Fear Street – Favorite Throwbacks

I’m a 90s child so I genuinely appreciate throwbacks to that era whether the nods are sincere or ironic. Fear Street makes no illusions about itself as a violent and bloody ode to the past—to high school and peak mall culture, to the heyday of slashers, to damn near every 70s jukebox track that found a second life in comic book movie soundtracks. Sure, movies and TV shows these days are cannibalizing stuff from our childhoods and practically weaponizing our own nostalgia. But what’s so reassuring about Fear Street is that the callbacks and referencing aren’t its only identity; they’re the way in, and only part of what makes the trilogy so addicting.

Some of Fear Street’s throwbacks are clever, some painfully on-the-nose, others plain self-indulgent. (Hey, if you’re gonna set your story in the 90s then you might as well go for it.) But it’s always fun to recognize like a mini-game to play as a viewer. Leigh Janiak gives us them rose-colored nostalgic feels, no time traveling DeLorean necessary.

It took some doing, but I’ve narrowed down all of my favorite easter eggs and shoutouts to a list of 13, including a few things that spoke to me personally. These were the throwbacks that had me pointing at the screen Leonardo DiCaprio-style:

13. Band Uniforms

Actually no, maybe I don’t like this one. I was in marching band throughout high school so attendance at football games was mandatory… along with our uniforms. Sure, there was a point of pride in donning the getup in time for parades and homecoming, but take it from me that shit wears out quick. All zipped up and it’s a fucking sauna in there. Deena’s look of sheer disgust while sporting the uniform along with that insulting feathery top hat that your dignity can never recover from… yeah, I felt that.

12. Flannels

I live in Hawaii where flannels are ALWAYS in. I myself went through a bit of soul-searching in my early middle school days that saw me wearing flannels, long sleeves, and jeans even though it’s a constant 90 degrees here. I love the shoutout in Fear Street for one simple reason: Kiana Madeira. Her character Deena rocks a flannel like no one I’ve ever seen. I wish I exuded half the existential cool she does just by being her angsty self. If there’s one character in Fear Street I related to the most deeply, it’s Deena.

11. Nine Inch Nails – “Closer”

Part One: 1994 at the moment is my favorite of the bunch because it opens with this most excellent needle drop. NIN’s “Closer” is one of the sexiest songs ever made. (A certified banger, truly.) In Fear Street, Trent Reznor’s lyrics are wielded in the most nefarious of double entendres against Maya Hawke’s doomed Heather: You let me desecrate you/you let me penetrate you. Fear Street’s needle drops are anachronistic in this sense. Some might groan, others like Heather and myself could swerve to it all night long.

10. AOL Instant Messenger

Josh is the computer-gamer dork contrasting Deena’s drumline band-geek aesthetic. (Those in drumline get them digits in ways that I will never understand.) But it’s how we meet Josh that’s immediately impressionable: zero dialogue, typing on AOL’s plain and grey window. The funniest line in all of Part One for me is Deena’s retort to her brother, “Do you know how expensive AOL is???” My earliest memories of AIM came courtesy of older siblings who used and abused the service to mainline their school crushes at my parents’ credit card expense. But I can’t say shit because when I was using AIM in the early 2000s, I basically logged on to talk to friends I had just seen HOURS AGO at school. It was so stupid. When AIM reigned supreme, man, you just had to be there. And no, I am NEVER sharing my screen name(s).

9. SPENCER’S

Show me a mallrat someone who didn’t spend time in this 90s through early 2000s mall staple and I’ll show you a liar. Spencer’s was the shop your parents were uncomfortable being in so you loved it. Inappropriate joke shirts, crude toys lining the shelves, borderline BDSM apparel; on top of the blacklight aesthetic, Spencer’s was as edgy as some of us could get before Cards Against Humanity was a thing.

8. Super Soakers

Everyone had these when I was a kid. EVERYONE. You got invited to a friend’s b-day party? It was at the beach or a backyard pool and super soakers were given to all attendees. It got to the point that we’d roll up with our own top-shelf models. (If your parents caved from your incessant nagging at the water sports aisle, they’re real ones ✊) When Josh cocks back the shit in Part Three: 1666, I knew we were in for a ride. Fear Street may get grim, even serious at times, but it never forgets itself as a fun throwback. During the climactic mall showdown, it pulls out all the stops through its ingenious use of super soakers. I can’t think of anything that lightens the mood quite like our heroes armed with these bad boys at the hip.

7. WWE

Not an outright reference per se, but it absolutely exists in setup and execution. In Part Three’s rip-roaring climax, our heroes manage to trap each undead slasher behind store security cages. AND THEN they pit each slasher against each other wherein an epic royal rumble ensues. My man Martin even comes in with a steel chair at one point! This was the epitome of my childhood hype where you wanted nothing more than to see your favorite wrestler duking it out in a cage match against other all-stars. It’s violent, it’s preposterous, and above all, insanely fun to watch.

