Netflix’s Fear Street (Part One): 1994 Review
Netflix’s biggest summer movie event, a time-spanning adaptation of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street, showcases the immense potential it has to be a horror trilogy for the ages with its first entry, Fear Street: 1994.
With each entry delving into a different time period within the town of Shadyside, where consistent violent acts have given the town a murderous reputation, that fleshes out the curse placed on the town by a witch, 1994 is a great place to start since it perfectly evokes its titular era of horror. This film gives off amazing Scream vibes and definitely has Wes Craven’s influence in its DNA. Meta horror references are seen and heard throughout – including some of Stine’s Fear Street novels being seen on shelves in the opening scene. There are scenes of some creepy phone calls and a kid sprinting through the halls of Shadyside high with a fake dead body that are ripped right from Scream itself. There’s even a scene where two characters signal each other with an outside light that isn’t from any Craven movie in particular but is so fitting to his world-building. The film’s creepy Skull face killer even gives off a lot of great Ghostface vibes.
1994 is far from a Scream clone and really sets itself apart through it immersive 90s atmosphere. It would be easy to add in some time-appropriate aesthetics and killer music and call it a day, however, writer/director Leigh Janiak really evokes the angst of the 90s through her portrayal of Shadyside. Throughout different generations, horrific murderers and murders have given Sunnyside and its residents a reputation of either being future victims or another crazed killer in the making. There’s this feeling of hopeless that can felt throughout with how people generally despise or looked down upon Shadysiders that makes you feel for the film’s main group of teens and understand why they just want to get the hell out of there. You especially feel for main protagonist Deena (Kiana Madeira) who recently lost her closeted girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) because she moved out of Shadyside and fears that Deena will grow up to be like her dead-beat dad.
The story really builds an identity for its central location, and it plays a big role in making its dissection of its murderous history and murderers so enticing. A great slasher film always has great, memorable slashers, and 1994 presents plenty to become intrigued by. As Deena and her friends begin to notice strange occurrences that stem from an accident involving them and Sam, they turn to Deena’s brother Benjamin Flores Jr.) to delve into the towns cursed history that stems from a witch named Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel) being executed back in 1666.
Although we aren’t given too many details on these other murders, murderers, or Sarah’s execution, mostly because this series is going to work backwards and flesh out more details along the way, there’s a lot that this film does to get you invested. The killer designs are simple yet super memorable and there are great details given to some of these other killers that really make them stand out. From the oldie song that the cut-up Ruby Lane (Jordyn DiNatale) sings to attract her victims to the look of the bag headed serial killer that we’ll get to see cut up some campers in the next entry evoking the perfect summer camp killer vibes, these killers look awesome and carry a rich history that shows great potential for this series to be further fleshed out outside of this trilogy. The look of “The Pastor” is easily my favorite though with how darkly mysterious he looks and it’s great that we’ll get to see him in action in the final installment.
That is, I think, the beauty of this film series and how it’s being released. Normally, we would have to campaign, theorize, and hope that more could come from a great movie. However, 1994 presents a great direction for viewers to follow while leaving out the right details to still make you wonder how things are going to come together. Just knowing that we’ll get to see the axe-swinging summer camp killer and The Pastor in the near future makes their presence much more exciting and impactful. It really kicks off this multi-generational story on the right foot with how it establishes connections between past and present and keeps you guessing as to how things will come full circle. It’s such a genius way to tell this story and if it’s able to continue its momentum and utilize its story details well, there’s no doubt in my mind that this could be one of the most innovate film series of all time.
As for 1994 on its own, it’s a very entertaining and suspenseful slasher with characters that are enjoyable and story beats that never feel too predictable. Deena and Sam’s rocky relationship goes through some interesting ups and downs and the part that Sam plays in all this is really interesting to see unfold and leads to some unexpected, scary places narratively. The opening connects back to the main plot in an unexpected way with a discovery of how and why these killers are coming back that builds Sarah’s evil presence without her even having to do much. The stakes are constantly high and don’t ever really come down because the characters and performances are so likeable. Best of all, new information and discoveries are always right around the corner making this story constantly pique your interest and keeping you on your toes. Even the note this film leaves you on makes you immediately want to jump to the next one and that’s always an easy sign of a great film. Not to mention, as someone who grew up on Goosebumps books, it’s great that an R-rated adaptation of Stine’s works can deliver some crazy, gory kills that make it a grown-up version of a nostalgic classic.
The first entry in Netflix’s Fear Street film series sets the stage to deliver one of the most innovative horror stories of all-time. From the way it builds out its killer history to how it delivers great characters and kills that’ll please any and all horror fans, Fear Street is something that can’t be missed.