Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is the first in a trilogy of interlinked films, based on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street novels. Fear Street Part 2: 1978 will be released on July 9, and Fear Street Part 3: 1666 will be released on July 16. This first film, which is packed with 90s nostalgia, fountains of blood, and surprise twists, would be good enough on its own, but it also offers a lot of promise for the sequel. Because of this, the setting instantly gives the film a vintage edge.
The entire thing plays out like a super-packed horror digest, with each chapter living in a different sub-genre, and referencing a wide range of other movies and franchises. However, while some of the elements may appear cliched, the overall experience is not. Leigh Janiak, whose first film was the spooky horror, Honeymoon, directs all three. In addition, with an intense Stranger Things vibe, several Stranger Things cast members, including Maya Hawke and Sadie Sink, appear in Fear Street.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is a post-modern slasher that starts as a direct rip-off of Scream. It’s late at night in the mall, and a beleaguered shop employee is about to close up when she’s abruptly ambushed by a knife-wielding killer – dressed in a black robe and wearing a terrifying Halloween mask – who has reportedly already slaughtered numerous other mall employees. So who is doing this, and why are they doing it? Fortunately, it isn’t quite that straightforward.
The first movie takes us to Shadyside, a run-down American town beset by drugs, poverty and so many gruesome murders that it’s dubbed “Killer Capital of the USA”. Every few years, a new killer appears to murder their neighbours before committing suicide. Shadyside is said to be cursed by a one-handed witch, named Sarah Fier, according to local folklore. They say she still possesses the townsfolk to commit such horrific and homicidal acts, 300 years after being hanged for her iniquity.
Life-or-death stakes with an edge of otherworldly fear are threaded through a high school melodrama, packed with rivalries, jealousies, cliques, lust, and dangerous impulses – in keeping with Stine’s formula.
Let’s get to know the characters in this slasher hit. Deena is a disgruntled student at Shadyside High. Josh, her younger brother, is loving the early Internet. Kate, their mutual acquaintance, is a social and academic powerhouse. And Simon works after school at the local supermarket. Another buddy recently moved to Sunnyvale with her divorced mother, but she’s having Shadyside issues.
This group lacks a wholesome Final Girl, a sex-crazed blonde, a doped-up screw-up, or a brainless jock. Characters who refuse to fit into cookie-cutter moulds are instead given to us. For example, there’s the valedictorian, who also happens to be a drug dealer, and her best friend, the wise-cracking goofball who juggles school and a tough job to keep his siblings fed. With such complexity, Graziadei and Janiak have managed to create authentic characters rather than familiar or rehashed ones. Our hearts are in our throats when a slasher is on their tail.
The mythos settles in, and the film focuses on lean and extra nasty thrills, including two excellent slasher set-pieces in a high school and a grocery store – all with an expressive, colorful lighting palette. The death count quickly rises, as it does in slashers, but in a way that feels incredibly visceral here. And the film’s fear becomes all the more immediate.
Fear Street ’94 isn’t just another 1990s slasher. It tries to be all the 1990s slashers, all at once, pelting the audience with different rules, antagonists and mythology. But, unlike actual 1990s slashers, there’s a lot more variety here. And sexual teen clichés are warped in a genuinely amusing, playful, and current way. Meanwhile, the shadow of Shadyside looms large in the background. Unlike anything you have seen before, there’s a real danger here, some magnificently brutal deaths, and enough heart to keep you hooked.
Although these horror films are based on Young Adult literature, they are rated R for onscreen violence, blood and gore, nudity, sex, and an uncensored list of swear words. While such explicit stuff could come across as obnoxious in the wrong hands, Janiak is attentive about what we see and hear, as well as why we see and hear it. Because we’ve grown close to this bunch of misfits, the most horrific deaths aren’t just gruesome, they’re also emotionally draining.
Fear Street 1994 is a heartfelt ode to a bygone period that avoids cynicism, thanks to a superb young ensemble that is a joy to spend time with. Plus, we only have to wait a week to find out what happens next. Fear Street Part Two: Crystal Lake appears to be set in a Crystal lake-like area, in 1978. After being convinced of the series’ penchant for a twist, and the capacity to throw a gory party, I chose to avoid its trailer that showed at the end of Fear Street 1994, wanting to preserve any of the franchise’s future mysteries.