6. High School Jukebox

This is perhaps what made Part One so egregious and grating for some. As Deena and Josh arrive at school, Fear Street cycles through a staggering three needle drops in a mere 45-seconds. But this didn’t bother me one bit because in high school, this frantic iPod shuffle happened every day on my way to class. Bear with my high school recollection, if you will. I’d walk through one building where Owl City’s “Fireflies” was bumping out of someone’s backpack full of speakers, then cross the lawn where the football team was chillin’ and Bob Marley played aloud, and then I’d stroll by the library where the emos and goths gathered (my people) and stuff like Saosin or Alesana would blare down the halls. Yeah, that bipolar jukebox scroll WAS high school.

5. Summer Camp

What I appreciate the most about Fear Street is how it nails the summer vibe without an abundance of water or swimsuits. We get one shot of a lake in Part Two: 1978, but aside from that I wouldn’t blame you if you never noticed anyone swimming. Fear Street does other things to strike the mood: characters up to no good, crushes and/or grudges taking on extra significance in the heat, or teens thirsting and thrusting as much as their loins can handle. Outside of school, summers don’t quite hit the same because there are no summer breaks in the work year, so time feels all the more punishing. Fear Street hits that reckless summer nostalgia right on the money.

4. Radiohead – “Creep”

I’m sure by now we’ve reached our fill of Radiohead covers and appropriations of their songs to signal boost outcasts and weirdos the world over, but Fear Street gets a pass. Deena, in the throes of her breakup, blares the song on her headphones to match her mood, but the track also underscores how vastly different Shadyside is (a.k.a. a proverbial hotbed for psychos) compared to its rich sister-city Sunnyvale. Only a 30-minute drive but it “may as well be the goddamn moon” as Deena succinctly puts it. Janiak illustrates a class divide through the razor-sharp edges of 90s grunge.

3. Teen Love & Woe

This counts as a throwback because some of us aren’t teenagers forever, Cullen family. The emotional center of Fear Street lies in the beating heart of Deena and Sam’s relationship. When we first meet them in Part One, they’re “done” but they routinely get caught in each other’s orbit. They fight, they get back together, Sam gets possessed, they fight some more. (It always feels like there’s a devil between us, doesn’t it?) If this ain’t high school relationships then I don’t know what is. Jokes aside, Deena and Sam’s conflict keeps us tethered, otherwise we wouldn’t have a lifeline going into Sarah Fier’s own doomed love story – echoed charmingly through Kiana Maderia and Olivia Scott Welch’s recurring casting in Part Three. Melodrama is a tricky thing to portray without tipping into daytime soap opera, but Janiak makes it look easy.

2. ‘Scream’ Intro

Fear Street’s most overt film reference comes first thing. Maya Hawke is our Drew Barrymore going into this slasher saga. As soon as the phone rings at B. Dalton’s, you expect Ghostface to taunt Heather on the other line. Her killer instead is a mostly silent one. I love Fear Street’s homage to Wes Craven because it’s a literal jumping off point into other horror movies. Part One opens with a cover of R.L. Stine’s book then hyperdrives through a cinematic portal. Janiak goes on to paint a macabre spectacle out of Heather’s demise through gloriously over-exposed neon-lighting. It’s exactly how some of us read Stine’s books with blankets and a flashlight, minus the murder. This Craven-style opening sets Fear Street’s tone, not just as a madcap funhouse thrill ride, but also an unrelenting slasher pic where no one is safe, not even the most (objectively) famous person in the cast.

1. Shadyside Killers a.k.a. The History of Horror Redux

Fear Street’s unique premise of psycho killers is a whole bunch of throwbacks rolled into one concept, or rather, an entire history of horror smashed together. Each killer is its own callback: Skull Mask Killer nodding to Ghostface, Nightwing to Jason Voorhees, the Milkman to Michael Myers, etc. Shadyside’s pervading cursed legend gives all of the above a Freddy Krueger-like supernatural flourish. They’re also possessed bodies at one overlord’s bidding, they don’t quite stay dead like a zombie, while more come oozing out of a heart of darkness creature-feature style… you see what I mean? Fear Street is a remix of not just every slasher villain in the canon, but a remix of different horror subgenres. I didn’t even realize it until my last rewatch that Janiak slyly references M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village—ON TOP of so many other movies that I wouldn’t be surprised if months later I’m still spotting more visual cues.

Sure, catching these easter eggs might be a pretentious game, but it’s rewarding for film dorks like myself. There’s a difference between aping and imitating, parody and pastiche. Leigh Janiak’s love for the horror genre is evident through and through. For all of cinema, really. It’s the undeniable pulse that makes Fear Street such a rollicking genre-bending experience. I may not be a huge fan of some of the movies Janiak is quoting here, but her reverent eye makes me appreciate them all the same.

Before, if someone needed an introduction to horror because the genre “isn’t their thing,” I’d jot down a list of ten or so worth checking out.

Now, I’d just point them to Fear Street.

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