'Fear Street Part 3: 1666' Review: The Horror Trilogy Comes To A Satisfying End

The Fear Street saga comes to a satisfying close with Fear Street Part 3: 1666, a grand finale that manages to tie the entire series together in a neat little bow. Drawing on The Witch, Terrence Malick's The New World (yes, really), The Crucible, and more, Fear Street Part 3 is another loving pastiche; a tribute to the endless horror (and other) influences that came before it. All this homage can make for moments of predictability, and indeed, things that are meant to be big twists here are spotted coming miles away. But none of that truly diminishes the immensely entertaining accomplishment director Leigh Janiak has achieved with this trilogy. Long live Fear Street.

1666 strives to answer any lingering questions that haunt the Fear Street saga. We're thrust back in time to Union, the colony that would eventually break in half to form the prosperous Sunnyvale and the haunted Shadyside. All throughout this series, the teen heroes of Fear Street have been dealing with the curse of Sarah Fier, an alleged witch hanged back in 1666. Up until now, the series has avoided giving Sarah Fier an actual physical presence. She's only been mentioned, with the undead slashers carrying out the dirty work.

But Sarah comes to life here. Fear Street Part 3 makes the interesting, and perhaps unnecessary choice of having Kiana Madeira, who also plays 1990s teen Deena Johnson in the series, play Sarah Fier. Sort of. The real Sarah Fier, who is glimpsed from time to time in quick flashes, is actually played by Elizabeth Scopel, but Madeira acts as her stand-in. It's not entirely clear why the film takes this approach – we aren't meant to be watching Deena herself suddenly thrust back in time. She's just supposed to be Sarah. And elsewhere in Union, we see actors from the previous films – like Sadie SinkJulia RehwaldBenjamin Flores Jr., and more – playing different characters. Are they meant to be ancestors of the characters we met in the other films? Have they been reincarnated? Fear Street Part 3 never bothers to address this, and I suspect the real reason for doubling up the actors is simply so the audience can quickly identify and sympathize with everyone without the script having to do much heavy lifting. After all, it's as if we know all these people already.

As potentially lazy as all of this is, it doesn't hurt Fear Street Part 3. Primarily because this is all secondary, and Maderia's Sarah Fier is the focus here. While Maderia (and everyone else in the 1600s setting) is forced to adopt a sometimes questionable Irish accent, she does her strongest work of the trilogy in this film, turning Sarah Fier into a sympathetic, memorable character. Sarah has always been different – "There's always been a strangeness about you," her father tells her – and Maderia's work is emotionally rounded and even beautiful. If this trilogy, and film's performance, in particular, doesn't help her career grow even bigger, something is seriously wrong here.

If you've been paying attention to the trilogy you've probably guessed that there's more to the Sarah Fier story than the spooky legends suggest, and Fear Street Part 3 peels back the curtain and gives us the truth. It's a harsh, cruel, tragic truth, telling a story of how strong women can be punished for daring to be themselves. Sarah has fallen in love with her friend Hannah (played by Olivia Scott Welch, who also plays Sam in the '90s), just as Deena and Sam have fallen in love centuries later. But while the romance between the two girls may seem taboo to some in the 1990s, it's downright blasphemous in 1666. As Hannah points out, if the townsfolk discover that the two young women are making eyes at each other, they'll both be condemned to death.

This potential discovery, and the certain doom that comes with it, casts a long, dark shadow over the relationship, tearing Sarah up inside. But she'll soon have bigger problems because after Union's minister goes mad and murders several children, the residents descend into hysteria. They don't accept that a man of the cloth simply snapped and went crazy – they're convinced some sort of witchcraft is afoot here. It doesn't help matters that the town well ends up poisoned, food spoils, and other foul omens crop up. These are the bubbling, deadly ingredients of a witch hunt in the making.

Because the majority of the film takes place in 1666, Janiak and company are forced to drop the incessant needle drops – and thank heavens for that. The constant barrage of wall-to-wall music was one of the major distractions of Fear Street Part 1 and Fear Street Part 2, and by finally turning them off, Janiak has ended up crafting a much stronger film. We no longer need pop hits to tell us how to feel – we can let the storytelling do the work. This is coupled with Malick-like shots of babbling brooks and sun creeping through the leaves on trees. When I saw Janiak claim in press materials that she drew on Malick's The New World for this entry, I was both amused and doubtful. But Janiak wasn't kidding around – there are shots here that genuinely look as if they were lifted directly from Malick's masterpiece, and having such imagery unfolding in a Netflix horror movie is a touch surreal.

Eventually, Fear Street Part 3 finds its way back to the 1990s, resulting in a Stranger Things-esque finale that isn't quite as satisfying as the 1600s segments – but still plenty fun. There's a late scene that can best be described as a slasher royal rumble, with all of the trilogy's monsters smashing together while black lights cast their eerie dark glow over the town mall. It's a horror lover's dream to watch.

A stimulating, inspired atmosphere prevails – we're caught up in the lives of these characters, and we want them to succeed, damn it! When Deena gives a big motivational speech about saving Shadyside, it's both fatuously corny and charmingly rousing. Oh, brother, you want to cringe while thinking, Hell yeah, go get 'em, kids! at the same exact time. You can't beat that sort of pervasive fun, and make no mistake – Fear Street Part 3 is an absolute blast. But there's tragic darkness prevailing here, as there has been through the previous entries. Yes, we're having a good time with all this horror, but we're also affected by the senseless death and dismemberment. There is no reveling in the spilling of blood here. There's just a unique feeling of loss; the sense of cosmic injustice at young lives being cruelly snuffed out by thoughtless, uncaring hands. It's oddly beautiful in a devastating way. Who knew R.L. Stine books could inspire something like this?

Fear Street has become an event almost by accident. The trilogy was originally designed for theaters, but its Netflix release strategy of a new film every week has given this series the type of staying-power that so many other straight-to-streaming films lack. In fact, don't be surprised if you find yourself sad that this will be your last visit to Shadyside. But who knows what the future holds. If Netflix, Janiak, and company invite us to take another stroll down Fear Street someday, I'm more than ready to go back. I think you will be, too./Film Rating: 8 out of 10