If you are a horror fan and queer then it is no surprise that the genre isn’t known for its endearing leading queer characters. More often than not, we are seen as the monsters of the film or the hapless victims. This leads us looking for crumbs we can eat up and relate to in a genre so many of us love.
This is no different for Ohio-born author, R. L. Stine.
Known for his tween horror, the one thing it never really touched on was LGBTQ characters. His first horror book, Fear Street, was published in 1989 and a lot of books being published around 2000, it is no surprise that LGBTQ content wasn’t at the forefront of his mind. His Goosebumps series has been made into several movies and now, most recently, we have seen Fear Street come to Netflix.
Disclaimer: I have never read any of R.L Stine’s books. My love of horror started around third or fourth grade and my first reads were Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Amityville Horror. By sixth grade, I was already working my way through Stephen King. So, R.L. Stine would have been less scary than most of my earlier forays into that genre. This will focus on mainly the movie adaptation.
Enter Shadyside, Ohio, a fictional town where bad things happen due to a curse from around the 16th century and someone being burned at the stake for witchcraft.
R.L. Stine wrote 10 novels for the Fear Street series. Each one had a different setting, as far as monsters or events to face. All of them took place on a small street in Shadyside, called Fear Street. Named for a historic founder Fier (pronounced FEAR).
This year, Netflix released three movie adaptations based loosely on the series. Each were written by gay screenwriter Phil Graziadei. Graziadei grew up on Stine and remembered how short of queer representation they were. Queer kids would pour through these novels looking for some hint of someone/something they could relate to. A way to connect, like so many other kids could.
Putting the Queer in Fear Street
Graziadei and director Leigh Janiak decided that the series needed an update and what better way than to make Shadyside the epicenter of a town of outsiders and center for a queer love story. In turn, making queer people the stars and heroes of the movies.
And why not, LGBTQ people are survivors, after all. We deal with the horrors of discrimination daily and are still thought of as the “monsters” of society.
“It was very clear to us very early on that we wanted to write this about queer leads.” Says Graziadei
If we look back on the horror genre, queer people are often the monster under the bed or one of the first to die. Sleepaway Camp is a prime example where a transgender woman ends up being the serial killer of the movie. The movie did not show transgender people in a very good light.
Fear Street stars Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch as the leading lesbian characters. Madeira plays Deena Johnson and Welch plays her girlfriend Sam Fraser. Sam was forced to move to Sunnyvale by her mother. Sunnyvale is the idyllic white heteronormative place to live. No crime or murder, that is all saved for the outsiders that reside in Shadyside. Shadyside is the perfect birthplace for pure evil that besets the town in death, all thanks to a curse from a witch who has haunted Shadyside since the 1600s.
Deena and Sam’s relationship early ended due to Sam having to move to Sunnyvale. Deena never lost her love for Sam, instead, it turned somewhat sour due to the nature of its ending.
Fear Street Trilogy
Fear Street is broken up into three movies Fear Street Part One: 1994, Part Two: 1978, and Part Three: 1666. Part One opens with a string of murders plaguing, mostly, the youth of Shadyside. For three centuries, Shadyside has been plagued by serial killers and has left the town in an economic downfall.
It is a recent string of murders that brings together Shadyside and Sunnyvale High to mourn a loss. Deena assumes that Sunnyvale is at the heart of these murders due to the views that most of Sunnyvale have for Shadyside. Many of the high schoolers at Sunnyvale feel that losing people in Shadyside is no big loss.
As the first movie progresses, we see how, both, Deena and Sam are tied to these killings. Sam starts having premonitions about the killer and Deena becomes the strength to fight against it. As the movie progresses, we find out that it not just one killer but five. Each one is being controlled by a witch’s curse enacted by Sarah Fier. It culminates in a standoff in a local grocery store, where death is the only answer.
Part One ends with the leads thinking they have solved the curse and they can get back to their love lives only to find out that there is more to the story and their safety, temporary.
The cliffhanger for Part Two
Part Two: 1978
Part Two of the Fear Street trilogy flashes back sixteen years to Camp Nightwing and the story of C Berman. This movie gives further background into the Sarah Fier curse of Shadyside. At the beginning of the movie, we see Ziggy Berman being tied to a tree and preparing to be burned as a witch after being accused of stealing items from the other campers. Ziggy is saved by Nick Goode, a Nightwing counselor.
As the story progresses we learn that Nurse Lane is actually the mother of the Shadyside killer, Ruby Lane. Ruby has made a diary talking about the curse of Sarah Fier and how she became possessed by Satan. This curse leads to another being possessed by Sarah Fier and a new set of killings starts that plague the summer camp.
