Writer’s Note: I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way now. There will be spoilers in this article. If you haven’t started or finished the Fear Street movies, bookmark this page, get you some popcorn and soda, and marathon what remains. Then come back and finish reading.
Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy was one of the highlights of my summer. I know that technically we’re not through the season yet, but I’m confident enough to call this. When loaded up Netflix on July 2 and saw Fear Street Part One: 1994 was streaming, I may or may not have squealed out loud.
Like a lot of book dragons of a certain age, R.L. Stine had an impact on my early reading life. Whether it was the actual Fear Street books themselves, Goosebumps, or any of their spin-offs, he was always present. So, there was a fair amount of nostalgia to be had from the movies based on that alone.
What’s even more amazing is that these movies managed to simultaneously be scary, original, and pay homage to the source material. The bulk of the story wasn’t directly inspired by any of the books that were in the series. There were a few nods, but overall the story was original. The same can be said of the Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark movie, which is also pretty amazing.
But the subtle bookish homages, both for the titular series and other well-known books were there. A few I saw on my own with my initial viewings. Others I had to wait until I re-watched with the intention to look for them before I caught them. Here are some of the bookish references I caught watching these three movies that may have initially been overlooked.
Part One: 1994
The movie opens up with a customer buying The Wrong Number. This is one of the more popular books in the original Fear Street series.
The opening of the first movie takes place entirely at Shadyside mall, which made me think of the book The Mall by Richie Tankersley Cusick. One of the side characters there also worked at a bookstore, like Heather. And speaking of bookstores…
The movie opens in now defunct B. Dalton bookstore. This was always my first stop at the mall as a teenager. I got more than a little bit of a thrill at seeing it, even though it ended up being the start of the attack on Heather.
When Heather is closing down we see a lot of Fear Street books such as The New Girl, Slumber Party, and The Wrong Number. The author’s name in the movies is Robert Lawrence which is what the R.L. in R.L. Stine stands for.
Jackie Collins was a huge author in the ’90s. It would stand to reason there would be a whole display dedicated to her. The books listed there were American Star, Hollywood Husbands, and the (then) recently released Hollywood Kids.
The bookstore also prominently displays Stephen King’s Insomnia which was released September 15, 1994. This means that at the time of the movie, it still would have been a huge bookish deal. I remember this book getting a lot of press and being highly anticipated. As a matter of a fact, it was one of the gifts my sister got from our Dad for Christmas this year.
The Skullface mask that Ryan wears when he is possessed mirrors the one on the cover of Stine’s Halloween Party II, which was a Point Horror novel. This was also a big source of YA horror in the ’90s.
The First Evil is the book that initially saves Heather from getting stabbed in the bookstore. This could be representative of the first evil that came to Shadyside when it was still Union.
The marked off class pictures in the opening credits are very reminiscent of the Fear Street Seniors series where the graduating class of Shadyside meticulously got killed off throughout the school year. The books in the series were released with the deaths of the previous novel being marked off in the mock-up yearbook in the opening pages.
Deena is the next major character we see and one of the final survivors in the series. It is also the name of the character on The Wrong Number.
Her friend Katie is a cheerleader which could be a reference to The First Evil and the rest of the trilogy as well.
Katie is also a babysitter later in the movie, reminiscent of The Sitter. She didn’t have to deal with creepy callers from the killer, though, so that was a nice change.
When the group of kids were leaving to go confront Sam about the person they thought was Peter harassing them, and Katie asks Josh if she is coming with, there is shot of him with a milk carton with a face on it that is prominently featured to his left. That reminded me of The Face of the Milk Carton, which was a big book series in the ’90s.
There is a Jaws reference when Simon inadvertently realizes that the killers are tracking them through Sam’s blood. Even though Simon may have been thinking about the movie or documentary he was watching earlier, it’s still factual.
One of the previous Shadyside Killers was the Humpty-Dumpty killer. (Sorry, Mother Goose.) We don’t know much else about him past the name. But who knows? Maybe he’ll be fleshed out in later volumes.
While the make is different, the car full of Sunnyvale students that followed the Shadyside bus was a red two-door model, much like Christine in the novel by Stephen King.
Another possible reference is to Stephen King’s Firestarter. The song of the same name by Prodigy started to play when the kids decided to try to explode the resurrected Shadyside killers. I mean, it didn’t work, but I appreciated their effort and ingenuity.
