Fear Street: Queer Horror for a New Generation
When I was a preteen, I read R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books and it was only natural that I would eventually move onto his YA books, the Fear Street series. I got my taste of horror from books because I wasn’t allowed to watch horror movies. It’s funny how I wasn’t allowed to watch Ghostface kill someone, but I could read all about possessed cheerleaders killing each other. So I quenched my thirst for the supernatural such as ghosts, vampires, witches and the criminal with serial killers, slashers, or jealous best friends by taking nightly visits to Fear Street. And all from the safety of my own bedroom.
I loved these books and couldn’t get enough of them. I read them all – from the Evil Cheerleader series to The Fear Street Sagas. I followed the lives of high school seniors in the Fear Street Seniors and I know way too much about the curse of the Fear (Fier) family and how a small street in Shadyside became known as Fear Street. I even know about the curse of Sarah Fier and how the feud between her family and the Goode’s began. That is why when the Fear Street Saga was released on Netflix in the summer of 2021 - I was beyond excited. This was pure teenage nostalgia for me. I missed out on a lot of horror movies that came out when I was a teenager, but the Fear Street book series was something I kept up on. So, you know that I was going to be going into that experience with a critical eye. On first watch I remember that one of my only dislikes was some changes that were made to the Sarah Fier story. However, after a few more watches, I have come to enjoy the direction they took the story to keep it fresh and relevant to today’s social issues - Hex the Patriarchy!
This journey back to Fear Street did something that I was super happy about; other than the killer soundtrack, it was focused on the queer relationship between our protagonists Deena (Kiana Maderia) and Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). When we are first introduced to Deena in Fear Street 1994, we can tell that she is going through the motions of dealing with a breakup, creating a mixtape and writing a letter for someone named Sam. It took me right back to Shadyside, watching teenagers dealing with the ins and outs of love while battling a supernatural or human killer for some terrifying reason was prepared for the typical heteronormative relationship to play out in front of the audience as this was what I was used to from the novels. The usual trope of girl meets boy, girl dates boy, boy is planning to kill girl for some sort of revenge plot or, alternatively, girl is actually a ghost. These were common tropes in the novels and with little to no queer representation.
So, when Deena is approached by Sam after the rally, we learn that Sam is in fact her ex-girlfriend and that their relationship had to end not only because of distance, but because Sam is hiding her sexuality from her family. I WAS FLABBERGASTED! I remember cheering at how great it was but also a little apprehensive as to how it was going to be handled. For as we know, queer characters don’t often live very long in horror movies and representation can often be poor or stereotypical.
However, the Fear Street Trilogy, directed by Leigh Janiak, didn’t do that, they did the opposite. We watched the relationship develop between Sam and Deena as they fight the curse and save their friends and town of Shadyside. It is a queer horror movie(s) that portrays a positive representation of homosexuality! The narrative isn’t punishing and their relationship is normalized. From what we learn about them throughout the series is that Deena comes from a poorer family, with no mother and a working father who is distant, even non existent throughout the movies. Deena is the older sister who looks after her nerdy brother, all while she navigates her hurt and angry feelings from a breakup. A breakup she felt was only inevitable not due to the distance, but because Sam was ashamed of her own queer identity. Sam, we see that she is a cheerleader at her new high school in Sunnyvale. She is also kissing a male football player. When confronted by Deena, she states that her moving to Sunnyvale was due to her parent’s divorce. But Deena challenges her that she could have stayed in Shadyside but left because she was continuing to hide from her possible shame of her queer identity. They are fully developed characters.
As the series progresses, while Sam is adamant that her feelings for Deena were genuine, she, like many other young queer girls in the 90s, hides this from her family and school. You can tell that they would’ve had to be discreet and secretive about their relationship to keep it from Sam’s family - as indicated by Deena looking both in longing and disgust at heterosexual couples openly making out in the hallways of the school. Only Deena’s closest friends know about her relationship with Sam as she is very open about her queer identity. Sam, on the other hand, hides/denies/avoids her queerness by trying to fit into a heteronormative relationship and “lifestyle” to please her mother. Watching the struggles in this relationship with Sam coming to terms with her feelings for Deena and being queer, reminded me of my own journey in coming out and dating my first girlfriend.
What I saw in these films was something I wished I had when I was coming into my own queer identity in my young adult years. For many of us queers growing up in the 90s and 00s, we had to find queer narratives as subtext in our favorite books, movies or shows. For me, it was Xena Warrior Princess and a lot of Japanese anime such as Sailor Moon, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Fushigi Yugi. When I started to date my first girlfriend and we learned more about queer culture, we began to find out about the various queer movies that we could watch for representation. Granted this was the early 2000s and some of these films were not easy to obtain - unless it was through eBay. But, we put the time and money in and I was able to watch movies like Better Than Chocolate, Lost and Delirious, Heavenly Creatures, But I’m a Cheerleader, Bar Girls, and Bound. It was my first dive into queer cinema and I was happy to find representation even if it wasn’t perfect. I was able to find these films at a young enough age that helped me come into my identity and challenge my heteronormative mindset.
Deena reminded me of my ex who came out in high school and through her coming out, I realized that I had feelings for her myself. We started dating during my grade 11 year, and I remember having to keep our relationship a secret because I went to a Catholic high school, my stepmother was a religion teacher, and my family was homophobic. So for the entirety of our relationship for two and a half years we kept it a secret. While my closest friends and brother knew we were dating, even while living together, I kept a dual life by not telling my family and anyone associated with them. I didn’t come out until after my girlfriend and I broke up because it had been such a sudden and dramatic change in my life. I was like Sam, pretending to be someone else.
In the Fear Street Trilogy, I was able to see a narrative about a queer love story that was similar to my own. The ups and the downs of what it was like to hide a relationship and your love for someone of the same gender. I was able to relate to these well developed queer characters because it was their story that was the center of the story. They were not pushed aside for a heteronormative coupling and typical plot lines. Or a tragic ending that punished queer characters for being themselves. Their narrative is intertwined with the desire to save Shadyside from a curse that prevents them from the opportunities to live better lives. Sam and Deena become the heroes of their story and get their happy ending which is not often heard of in queer horror.
It has only been in the last six years that I have learned so much about queer horror and the trials and tribulations of queer fans looking for representation in films that wasn’t punishing, but celebrated. This is why I feel that the Fear Street series is a game changer for young queer horror fans. It is positive queer representation and relevant to the experience that is still felt by young queers who feel they need to hide themselves or their relationships. This has been really important for a new generation of queer horror fans who can watch their stories on screen and not feel alienated or villainized.
The Fear Street novels may have missed the mark in introducing relationships outside of the cis-white heteronormative structure, but the Fear Street Trilogy did not. In introducing to the pantheon of queer horror Deena and Sam as heroes of their own horror franchise, a new generation of Fear Street fans will emerge to protect their right to love who they love.