Review: Fear Street Part 1: 1994

Netflix introduces us to the first part of a ‘Scream-esque’ slasher with splatters of ‘Stranger Things’, a confident blast which is enough to give R.L Stine goosebumps 3 stars.

(Image: Fear Street Part 1: 1994, still courtesy of IMDB)

Boasting witchcraft, killers, and teen screams galore, this toe-curling trilogy introduction revels in its YA slash 90s horror influences.

Based on the Fear Street supernatural book series by R. L. Stine, this film follows the tale of two cities: Sunnyvale and Shadyside. Appropriately named, Shadyside is known for its screaming teens and mysterious murders, a phenomenon believed to be the result of the witch, Sarah Fier, who placed a curse on the town. What follows is the adventure of a group of teens who attempt to break the curse and unravel the mystery plaguing the town.

Directed by Leigh Janiak, her introductory output to the trilogy is a confident slasher which embraces its B-movie bravado and oozes with blood and body horror. With obvious influencers including I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and drizzles of Final Destination (2000-2011) – moments of cheesy horror compliment sequences of shock-value and champion the gory necessity of its grizzly source material.  

While not ground-breaking in their characterisations, there is an obvious attempt to break away from slasher stereotypes and each of the core cast brings a slightly different dimension. Notably, Benjamin Flores Jr. is fantastic – an engaging youth that could’ve been snapped straight out of the set of Stranger Things (2016-).

Although the Stranger Things comparisons can appear lazy – the film genuinely opens with Maya Hawke being chased by a possessed killer in a neon-lit shopping mall. But, in a series with witchcraft up its sleeve, it’s likely that the series will progress onto even stranger things. And, with Hawke’s introduction similar to that of Drew Barrymore’s early exit from the Scream series, it’s obvious that the creators are happy to embrace their influences. Perhaps missing the self-aware bite of the 90s meta-masterpiece, some may feel frustration that the creators drew from Barrymore rather than carve their own unique vision into the cinematic pumpkin.

‘Face the Evil’, image courtesy of IMDB

Although lacking distinctiveness and missing the stylistic flair of its Netflix counterparts, Fear Street gets the slasher bits right. With the perfect pouring of blood, screams, and teens, it never abandons its roots, which will be much to the delight of R. L. Stine’s fan base. In similar ways, its R-rated platform allows the film to explore its full bloodthirsty potential – making it more appealing to an audience wider than the young teens who loved the books.

With a particularly strong final 30 minutes, Fear Street takes its time to truly find its blood-stained feet. Like a Marvel movie in reverse, the screenplay from Janiak and Graziadei is lifted by its final act. Contrary to the problem that has plagued modern horror for many years, the ending is a tasty twist that leads into the next part – leaving enough guts and gore to wet the bloodthirsty appetite for another feature.

It’s easy to think that a film which calls back to the 90s slasher renaissance and the generational adoration of teen-based horror novels will only appeal to a specific audience. But Fear Street is able to break away from this and offer something that can appeal to many – with its diverse and engaging cast tapping into a throwback B-movie blast with a strong 21st century sensibility.

This seems to be contributing to a focus shift in slasher horror where the villain is no longer a mascot or mask to be the next best Halloween costume. Instead, there is an emphasis on the teens, who truly lie at the heart of the horror. Despite its 90s setting we are welcomed into what feels more like an 80s world of teen-based school dramas, cue the romantic gore of Heathers (1988) or the silly howls of Teen Wolf (1985).

By no means perfect, part one is a fun opening packed full of potential. And, with the recent release of the delightfully silly high-concept comedy horror Freaky (2021) and the next two parts of this trilogy incoming, it seems as though we are in for a summer of gleeful horror fun.

I, for one, can’t wait.