'Fear Street Part 1: 1994' Is a Classic '90s Teen Slasher Directed by Leigh Janiak
Starring Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Maya Hawke
Published Jun 30, 2021R.L. Stine's Fear Street novels were the more mature counterpoint to Goosebumps, targeting a slightly older readership with death, gore and horror. It follows, then, that Fear Street Part 1: 1994 — the first in Netflix's summer trilogy of Fear Street films — is a full-blown slasher. Characters say "fuck," there' a jerk-off scene, and someone's head gets sliced into pulp.
Fear Street is set in the cursed town of Shadyside, where residents are stricken with poverty and a long history of gruesome murders, all tracing back to a mysterious witch who lived a few centuries prior. The neighbouring Sunnyvale, on the other hand, is wealthy and safe. Following yet another mass murder in Shadyside, a football game between Shadyside and Sunnyvale turns into a massive brawl, and the witch's grave gets disturbed in the process. Y'know, normal teenage shenanigans.
This means that Deena (Kiana Madeira), along with her ex Sam (Olivia Welch) and brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), must band together to beat the curse. There are bozo cops who don't believe them, a masked baddie who breaks in when the kids are home alone, and even a little hanky panky. It's got all the makings of a classic teen slasher à la Scream — so it's only fitting that Part 1 is a full-blown '90s nostalgia fest, complete with a soundtrack that includes Garbage's "Only Happy When It Rains" and Radiohead's "Creep." Deena wears a PJ Harvey T-shirt, has a Melvins sticker on her bedroom door, and has a Temple of the Dog poster on the wall. The only real twist on the familiar formula is a queer relationship, which is handled sensitively and prevents Fear Street from feeling too much like a relic of the past.
Beyond that, Fear Street has a lot of style and not a ton of original ideas. As Stranger Things was to the '80s, this film is to the '90: it's a tribute to the era's horror tropes, rather than an attempt to bring anything new to the table. (There's even a small part for Maya Hawke to reinforce the Stranger Things connection, plus Sadie Sink in a starring role in the upcoming Part 2.) It's not the most original film you'll ever see — but with a solid teen cast, some memorable death scenes and a spot-on '90s aesthetic, it's the perfect movie for sleepover pizza parties.
The ending is totally unsatisfying, but in a way that nicely cues Part 2: 1978 and Part Three: 1666 (both of which are hinted at strongly in this first part). It's the start of a promising summer of horror from the long-suffering residents of Shadyside. (Netflix)