For die-hards, no horror movie can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong one can leave you miserable. Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies, comparing them with classics along a 10-point scale. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each movie’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore.
This time, the Scaredy Scale takes on Fear Street, the Netflix movie trilogy based on the series of books by R.L. Stine. Because the movies are being released on a weekly schedule, we’ll mostly concentrate on the first, which is set in 1994. (Subsequent installments are set in 1978 and the not-at-all-ominous-sounding 1666.) Set in the cursed suburb of Shadyside, the movie follows teenage Deena (Kiana Madeira) as she tries to escape a knife-wielding serial killer with a connection to an ancient evil that has plagued the town for centuries.
The Scream-style opening of 1994 tells you that the Fear Street movies are not messing around, and also serves notice to anyone expecting another Goosebumps movie that the films in this trilogy, unlike the books they’re based on, are rated R and leaning into it. Leigh Janiak, who directed all three movies and co-wrote the scripts, isn’t afraid of a good nerve-jangling jump scare, but as the story’s supernatural elements deepen, it’s not just a matter of guessing which dark patch the skull-masked killer is going to jump out of. The freakier things get, the less you know what to expect, and not knowing what to worry about is even more tense.
Fear Street’s killers stick to the traditional tools of their trade—a long-bladed kitchen knife in 1994, a double-bladed axe for 1978’s summer camp massacre—and they get results. Throats are split, heads severed, body parts left lying around like scattered children’s toys. These aren’t classic slasher movies where the driving purpose is feeding their characters into a meat grinder (figuratively or literally), but the body counts get pretty impressive.
Fear Street is part supernatural horror, part dude-with-an-ax slasher, and part winking metamovie, so how spooky it is depends very much on which mode (and which movie) you’re in. It’s hard to feel too much of a chill when a young woman’s mortal terror is sharing screen space with a gag about the ’90s vogue for blacklight posters. There are moments of real eeriness, but for the most part the movies are aiming at funny/gory more than evoking deep-seated dread.
The Fear Street movies are in love with classic slasher flicks, and the trilogy radiates that love from every ripped-open pore. There’s a ton of gore, plenty of look-out-behind-you shocks, and an enduringly creepy image or several, plus an underlying story about the down-on-their-luck Shadysiders getting revenge on their privileged-and-loving-it neighbors in wealthy Sunnydale. It’s a gross-out gas, and might be the ideal on-ramp for tweens raised on R.L. Stine books to work their way up to full-fledged horror. It’s too much for younger kids, no matter how much they love Goosebumps, but for anyone raised on them—or for that matter, on Stephen King, who gets an obligatory shoutout in the ’70s chapter—they’re great, bloody fun.