Wrapping up director Leigh Janiak’s three-part horror cycle loosely based on the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine, Fear Street Part Three: 1666 begins by finally throwing us into the story of a cursed town and a witch who supposedly possesses people in said town, leading to mass killings every couple of decades. By diving back to 1666, screenwriters Phil Graziadei, Janiak, and Kate Trefry unveil the origins of Sarah Fier, played by Kiana Madeira, who also played lead character Deena in the 1994 chapter. In fact, nearly all of the characters in 1666 are portrayed by actors from the two other parts, which could be slightly confusing or a very smart move, depending on how invested you were in the first two movies.
Like Deena, Sarah is a closeted lesbian, very much in love with Hannah Miller (Olivia Scott Welch, who plays Sam in 1994), but in this puritanical society, they have to make doubly sure their relationship is never discovered. On one particular night, most of the community’s young people get together deep in the woods to drink and even take drugs, stolen from the local potions lady, who herself is believed to have been on a few dates with the devil. By the end of the night, Sarah and Hannah are in a romantic embrace deep in the woods, but not deep enough to stay hidden from prying eyes. For unknown reasons, the next morning the town shows signs of being cursed—the well is poisoned, the fruit is all rotten, and some of the animals have become problematic. Naturally, everyone believes that the devil has come to the town that would become Shadyside, through one of its residents. And in a scene with as much logic as The Crucible, Sarah and Hannah are called out as witches.
As if to underscore the inherent sexism in this place, even when the local preacher kills most of the town’s children, his actions are assumed not to be his own, instead being blamed on witchcraft. But the moment does mark the first instance of a possessing force that leads to a mass killing in Shadyside, and so the cycle begins. Only we know right away that Sarah isn’t committing these acts. She figures out who is, and it’s a discovery that has direct repercussions through the years to 1994. About an hour into the film, we’re done with 1666 and things jump back to 1994, only now Deena knows the truth and the surviving kids (plus Gillian Jacobs’ Ziggy, the survivor of 1978) have a better idea of how to deal with the host of killers roaming the streets of Shadyside.
I think I liked 1666 as much or even slightly more than 1978, if only because it isn’t just about slashers killing young people. There’s a story being told about the period, misplaced morality, and a bad deed coming full circle in what I believe is an interesting and revealing manner. The needle-drop music cues are kept to a much less annoying minimum, and the attempts at humor is kept at bay so the characters can deal with the living nightmare that they must end here and now. I fully acknowledge the importance and ambition of the Fear Street films. The fact that a female director got to helm three, feature-length movies in one year is massive (it might even be a first), and they’ve certainly earned Janiak the cred to pretty much do what she wants for quite some time, in the horror world or elsewhere. I wish the 1994 segment were a bit less reliant on nostalgia to get us through it, but the other two segments are solid enough works to make checking these films out a worthy endeavor.
The film is now streaming on Netflix.
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