Part Two: 1978
In the 1994 section of this installment, Scarlett, the sequel to Gone with the Wind, is displayed on C. Bergman’s table. I remember this book being a huge bookish deal, not just because it came so long after the original (which was due to the work that Mitchell’s family put into finding the right author for the story).
Camp Nightwing was the setting for the Fear Street book Lights Out, although the plots are different.
There are tons of Carrie references in this movie:
*Some of the graffiti the camp mean girls write on Ziggy’s bunk are taken directly from the book.
*You can see a copy of the book under her bunk.
*She’s mixing up paint to re-enact the blood scene.
*It’s a moment that Ziggy and Nick share.
When trying to flirt with Ziggy, Nick mentions that he prefers Salem’s Lot.
Cindy’s former friend is named Alice. Now, this could be a nod to the final girl from original Friday the 13th But it could also be a reference to the Wonderland Alice. After all, it was her idea to go looking for where Nurse Lane’s map would lead them. And the fact that they through a hole to get the underground lair, it seems to be more than a little coincidental.
Alice calls Cindy a “lying Brutus” at one point, a reference to Julius Caesar. Which is pretty damned impressive, considering all the shade thrown at her for her less than scholarly habits. Go Alice!
In the underground cavern, when Cindy discovers the hidden wall, there are a lot of old timey books on the shelf. There is a Holy Bible and Raunjlkers and Nordisk Familjebok, which, if my Google translate didn’t fail me, respectively means Raunjlkers and Nordisk Family Books. This indicates Puritan roots, which is part of the indicator that the true root of the curse may not be someone adept in witchcraft.
There are also a few The Shining references in this one and the last with the way that the possessed killers take down doors with their axes. Nick also mentions it as a candidate for the solo book club Ziggy and he would start.
Ziggy counters that she’s only going to read Judy Blume from now on which, considering the situation they’re in, is fair. Blume was at the height of her fame during this time period.
At the end of the movie, Ziggy’s real name is revealed to be Christine. This could be another sly reference to King’s Christine.
HEY! THIS IS MY LAST WARING.
There will be spoilers below for the overall story arc. So, if you haven’t finished the movie, get that done first before reading on.
Part Three: 1666
Having a Puritan setting, the first part of the movie is very reminiscent of works like The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter. There are false accusations, the mob mentality, no fair trial and immediate sentencing and hanging.
When Hannah is searching through the Bible, the camera focuses in and lingers on a specific passage. The passage in question is Leviticus 26:16, part of which says, “consume the eyes.” This heavily foreshadows what Pastor Miller did to himself and the children after he got possessed. Still it was a pretty brutal and tragic happening. That scene gutted me.
The root of the “curse” was a deal that was made with the devil. This is another theme that has been prevalent in literature for-like-ever.
It goes without saying that a lot of things in this town had Biblical roots, considering the time period. So the idea that Solomon, the actual villain of the series, would be established as leader after Sarah’s wrongful hanging and the root of the Goode family tree is somewhat understandable, since his namesake in the Bible is one of the wisest kings.
When we come back to 1994 in the build up to the showdown with Nick, there is another Carrie reference. Ziggy is the one who comes up with the idea of “Carrie-ing” him to take him down. And, had it actually comes to fruition, it would have been sweet, sweet, justice.
Deena made armor out of books, accurately supposing that she might be stabbed. Some of the books that made up the armor were Slumber Party and Wrong Number. Another book that made a repeat appearance was The First Evil, which again saved someone from getting stabbed. This seemed very intentional considering Nick is the one who stabbed her before he met his end.
Another literary reference could be all the rams and goats that were in Nick’s house. Those animals are synonymous with the devil and the fact that his house had so many just shows their deeper connection.
The surnames of Solomon and Sarah tie directly back to Fear Street Saga books. This trilogy includes The Betrayal, The Secret, and The Burning. In it, the Goode and the Fier families were main characters there and part of the origination of Shadyside. However, in those, it was the Fier family who made the false accusation. This resulted in two innocent Goode daughters being burned at the stake and started the feud between the two families. If memory serves me more though, both families were actually kind of terrible in the book series.
Those are just some of the references that I noticed from the movies. That said, I’m sure there were some that I missed and will notice on future re-watches. Because yeah, this is definitely going to go into my regular rotation.
And that’s because, honestly, this was a brilliant set of movies. I’m not just saying that as a fan. I’m saying that because the seeds for the major reveals are planted throughout the movies. It’s not just a matter of being a fangirl here either. There are some truly brilliant things that seem obvious upon a rewatch of the series.