When we think of slasher horror movies, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A serial killer, lots of blood, narrative stereotypes, and as you can imagine one or two survivors (embodied by the model of the shy, empathetic, heroic final girl who never becomes the target of the killer).
Since the genre’s popularization in the early 1970s with the start of the ‘Halloween’ saga, feature films in this genre have undergone constant recycling, fueling a formula that would be emulated until today and eventually fall into uniformity. Of course, several productions will go down in movie history as groundbreaking, such as the aforementioned franchise, “The Nightmare Hour,” “Friday the 13th” and “Scream,” spanning over two decades of archetypal revitalization and deconstruction to feature something new to the public. Since then, attempts to revive the slasher have turned into miserable and comedic failures that have failed even to honor the works that came before them – with rare exceptions like the amusing “A Morte Dá Te Parabéns” and “A Nanny” (who, in fact, dives headlong into sour humor instead of being content with the obvious).
‘Rua do Fedo’, it seemed, seemed to follow the same tragic path of so many country plots. Billed as the original Netflix trilogy, the production brought to life the writings of one of the masters of literature, RL Stine, inviting us to discover the mysterious town of Shadyside, the scene of America’s most unspeakable brutalities and linked to the story of a young woman named Sarah Fier, hanged after being convicted of witchcraft. The three films span three different time periods (1994, 1978 and 1666), which immediately makes us wonder what plot we would be dealing with. The result was totally different from what had been imagined and, despite a rocky start, the trilogy achieved enormous popularity and a concrete era of rebirth of slashers and B-movies, guided by the director’s brilliant and pragmatic mind. Leigh Janiak.
And why has this mini-franchise been so successful?
As a first step, we can only focus on the creative competence of Janiak and his team. All three chapters are anchored in the same frame – the psychotic breaks of Sarah Fier and Shadyside – increasing the issues volume after volume until the truth comes out. In 1994, the protagonists Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) become the target of vengeful ghosts who want to kill them after crossing the road of a mythology that dates back to the first centuries of colonization in North America; in 1978, Ziggy Berman (Gillian Jacobs / Sadie Sink) takes the reins of the story and revisits the traumatic events of Camp Nightwing; in 1666, finally, a leap into the past calls into question everything we know about Sarah Fier – and points to an unexpected culprit.
As already mentioned in a similar post, feature films are love letters to classic horror titles and fantasy dramas from decades past – so it was almost impossible not to fall for truisms. However, Janiak seems to know that running away from clichés is a tricky task, making sure they appear in a practical, familiar, and satisfying way, so to speak.
While this work does not seem to bear much fruit in the first chapter of the trilogy, there are moments that deserve our attention: the prologue to ‘1994’ alludes to the famous opening sequence of ‘Scream’, but modifies certain elements to reinforce the idea that a mystical force lurks in Shadyside, revealing the identity of the killer. The same thing happens in ‘1978’, which mimics ‘Friday the 13th’ and Camp Crystal Lake, showing who the serial killer will be before death occurs. The idea is not to infuse the bloody gore with a pinch of suspense, but to accomplish what has been promised and achieve the initial dialogism with what happens in the present timeline of the story – allowing even another twist to emerge from this atmosphere. ‘1666’, in this regard, resolves to delve into the mysticism of the 17th century and the Western Inquisition for a race against time that ends in the most fabulous way possible, without losing the essence of the predictable intentional).
It is remarkable how each architectural element operates within its limits, never claiming to be more profound or symbolic than it manages to be. However, there is a Janiak preference to reshape this framework so explored by the cinematic scenario: the subtleties are found, for example, in the decision to keep the lesbian couple alive until the grand finale, breaking the “rule” that placed as the main victim of the murderer; and that of demystifying the idea of the final girl, which, in theory, should represent the victory of good over evil. Here, there are several survivors (especially since the number of bodies is exponential), and the complexity of their personalities prevents them from falling into creative Manichaeism. Maintaining Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) as an active member of the arches in contrast to the tragic death of Simon (Fred Hechinger) is therefore another indication that clichés can still be used in unthinkable ways.
“Rua do Medo” can have its problems – in fact, there are few productions that do not; but Janiak must be credited with recognizing that escaping sameness is a difficult task, and ultimately embracing what is known can be a very functional alternative.
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