Spoilers are ahead. In the first two installments of Fear Street, a specter looms in the dark, threatening everything and everyone: Sarah Fier, the rumored witch who centuries ago cursed Shadyside to know nothing but death and despair as their Sunnyvale neighbors prosper. The final chapter, Fear Street: 1666, puts flesh and bone to the legend, as we travel back in time and witness the origin story that kicks off all the terror. Turns out, there's a lot more to this ghost story than we thought — but if you’ve been following the Leigh Janiak-directed trilogy, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
With Fear Street, Janiak has worked to subvert the slasher genre, centering her narrative (based on the book of the same name by R.L. Stine) around figures who rarely get the spotlight. Case in point: multiracial actress Kiana Madeira’s Deena, who leads the strong ensemble cast. She’s a queer woman of color who has sex — a lethal combination of almost every horror movie trope that all but ensures an early death.
“You don't often — if ever — get a Black queer girl [as] your main protagonist driving [the story] forward,” Janiak told Refinery29 in an Zoom interview in June. “To me, there was something really special about being able to create this world of Shadyside, which is full of outsiders, people who have been told that they’re “other” by society, and letting them be the heroes. That was the biggest trope that I was interested in twisting. And it's honestly why I felt like we should make Fear Street — because we could do something new with the genre.”
The original Fear Street books are full of dangers and creatures. ”Basically anything insane that can happen in a horror universe happens in the Fear Street books,” Janiak joked. But the director was adamant that her movies should have a message beyond jump scares. Hence, the mythology around Sarah Fier was born, unpacking layers of misogyny, racism, and classism, all while delivering solid thrills.
“In the books, the world of Shadyside exists as a world where bad things happen in the books. For us, it’s a world where bad things happen to a very specific part of the population,” she said. “Everything kind of grew from that division between the haves and the have-nots.”
Fear Street: 1666 takes the well-known trope of the witch, the overly powerful woman who wields dark magic to fulfill her own selfish ambitions, and turns it upside down. The third and final Fear Street movie opens with a terrified Deena, whose consciousness was catapulted back in time in the final moments of 1978, inhabiting the body of the original Sarah Fier.
This version of Sarah is the antithesis of what we’ve come to expect: She’s kind and respected in the village of Union (which, as its name suggests, was a unified village that split into Shadyside and Sunnyvale in the aftermath of an as-yet unknown tragedy). She also has a secret: In a twist that parallels Deena’s own relationship with Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), we soon see that Sarah is in love with a woman, her friend Hanna Miller (also played by Scott Welch). Their relationship is forbidden, and they’ve managed to hide it — until one night, when the young people of Union gather in the woods for some revelry.
In addition to Deena and Sam, we catch several other familiar faces from past Fear Street installments in this crowd: 1994’s Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) becomes Henry, Sarah’s brother; Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) are Lizzie and Isaac and still a couple; and Sheriff Nick Goode (Ashley Zuckerman) is Solomon Goode, a lonely widower and Sarah’s friend. Meanwhile 1978’s Ziggy Berman (Stranger Things star Sadie Sink) is now Constance, Hannah’s sister, while Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd) is now Abigail.
The decision to use the same cast was a purposeful one by Janiak, who wanted to give a sense of continuity to the history that still plagues the descendants of Union more than 300 years later. “[I wanted to] explore generational trauma and the idea that history kind of repeats itself,” she said.
That idea is at the heart of 1666, which reveals that the legend of Sarah Fier as the witch who forever cursed Shadyside is a false tale. After she is spotted making out with Hannah in the woods by a village zealot, Sarah is blamed for Union’s sudden turn of bad luck. The fruits start to rot, and neighbors turn against one another. Most gruesomely, the pastor is possessed by an evil spirit, who instructs him to lure Union’s children into his church and rip out their eyeballs. It’s a moment that’s been alluded to throughout the franchise — we’ve seen snippets of the pastor surrounded by flies — but the real thing is even more horrifying, perhaps because we’ve seen Union at its best.
If 1994 was influenced by Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and 1978 held echoes of Halloween and Friday the 13th, Terrence Malick’s The New World served as inspiration for 1666, Janiak said. The idea, she said, was to show how quickly an idyllic society can be corrupted by fear and deceit, resulting in centuries of suffering.
When Hannah gets arrested and sentenced to hang, Sarah decides to sell her soul to the devil in order to save her. But here’s the twist: Solomon Goode has beaten her to it. He’s the one behind the downfall of Union, having struck a deal with Satan to ensure his family’s future prosperity: For the price of one Union soul every few years, the Goodes will enjoy good fortune and stability forever. When Sarah realizes what he’s done, Goode throws her to the wolves, framing her as the witch. At first, she resists, but when she realizes that an admission of guilt might save Hannah’s life, she relents. Still, as the noose is placed around her neck, she does utter a curse; but one focused on Goode and his descendents, who, she vows, will be made to pay one day.
The truth is out: Shadyside’s reputation as “Killer Capital, USA” isn’t actually Sarah Fier’s legacy. Every firstborn Goode man — yes, including the Sheriff who so sweetly kissed Ziggy Berman as a teenager — has been sacrificing a neighbor’s soul to the devil in exchange for the family’s continued success.
That this twist works as well as it does is in large part due to the format of the trilogy. Janiak’s narrative pacing expertly builds up the lore of Sarah Fier over the course of two entire movies, ensuring that we, the viewers, are just as surprised as the protagonist once we learn the truth. That’s a lesson that Janiak ultimately hopes everyone takes away from this franchise — once you get over the blood and guts, of course.
“The story that gets told is often the story told by the winner,” she said. “What is the truth, and how does that get corrupted over time? Who do we scapegoat?”