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The Fear Street Universe Explained

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

The past is never really in the past on "Fear Street." The new trilogy of films brings R.L. Stine's hit teen book series to life, with the residents of Shadyside enduring a centuries-old curse that dooms the town to a horrific history — until a group of determined teenagers steps up to stop the cycle of terror once and for all.

Each "Fear Street" film takes place at a distinct point in time, but all three eras are smattered with blood for the same reason. Shadyside's local legends would have you believe that Sarah Fier, who was hanged back in colonial times for practicing witchcraft, has been the one turning innocent people into mass murderers over the centuries. But the truth about why Shadyside is a literal hellscape is even darker.

Let's take a look at all of the gory details that make the "Fear Street" universe so awesome, from the wickedly addictive book series to the time-traveling movie trilogy. Beware the spoilers!

The Fear Street story that started it all

In 1989, R.L. Stine released the first installment of what would become a full-on pop culture phenomenon with "The New Girl." The book centered on the arrival of a mysterious new high school student named Anna, who charmed a boy named Cory ... until everything around her started to get very strange. With no record of her at the school and her own family claiming Anna was dead, the creepy things happening in Cory's life had him convinced he'd just fallen in love with a ghost. And, of course, Cory had to find out the truth about Anna before it was too late. The novel was exhilarating and set an eerie tone for the many misadventures ahead in this fateful new town of Shadyside.

From there, the prolific Stine wrote over 50 "Fear Street" novels, along with several spinoff series like "Fear Street Cheerleaders," "The Ghosts of Fear Street," and "Fear Street Super Chiller." The books each presented different characters — usually teens — who dealt with various types of scares, from spooky specters to good old-fashioned murder mysteries – and sometimes both.

The "Fear Street" books also ultimately interconnected to flesh out the reason its central town was such a hotbed for horror. The prequel trilogy, "The Fear Street Saga" — released over the course of three months in late 1993 — took readers back to the Puritan age to revisit a bitter family feud between the Goodes and the Fiers. After a poor Goode daughter fell in love with a wealthy Fier son, she and her mother were unjustly persecuted for witchcraft by the boy's father in order to avoid a marriage between the families. But what the Fiers didn't know was that a surviving member of the Goode clan really was practicing witchcraft, and thanks to vengeful Goode curse, the Fiers brought their personal frightfest right along with them to Shadyside.

The films, of course, give this legend a few new twists, but the themes of witchcraft, devil worship, forbidden forests, love, betrayal, family rivalries, and ceaseless vengeance across time come through on the page and screen alike. And just as the books each focused on one piece of the terrible puzzle, while weaving in a few familiar names and returning characters to tie the stories together, each and every murder spree in the movie could fill the pages of a standalone story while also rippling out and connecting to the curse that binds them all.

The terror town

As in R.L. Stine's beloved books, the cinematic town of Shadyside is plagued with acts of random violence, and it all relates back to a 17th-century curse ... just not the one everyone's been told about. However, despite generations of mass murderers and all-around blight, many Shadysiders are still skeptical of any supernatural origins, so the waves of bloodshed continue unabated until 1994, which is where the first film in the series picks up.

In "Part One," we meet a group of teens who are very familiar with the legend of the vengeful witch, Sarah Fier, and some of them even join in with all the eye-rolling whenever that fabled poem about her is recited, even after another serial slaying takes place at the mall. But when they accidentally stumble upon Sarah Fier's abandoned corpse and one of their ranks is suddenly beset with images of the distant past and a barrage of notoriously dead killers coming after her, they have no choice but to seek out the truth of this long-lived legend once and for all.

And as the old story goes, Sarah Fier was hanged in 1666, back when Union County was still being settled. The young woman was accused of being a witch and supposedly making a deal with the devil, giving up her hand in exchange for eternal life. Thus, Shadyside lore says, Sarah Fier can possess innocent citizens and turn them into killers, which explains why Shadyside has produced so many murderers throughout the centuries. By the end of "Part Three," though, it becomes clear that this story is false, and the real people responsible for the town's troubles are still out pumping the Fier witch narrative as a cover for their own malevolence.

