that comes together fittingly in the final act, and that’s no easy feat. Sure, not everything works, but if you’re a horror aficionado or have delved into any of Stine’s novels, you’ll definitely find something to gnaw at — I personally enjoyed 1978 the most, mainly because I dig summer camp slashers. Who knows, perhaps one day we’ll see a Fear Street-verse, or a Fear Street 1989, or 1997. Considering what filmmakers have accomplished here, anything is possible.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)