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In a post-COVID blockbuster rush, Netflix's 'Fear Street' trilogy has been the surprise event of the summer

By Trent Moore
Fear Street

If it feels like the 2021 summer movie season has been two years in the making, that’s because it has been. A ton of blockbusters pushed off from last year due to the pandemic are finally starting to hit theaters, and each new one seems to break the previous week’s record as tentpole-deprived movie-goers return to the cineplex.

Which is what makes the summer’s biggest surprise such a, well, surprise. No, we don’t mean Fast 9 (though that was fun and did great), or Black Widow (though that was also fun and did great, too). Not to mention everything from Space Jam: A New Legacy, to Snake Eyes, to Jungle Cruise on tap in the coming weeks. No, the real shock to the summer system came on OG streamer Netflix, which spent the past three weeks dropping a full-fledged horror movie trilogy every Friday:

Yeah, we're talking about Fear Street.

The trilogy, directed by Leigh Janiak (Scream: The TV Series) was broken up into Fear Street: 1994, Fear Street: 1978, and Fear Street: 1666. A loose, hard-R adaptation of R.L. Stine’s young adult book series of the same name, the films were originally conceived for a more conventional theatrical release, with an eye toward opening them a month apart on the big screen — a move that would’ve already been fairly unique in and of itself.

However, once the pandemic struck, Netflix stepped in to acquire all three films, and a bloody summer movie rollout was born. Netflix has been debuting a new Fear Street movie every Friday in July, creating the type of appointment viewing that has been fairly hard for the service to capture under its more standard binge model. Though Netflix’s viewership data is as nebulous as ever, the gamble seems to have paid off. The films have consistently landed in Netflix’s Top 10, and the steady releases throughout the month have helped build anticipation and buzz for the saga.

Basically, plenty of folks are going to see those big new blockbusters in theaters — but when we get home, we’re kicking back on the sofa and turning on Netflix to see what’s next for Deena (Kiana Madeira), Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.). It’s locked in engagement and kept folks coming back for nearly an entire month — which is no easy task when you’re competing with a half-dozen other streaming services now.

Netflix has staked out its claim on Summer 2021 with a clever, surprising project that revels in the past. It’s throwback horror with a cutting-edge release like we’ve never seen. But none of it would work if the movies weren’t, ya know, good. Thankfully, Janiak has kept a deft directorial hand on the story and tone of this saga, weaving something with the episodic cliffhanger vibe of must-see TV, with the scope and thrills of blockbuster horror.

Fear Street: 1994 wears its grunge-era street cred on its faded flannel sleeve, kicking things off with a throwback ghost story horror tale that features plenty of brutal kills while establishing the mythology of what drives all that death and horror in Shadyside. It’s Scream meets Stranger Things meets The Faculty, with a soundtrack jam-packed with Bush, Radiohead, and the Pixies. A bit on the nose? Sure, but it works.

Fear Street: 1978 takes things back to one of the legendary killing sprees in Shadyside history, with a camp slasher night of terror that would make the Voorhees clan proud. But it’s not just a throwback for the sake of variety, as the story cleverly pushes the narrative forward by taking the story back a couple of decades, with each piece of the puzzle becoming clearer with each subsequent film. Plus, with bangers from The Runaways, Bowie, and Velvet Underground, this soundtrack also slaps.

The final film throws the story back centuries into the past, digging into the origin of Shadyside’s terrible secrets and the killer story that started it all with something that looks more like The Witch than a modern-day horror pic. Sure, it’s the biggest tonal swing after two stories set in the recent past, but by the time Fear Street: 1666 hits, fans are fully invested in this story. We’ve been peeling back layers on the tale of Sarah Fier for a while now, and Fear Street found a cohesive, brilliant way to tell this story across three distinct eras.

More than that, it managed to dissect the key sub-genres of horror itself, carving out its own story and path without feeling like a mixtape in the process. Fear Street doesn’t just check all the boxes, it does it so smoothly you don’t even feel them being checked along the way.

The Fear Street trilogy is one of the most ambitious horror projects ever conceived, telling a wild, connected story that brings some of the superhero-level world-building and ambition to the slasher and ghost story genre. It’s big, scary, and — most importantly — fun.

Netflix has created something truly unique, and though it's dropping as a summer event, you just know Fear Street is poised to become a Halloween staple for years to come. It’s a timeless tale of terror, and thanks to its creative release strategy, not one we’ll soon forget.

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