The history of massacres

It takes a long, long time for the truth about the Sarah Fier story to come to light, which means the people of Shadyside endure a whole lot of misery in the meantime. The very first killing spree to rock the community was a particularly vicious one, as the beloved Union County pastor, Cyrus Miller, decided to make a mockery of a children's nursery rhyme by gouging out his own eyes — and theirs too.

Miller was just the first in a string of notorious killers who helped Shadyside earn the nickname "Murder Capital USA." Other Shadyside killers who made headlines for their heinous misdeeds include Isaac Milton, a steel-masked killer; Billy Barker, a boy who bashed his own brothers' heads in with a bat; Harry Rooker, a milkman who terrorized the town's women; Ruby Lane, the singing slasher; Thomas Slater, the Camp Nightwing ax-slinger; and, most recently, Ryan Torres (David W. Thompson), the Skull Mask killer, who kicks off the action in "Fear Street" by knifing his fellow mall workers.

Somehow, the fact that these serial slayings only ever happen in Shadyside — while their neighbors in Sunnyvale, which is the Goodes' neck of the woods, enjoy the picture-perfect existence — never convinces anyone that there might be something to the cursed town concept. Turns out, being constantly inundated with the witch poem has turned most of the folks into cynical skeptics, who accept that it's all just a gloomy coincidence.

But there is one person who believes it all. See, before 1978, all of the killers who tormented the town eventually met their own bitter ends — and, more importantly, they all stayed dead. What happens at Camp Nightwing in the second "Fear Street" film changes everything. Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye) becomes the newest Shadysider to go on a rampage with his ax, but unlike others before him, Tommy is apparently impossible to kill. Making matters worse, other notorious killers from the past also come back to target Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink) because, after her sister finds Sarah Fier's missing hand, Ziggy accidentally bleeds on it and reignites many years of mayhem. 

To stop the onslaught, Ziggy has to die, but she's fortunately revived by her Sunnyvale buddy, Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland), who parts ways with her after she mentions her newfound belief in the witch curse. Since Ziggy is the only other person left alive to tell the tale, she basically becomes a social pariah and spends the next few decades alone and afraid.

The end of the curse

History eventually repeats itself in 1994, when Sam (Olivia Welch) inadvertently bleeds on Sarah Fier's corpse, and suddenly, Shadyside is swarming with previously dead killers on the move again. After learning of Ziggy's story, the aforementioned teens try to kill and revive Sam to stop the madness ... but then Sam turns into a bloodthirsty monster herself. Desperate, the kids turn to Ziggy for answers. Unfortunately, Ziggy doesn't know much more than them, but they do devise a plan to trap the horde of undead murderers using the mall's steel store doors. 

However, their plan begins falling apart at the seams, but Sam's girlfriend, Deena (Kiana Madeira), discovers the truth behind all the terror in the nick of time. By reuniting Sarah Fier's body and missing hand, she gets to witness the true story unfold in real time, and she finds out that Sarah Fier was actually not a witch, just a young woman who had a secret romance with a pastor's daughter. Instead, it was her closest friend, Solomon Goode (Ashley Zukerman), who secretly struck up a deal with the devil to turn his own rotten luck around. In exchange for his new family fortune, Goode had to ritually name a person to be possessed and turned into a killer so the devil could feed off that bloodshed. Over the course of centuries to follow, the eldest Goode son would always inherit the task of preserving this deal by choosing someone from Shadyside to go on a rampage, allowing the Goode sheriff to nobly step in and stop the violence. Sam is just the latest name on this list.

With the force and fury of Sarah Fier coursing through her veins, Deena finally faces off with Sheriff Goode (Zukerman), forcing him to touch the heart of evil and experience the comeuppance Sarah Fier promised he would. She then treats him to the same eye-gouging torment that his family's first victims endured centuries before. And with that, the curse on Shadyside is finally lifted, and Sunnyvale is no longer under its long-standing protection spell. As with everything in R.L. Stine's world, though, you never know what frights might still be ahead for the folks in Shadyside.