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"Fear Street": Does Netflix's Horror Trilogy Work?

Benjamin Wollmuth is an avid reader and writer who loves to explore movies and what makes them appealing or unappealing.

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Netflix's Gamble

After three weeks of releases––one releasing each Friday––we have now seen the end of Netflix's gamble, a horror trilogy released in the same month and in the same year. That doesn't happen often, folks, and for good reason. Many creators and/or studios may have plans for sequels when a film is released, but they can't exactly move forward with those sequels if the initial film does poorly at the box office or receives poor reviews. So, to have a trilogy planned to release within the span of just three weeks is an extremely bold move.

A bold move that––in my mind, at least––pays off in the end.

Because while Fear Street isn't a perfect trilogy––nor would I consider it top-tier horror––I definitely would not call it a flop.

It tells an intriguing story, and the nearly 6-hour plot definitely doesn't lack tension or cool kills or horrific gore. As far as modern horror movies go, this trilogy isn't bad. In fact, to me, Fear Street feels like a lovely homage to the great horror films that came before it. It doesn't hold back on killing who it wants to kill, and it doesn't hold back on showing us those kills. R.L. Stine's original novels were meant for teens, after all, showcasing a more grown-up side of horror that his Goosebumps books could never really touch on. And while this trilogy is probably much more violent than any of the Fear Street novels (I don't actually know, I never read them), it still stands as a perfect collection of horror films for teenagers learning who they are. It's not a coming-of-age story, per se, but it definitely deals with embracing who you are and fighting for what you believe in, something many teenagers struggle with (I would know, I've been there).

Now, there are plenty more positives that I could talk directly about, but instead, I want to discuss two possible criticisms this trilogy could face and explain whether I agree or disagree. I see this as the best way to deliver my opinion on this trilogy, for it will allow me to get my point across while still acknowledging the fact that not everyone has my specific taste for horror. I will try to keep these sections as brief as possible.

Beware: spoilers lay ahead.

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The Length Can Get in the Way

3 two hour movies released in the span of three weeks, all telling a complete, nearly 6-hour long story... Does that sound like a lot? Well, it is a lot. But I think it's necessary. So often are writers and creators forced to condense a story they have to fit a specific runtime. Trust me, I understand. It makes sense. No one wants to sit in a theater for any longer than 3 hours, and, as it has been for a long time, most films release in theaters. However, times are changing, and with the rise of streaming services, more and more films can be released exclusively on these services so people can watch them at home. That, of course, means you can pause whenever you like to take whatever break you need. As much as I want movie theaters to stay alive, streaming services can allow for longer stories to be told. Fear Street is the perfect example. It's split into three parts so that viewers can take a break in between each, like a mini-series. Perhaps this film could have been condensed into a 2-2 1/2 hour film, but would it have been the same? No. I think the story would have made less sense––because there wouldn't have been enough time to flesh it out properly––and the character development would not have been nearly as good as it was. Why are movies based on books not always good? Because movies don't allow for extremely long stories, while books do. Certain story elements are always cut or extremely condensed to the point where it loses the amount of intrigue the book had. While Fear Street isn't a direct adaptation of anything––just based on the R.L. Stine books––it still stands as a testament to the importance length plays in storytelling. If you think this trilogy would have been better off being condensed into a singular film, well fine, hold on to that opinion. But I think the filmmakers would have sacrificed much of the story if they had done so.

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The Homages Can Be Seen as Derivatives

Perhaps what I saw as homages in this movie could be seen as derivatives by others. Whatever one believes, I think we can all agree that the allusions to other horror movies this film included were blatantly obvious. I can't be the only one who noticed that this trilogy's killers looked eerily similar to the more famous killers from horror history, including Jason Voorhees (pre-hockey mask), Michael Myers, Ghostface, and Leatherface. But I don't see these as derivatives. I see these as Leigh Janiak paying respect to the horror films that inspired her. I mean, I don't think she would have directed these movies if she wasn't at least a moderate horror fan. As a horror fan myself, I enjoyed the homages to the classic horror films that influence so many of today's horror films. In fact, I appreciate Janiak for looking at these homages straight in the face rather than trying to hide them in order to avoid criticism. I think it's perfectly fine to pay respects to the fictional killers we know and love today, as long as it's not overdone... and as long as it actually pays respects rather than blatantly ripping off another film in order to profit off of a stolen idea.

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Should This Ever Happen Again?

Personally, I believe that if filmmakers and/or writers want to release a story that will take longer than 3 hours to tell, they have every right to do so. TV shows do it, mini series' do it, and now Fear Street did it. What makes Fear Street different from other film series' or franchises is that it was designed to be released in the span of three weeks. The films were not made with the thought in mind, "if the first one does poorly then we'll just scrap the sequels." Instead, they were made to be three parts of a larger whole while still being their own movies telling their own stories. Usually, when it comes to stories that span multiple films or episodes, the creators will give us time to reflect and anticipate before they show us their story's ending. Harry Potter did it, Marvel did it, and it's basically what series' do, depending on how episodes are released. But it rarely happens in the area of horror, even though I think it works great within the horror genre. Horror is meant to build tension, right? What better way to do that than split a story into parts and make us wait a certain amount of time––whether it be a week, a month, a year, etc.––in order to see the conclusion.

Of course, as I said before, it's risky business. If Fear Street Part 1 had been straight shit, the views on Part 2 and 3 would probably not have been high. I'm sure that not all studios want to release a plan for a franchise before the initial first film is released because it won't always work. Universal's failed Dark Universe is the perfect example of that. But in terms of Netflix's Fear Street... I think it worked. And if other studios would want to try it for themselves on their own streaming services, I'd be all for it. They just need to be sure that the story is intriguing, and they probably need to be attached to a company that wouldn't be too hurt by some lost money, in case things don't work out. But I think Netflix succeeded, and would definitely tune in if they decided to host another three-week trilogy event.

© 2021 Benjamin Wollmuth

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