Being traumatized to death after reading an R.L. Stine book seemed like a tradition in school, when I was a child. The Goosebumps series was a staple of my childhood, as Stine crafted legitimately terrifying episodic horror, with a whimsical, almost childlike quality to it. The Goosebumps TV series was even more terrifying as a child, as words came to life to produce vivid, anxiety-inducing imagery. Now grown up, I feel foolish to have been traumatized by Stine’s work, but the stress was real as a child. Watching Netflix’s latest film, Fear Street Part One: 1994, based on the book series of the same name by Stine, all of these memories came flooding back. This time, however, it’s an R-rated extravaganza, which cranks the violence to 11 in an amazingly cathartic throwback to 1990s TV slashers, and a perfect vehicle to exalt R.L. Stine’s greatest hits.
Presented as a trilogy, with one film releasing each week from July 2nd to the 16th, Part One tells the story of the town of Shadyside, where psychopathic murders have become the norm in the town. The film’s first victim, Heather Watkins (Maya Hawke), was stabbed to death by her friend, Ryan Torres (David W. Thompson), who showed no signs of behavioral patterns that would indicate he would commit such an act (strong vibes from Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge here). Many of its residents believe he was possessed by the town’s witch, Sara Fier, who placed a curse on the town before being executed in 1666. Cut to Deena Johnson (Kiana Madeira), a student, who doesn’t believe in the story about Sara Fier and thinks Ryan “snapped.” Her brother, Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) thinks differently, and believes the murder of Watkins is correlated with other events that have happened in the past. After an incident which causes Deena’s ex-girlfriend, Sam, (Olivia Scott Welch) to become possessed by the spirit of Sara Fier, every possessed killer is now looking for Sam’s scent and will not rest until she is dead.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a horror movie in which the characters legitimately make smart decisions and will not get in trouble on purpose by examining a noise. Whenever a mainstream horror movie wants to “scare,” a character will usually examine a noise they hear, which leads to a predictable kill and jumpscare. That only happens during the film’s opening scene, but you can justify it by saying it’s a tribute to slasher films of the 1990s, with stark neon colours, synthesizer-filled music and a mall setting to boot. It feels amazingly nostalgic for those that have lived through the era of late 1980s/early-to-mid 1990s slashers, and its aesthetic recalls those movies. The rest of the film is an insanely fun ride with characters you actually care about (!) trying their best to outsmart villains (and a curse) that seems way too powerful than they initially thought it was.
“Fear Street Part One: 1994, is still one hell of a good time at the movies”
The characters are compelling, mainly because the acting is too. Madeira’s feelings for Scott Welch’s Sam are already established after the film’s cold open, and you can clearly tell Sam still has feelings for her. When they’re unfortunately thwarted in a situation no one asked for, they have to put aside their differences and work together. Both of them have palpable chemistry together, and director Leigh Janiak showcases a queer relationship that doesn’t feel forced, nor highlighted.
They just happen to be together, without any questions being asked. Love is love, right? That’s how queer representation should always be done in mainstream film and TV, instead of studios patting themselves on the back after inserting (1) line that could easily be removed with countries that ban LGBTQ+ representation in film. We have one of the best examples of representation I’ve seen in a long time, and I wish more mainstream studios would do it exactly like it was done here: they’re together and in love, without questions asked by anyone. Their relationship is the film’s strongest, and both performances are excellent. Bravo.
I had very strong comments on Fred Hechinger’s performance as the main antagonist in The Woman in the Window (another Netflix film!), but he is quite good in Fear Street, exalting his comedic talents to perfection which imbue a John Hughes-esque quality to it, like a hybrid mix of Anthony Michael Hall’s geek from Sixteen Candles and Judd Nelson’s criminal from The Breakfast Club. He shares great banter with Julia Rehwald’s Kate, his drug-dealer friend, and Josh, the “witch geek” who knows everything about the town of Shadyside and Sara Fier’s curse. Everyone brings their A-game, with Phil Graziadei and Janiak’s script permeating the protagonists with clear traits and qualities: at times they’re humorous, but mildly serious at others. The film does falter when it gets into dramatic territory, especially when they realize what they have to do to kill the antagonists (which I won’t spoil here), but shines when it excessively bathes itself in its slasher concept and doesn’t shy away from presenting amazingly gruesome acts of violence.
If you thought the finger trap in Spiral: From the Book of Saw was gory enough, oh boy, you ain’t seen nothing yet. One character dies by getting their head sectioned in a…bread slicer. And we see the whole damn thing. No cuts. Lots of blood and guts. Even the film’s “stabs” feel violent, with one particular antagonist using a razor blade to sharply (no pun intended) cut their razor blade, and another using an axe, à la Jack Torrance (there’s a clear visual reference to Kubrick’s The Shining as he tries to break into a room), and produces bloody kills as a result. I won’t say more, as its creative kills need to be experienced as (hopefully) cold as a bat, preferably with a group of people.
It’s sad that this film isn’t playing in any theatres, as it would’ve made an absolute killing (no pun intended!) with an audience that can’t expect its different twists and turns, while reacting gloriously at some of the movie’s most shocking kills. This is a film that was tailor made to be experienced with people, either on a big screen or on a group viewing (whether in-person or virtual…there’s a plethora of ways to host an online viewing). While its third act is a tad too long and spends way too much time setting up the second part (which comes out next week!), Fear Street Part One: 1994, is still one hell of a good time at the movies, and is definitely the best slasher I’ve seen since David Gordon Green’s reboot of Halloween, in 2018. If you’re looking for blood, guts, knives, witches that pay tribute to one of the most influential horror writers that ever graced this earth, then look no further. This is the film for you.