Stars: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Ashley Zukerman, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Maya Hawke, Jordana Spiro, Jordyn DiNatale
Writers: Phil Graziadei & Leigh Janiak, story by Kyle Killen and Phil Graziadei & Leigh Janiak, based on the FEAR STREET books by R.L. Stine
Director: Leigh Janiak
Release Date: July 2, 2021
FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 is the first in a trilogy of interlinked films based on R.L. Stine’s FEAR STREET novels. These are being released by Netflix in quick succession – FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978 arrives July 9, and FEAR STREET PART 3: 1666 is set for July 16.
Stine is considered a YA author, and the FEAR STREET books are likewise YA. FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 is hard-R supernatural slasher horror, yet director Leigh Janiak and her co-writer Phil Graziadei (working from a story they crafted with Kyle Killen) conscientiously keep the YA roots showing.
This of course prompts the question of what makes something YA. In FEAR STREET PART 1, at least, it’s not just that the main characters are all high school students. In contrast to more adult horror, the kids haven’t lost either their idealism or their basic comprehension of sensible behavior. They are continually proactive, even when some ideas don’t work, and they feel a natural sense of responsibility towards one another. This is all pretty refreshing, and it doesn’t get in the way of the gore and jumps.
We’re in Shadyside, a middle-class suburban town that has had way more than its share of homicidal maniacs on murder sprees over the centuries. The townsfolk have even dubbed their burg “Killer Capital U.S.A.” Oddly, nearby more upscale Sunnyvale has known nothing but peace and prosperity over the same time span.
An opener puts us in Shadyside’s wonderfully 1994-appropriate mall. (Those who remember the excellent bookstore chain referenced here may well up in nostalgia.) We get a kill that’s part SCREAM and part FRIDAY THE 13th, with the suggestion that there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
Then we meet our heroes. Deena (Kiana Madeira) is a grumpy Shadyside High student. Her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) is enjoying what we now know as the early Internet. Their friend Kate (Julia Rehwald) is an ambitious social and academic champ, while Simon (Fred Hechinger) works at the local supermarket after school. One more friend (Olivia Scott-Welch) has recently moved with her divorced mom to Sunnyvale, but winds up with distinctly Shadyside problems.
The opening credits – it’s worth pausing to read the news stories running under them – and subsequent dialogue explain how the hanging of witch Sarah Fier (pronounced “Fear”) in 1666 has created local lore about her lingering curse on the town. Suffice to say that this is no mere rumor.
There’s a lot of intelligence at work here, as well as heart and clear love for ‘80s/’90s horror. That’s not the only reason for setting FEAR STREET PART 1 in 1994, though. Cell phones probably wouldn’t ruin the story, but it does hark back to an era when certain kinds of actions would be easier to pull off. There’s also an issue for two of the characters which might be much less challenging in the present (albeit it might still be in a small town).
There are a couple of questions that oddly don’t occur to our otherwise perceptive leads, like how the murder that starts the film (and those that have preceded it) fits with their otherwise solid theories.
One split-down-the-middle issue here is the way FEAR STREET PART 1 deals with race and class. The protagonists are diverse and what looks now like upper-middle-class, while the elitist Sunnydalers are more moneyed and white.
However, true to the way this was typically handled in YA fiction and movies of the era, the emphasis here in on the economic imbalance, rather than anything overtly addressed. The film also has a somewhat retro view of disadvantage, since the supposedly financially precarious Shadyside looks like the American dream by current standards.
Obviously, FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 isn’t hugely concerned with this subtext. It does what it’s mainly here to do in fine style, which is forcefully bringing back the scares, gore and fun of the better examples of ‘80/’90s teen horror films.
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Article: Movie Review: FEAR STREET PART ONE: 1994