Ziggy and Cindy Berman (Ziggy’s sister) along with NIck and fellow camp counselor Alice, try to uncover how to break the curse. Using the diary of Ruby, they find clues that help them piece together how to end this brutal nightmare. Through the diary they find out that they should be able to break the curse by reuniting the hand of Sarah with her body.
While trying to end the curse, Ziggy accidentally cuts herself and ends up bleeding on the hand, thereby resurrecting several other Shadyside killers. Ziggy and Cindy end up at the hanging tree. Two are killed at the tree and the Shadyside killers disappear. Nick arrives at the scene int I’ve to save Ziggy.
As the flashback of this movie ends and we arrive back in 1994, Deena realizes the person they have been talking to is Ziggy and that Camp Nightwing is Shadyside mall. As they make their way to the mall to reunite the hand with the body of Sarah Fier, Deena gets a flashback to 1666 where she is seeing through the eyes of Sarah Fier. –Cliffhanger-
Part Three: 1666
As Deena wakes up as Sarah Fier in 1666, we find out she is living in Union, Ohio. The town before it was divided up into Shadyside and Sunnyvale. Sarah lives with her father, George, and brother, Henry.
The movie starts with Sarah talking about meeting her friends at night to get some hallucinogenic berries for a party, later that night. The berries are given to them by a reclusive widow living in the woods. We also learn that Sarah and Hannah love one another in secret. Knowing that their love could spell their deaths. They sneak off to the woods to be together where they share a kiss. A kiss that was witnessed by the town crazy Mad Thomas.
The next day, after this kiss, strange events start taking place in the town. The Pastor starts talking to himself away from others, the town’s water supply is ruined, and the food goes bad. Sarah feels that her love for Hannah is the cause for these “plagues” and shares her feelings with a close friend, Solomon.
Solomon is forced to kill the pastor after he took the lives of several village children. This leads the village to meet and decide they are besieged by witchcraft and Mad Thomas says it is due to Sarah Fier and Hannah making a pact with the Devil. While attempting to flee, Hannah is captured and sentenced to be executed at dawn. Sarah makes it her mission to rescue her.
Sarah thinks the only way to save Hannah and herself is to return to the widow in the woods and enlist her help in actually making a pact with the devil. She discovers she was murdered and she turns to her only friend Solomon for help. The villagers show up there knowing that Solomon has a weak spot for Sarah.
While Sarah is trying to escape from the villagers, she discovers that Solomon has his one set of secrets. He was the one that killed the widow and stole her book. He made a deal for power and wealth and his first sacrifice was the Pastor.
Sarah is later captured and says it was, in fact, her that made the pact with the devil and not Hannah. She brokers Hannah’s release and vows to take vengeance on Solomon. Sarahs’ friends grieve her death and bury her body below the hanging tree.
It is at this point the movie flashes back to 1994, part 2. After this vision, Deena realizes it is the Goode family that is causing all of these macabre murders in Shadyside. Their family caused the death of an innocent who swore revenge. We also learn that the Goode family is fully aware of their connection and has been feeding the evil that their ancestor, Solomon, made a pact with.
Deena, Josh (Deena’s brother), Ziggy, and Martin were sent out to end the curse. The group is faced with all of the killers the pact the Goode family made and Sheriff Nick Goode. In the end. Deena overcomes Nick, the killers disappear, the curse is lifted, and Deena and Sam are free to live their lives as a happy couple.
Fear Street Recap
I must say that it took me to Part Three to realize that these movies wer R.L. Stine books. As mentioned earlier, I never read any of his books, due to not being a fan of tween horror. Without that coloring my vision, I was able to enjoy these movies for what they are, angstsy LGBTQ horror movies. It was really refreshing to watch a horror movie where I could relate to the heroes of the story.
Graziadei and Janiak did an amazing job of retooling the stories to create a horror movie that you could lose yourself in. It gave you the best parts of horror campiness with enough chills to keep you engrossed. The story was well written with characters that were not just one note. You could relate to the pain and love that Deena felt, while feeling sorry for Sam and what she had to go through.
Whether you are an R.L. Stine fan or not, you should take advantage of these movies while you can. Netflix has done wonders with making sure they are including programming that actually speaks to a queer audience. With Halloween only three months away, enjoy a sneak peek into the spooky seating with Fear Street Part One: 1994, Part Two: 1978, and Part Three: 1666, Spine-tingling fun at its most inclusive.