The Radical Happy Ending of ‘The Fear Street Trilogy’
There is a long-standing trope within pop culture called “Bury Your Gays.” It’s unclear when the term was first coined, but its purpose is to shed light on the number of LGBT characters in media who die. Critics of the trope aren’t asking for LGBT characters to be invincible; it’s much more complicated than that. Autostraddle has been dutifully updating a list of every lesbian and bisexual character who has died on TV since 1976, with the most recent update in March of 2022. The list contains 225 names and continues to grow.
On the surface, 225 characters from 1976 to 2022 may not seem like a lot. However, it’s important to remember that LGBT characters are a very small percentage of the total number of characters on television. GLAAD has been compiling an annual report called Where We Are on TV that takes stock of how well LGBT people are represented on television. Their reports date back to 2005, but 2007–2008 is the first full report available. During that television season, there were three queer female characters on US network television. Two lesbians and one bisexual woman made up the three regular/recurring characters.
All three of those women died during the 2007–2008 television season.
That’s the problem. The deaths of queer women in pop culture are overwhelming in comparison to their heterosexual co-stars, and the 2007–2008 year is not out of the ordinary. Yes, the number of LGBT people being represented on television has skyrocketed, but the “Bury Your Gays” trope continues to rear its ugly head. The death of Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) on The CW’s The 100 in 2016 was a watershed moment. After assuring fans on Twitter that Lexa’s story wouldn’t end the way fans feared it would (with a tragic, unnecessary death), showrunner Jason Rothenberg did exactly that.
It’s easy to dismiss this as people just wanting to complain about something, but the regularity with which LGBT characters die or have unhappy endings does real damage. It’s impossible to avoid drawing connections to real-life parents with gay kids who worry about their future. Will my kid be happy? Will they find love? Why are they making their life more difficult by being gay? Quite simply, many of these questions come from the fact that a happy ending for queer people isn’t visible. Society turns to movies and TV to understand things they don’t know about. If almost every iteration of a queer person in media is met with violence, vitriol, and death, then of course people will accept that as an inevitability. It’s harmful to everyone watching.
In the summer of 2021, Netflix released The Fear Street Trilogy based on R.L. Stine’s classic book series of the same name. The films are stylistically remnant of the slasher movies from the ’80s but with a glossy, modern sheen. The trilogy takes place in the cursed town of Shadyside, which for centuries has had brutal, inexplicable massacres. Regular people would suddenly go on a murdering spree, seemingly possessed by an otherworldly force. The teenagers think the town is cursed by a witch named Sarah Fier who was executed in Shadyside back in 1666.
The Fear Street Trilogy’s movies center on Shadyside in three different time periods. There’s present-day 1994, the Camp Nightwing massacre in 1978, and the origin of Sarah Fier in 1666. In 1994, Deena (Kiana Madeira) is reeling from a break-up with Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). Deena lives in Shadyside, but Sam just moved to the bordering, picture-perfect town of Sunnyvale, where nothing goes wrong. The movie begins with a murder at the Shadyside Mall that residents attribute to the curse of Sarah Fier.
Deena and Sam attend the vigil for the Shadyside Mall victims. Sam is in a car accident afterward, and before she’s taken to the hospital, she has a vision of Sarah Fier. Deena, despite the fact that she and Sam have broken up, cares deeply for Sam and visits her at the hospital. While there, they’re attacked by the same murderer from the mall. Sam and Deena realize the car accident disturbed Sarah Fier’s grave, and that since Sam bled on the grave, she is now connected to Sarah Fier.
On the surface, The Fear Street Trilogy is perfect sleepover material. It has an impeccable soundtrack and it’s just spooky enough that it will keep you on your toes, but it won’t keep you up at night. Beyond the surface-level haunts, The Fear Street Trilogy is about centuries-long anger manifesting in murderous massacres. The reasons for Shadyside’s misfortune and massacres go back to 1666 when young, queer, preacher’s daughter Hannah Miller is about to be executed for being in love with Sarah Fier. At the last moment, Sarah sacrifices herself so Hannah can stay alive by saying she walked with the devil.
In horror movies especially, there’s a trope that the token minority character always dies first. When watching The Fear Street Trilogy for the first, there is the back-of-the-mind thought that Deena and Sam, two queer women, are statistically unlikely to make it through all of this mayhem. Audiences have seen queer women die from much less: stray bullets, toxic envelope glue, electrocuted in a bathtub, the list goes on. There’s no way Deena and Sam make it out alive.
And yet, in a triumphant ending, Deena and Sam are alive. They’re as happy as they can be, given the trauma and death they live through. The final scene is the two of them kissing on the grave of Sarah Fier. Queer love broke the curse of greed. A love that was born centuries ago planted a seed that would be harvested by Deena and Sam. This happy ending, in spite of the horror, is radical. The trilogy had many opportunities to end things differently with either Deena or Sam not surviving, but saw the value of that final image. Deena and Sam reclaim their town and relish in a happy ending that was 328 years in the making. 🩸
Tina Kakadelis is a movie critic, pop culture writer, and one-time middle school poetry award winner. She currently resides in Pittsburgh with her tiny dog, Frankie. You can find her on all social media @captainameripug or at tinakakadelis.com.
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