Near the end of Fear Street Part 3: 1666, a character fashions a bulletproof vest out of teen horror books like the ones upon which this film trilogy is based. This is a fitting metaphor for how horror can empower teens and serve as a tool for surviving the all-too-real terrors of everyday life. 1666 is a horror film with that kind of power. Easily the best in the Netflix trilogy, it makes us shudder at the past and appreciate the present. 

The film puts 1994’s heroine, Deena (Kiana Madeira), in the shoes of Sarah Fier, the witch who cursed her home of Shadyside. In fact, all of the key players from the previous two films return as the town’s early settlers. The young actors speak in spotty period accents, giving the film the charm of a high-school production of The Crucible

Deena’s girlfriend, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), plays her love interest again this time. And it’s their love that leads the town into a witch hunt. After they’re caught kissing, animals behave strangely, food begins to rot and the settlers’ simmering homophobia boils over. 

Given how 1994 imbues its era with a more progressive spirit, I can see why some would consider 1666 a backward step. But then again, it’s set in a remote Christian village nearly 400 years ago, not a civilized suburbia from just three decades back. Depiction, especially of less woke times, is too often mistaken for endorsement, plus the film’s conflict isn’t a straight while male fantasy created out of misogyny. The screenplay is written by two female allies (director Leigh Janiak and Kate Trefry) and a gay man (Phil Graziadei), and its depiction of lesbianism being linked to witchcraft is unfortunately based in reality. Gay women have been the target of witch hunts from the 1600s through the Satanic Panic of the ’80s and ’90s and all the way up to today

Just as The Silence of the Lambs could’ve avoided the bad look of making its villain queer, 1666 could’ve pinned its curse to something other than lesbianism. But in a way, it does. The film ultimately suggests that the town’s wicked reaction to Sarah Fier’s sexuality is the real cause of the curse. 

While 1994 makes its period setting more diverse and inclusive, 1666 hits us with the ugly truth of its era. It reminds us that, sadly, it takes hundreds of years for some things to change. But in the end, the two girls’ love triumphs over evil, and the truth about Shadyside’s haunted history is revealed. (Not much of a spoiler; this whole series has a big heart and a strong sense of hope.) 

Madeira and Welch gracefully carry 1666, sharing what seems like a lifetime’s worth of chemistry. Their characters’ love lends the film a tenderness amid its bleak, brutal atmosphere. 

Sure, you could bemoan the film’s use of queerness as a device for witch-hunt horror (although its use is completely well-intentioned). But what does that leave us? The same heteronormative teen horror films we’ve been getting since the birth of the genre? You don’t have to dig the Fear Street movies, but let’s take a step back and appreciate what they are. The first major horror film series helmed solely by a female director, these films take us back in time, shed light on underrepresented stories and speak positively to the teens of Gen Z. They’re undeniably special. It’s been a treat to stream them over the past three weekends.