Fear Street Part One: 1994 (2021) Review

I remember I used to read Fear Street novels back in the 90s, particularly its spin-off under the name of Fear Street Super Chiller. Among my favourites include the Christmas-themed horror Silent Night, where there were three books in total. So, I was excited to know when R.L. Stine’s popular teenage-horror book series finally get a feature-length film treatment. Not just one but three interconnected films released over the course of a three-week period in July on Netflix.

In the first part of the Fear Street trilogy subtitled 1994, the film takes place during the particular era, where a group of teenagers from Shadyside and Sunnyside find themselves dealing with resurrected killers from the past. Apparently, it has to do with an ancient curse unleashed by a dead witch named Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel). The teenagers in question include Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her younger geeky brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), where the latter likes to spend time theorising about the cursed town of Shadyside in his AOL chat room. Then, there are Deena’s high-school friends, Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) as well as her ex-girlfriend, Samantha Fraser (Olivia Scott Welch).

The film gets off to a promising start with a well-crafted slasher-movie moment, where Heather (Maya Hawke, who plays Robin Buckley in Netflix’s Stranger Things) finds herself being terrorised by a knife-wielding killer in a skull mask in a shopping mall after hours. And for a while there, it looks as if up-and-coming director Leigh Janiak, whose credits include 2014’s Honeymoon and helmed two episodes in Scream: The TV Series, knows what it takes to make an entertaining throwback to the ’90s slasher film.

Samantha Fraser (Olivia Scott Welch) and Deena (Kiana Madeira) in Netflix's "Fear Street Part One: 1994" (2021)

But it doesn’t take long before 1994 suffered from clunky and yes, exposition-heavy storytelling. Janiak, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Phil Graziadei even tries to get a little meta by referencing popular horror films (the 1982’s Poltergeist happens to be one of them). At one point, they even throw in a blink-and-you-miss-it reference to one of the book titles from the Fear Street series. Just don’t expect this to be as whip-smart as the late Wes Craven’s Scream.

Interestingly enough for a supposedly 90s-style slasher film, Janiak subverts the otherwise conventional genre with contemporary touches, namely introducing Kiana Madeira’s Deena as a lesbian rather than the usual scream-queen protagonist. The film also added a subplot involving the estranged same-sex relationship between Deena and Olivia Scott Welch’s Samantha Fraser, even though the story doesn’t really spend time developing their characters.

The teenage cast is adequate enough for their roles and while Janiak’s direction can be erratic at times, credits must be given for the way she stages some of the gory killing moments. Personally, I’m glad the film doesn’t get toned down when comes to violence and gore. Apart from the opening scene, there are two other setpieces worth mentioning here including the one where the teenagers try to outsmart the resurrected killers by setting a trap and of course, the violent third act set in a supermarket.

Since Fear Street Part One: 1994 set in the 90s, it comes as no surprise the film gets a nostalgia-heavy boost of a killer soundtrack. This includes popular needle drops from Radiohead’s “Creep” to Portishead’s “Sour Times”, Bush’s “Machinehead” and The Prodigy’s “Firestarter”.

Overall, the first Fear Street in the trilogy is decent enough for a horror film that evokes the look and feel of the 90s slasher genre. Let’s see if the other two Fear Street films can do better.

Fear Street Part One: 1994 is currently streaming on Netflix beginning July 2 while the remaining two films — Fear Street Part Two: 1978 and Fear Street Part Three: 1666 — will be available respectively on July 9 and July 16.

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