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Fear Street Part One: 1994 Review

July 6, 2021 | Posted by Joseph Lee
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Fear Street Part One: 1994 Review  

* Kiana Madeira as Deena
* Olivia Scott Welch as Samantha Fraser
* Benjamin Flores Jr as Josh
* Julia Rehwald as Kate
* Fred Hechinger as Simon
* Maya Hawke as Heather
* Ashley Zukerman as Nick Goode
* David W. Thompson as Ryan Torres
* Charlene Amoia as Rachel Thompson

Story: A circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. Welcome to Shadyside.

RL Stine was as big to horror as anything else in the 90s, thanks to the popularity of his Goosebumps books ushering in a generation of kids into the fandom. At the same time, his Fear Street books, aimed more at teens and young adults, were also very popular. They weren’t as big to a degree but still ahead of the likes of Christopher Pike, Lois Duncan and Caroline B. Cooney, who were all aiming at the same demographic. Throw in some Bruce Coville and you basically have everything I read at the library at the time.

Being familiar with the Fear Street series will help you pick up some of the references in the trilogy of movies from Netflix but they are not essential reading, which is probably what you want. Instead of adapting a story directly, it just sets a new story within that world. And like the series itself, it covers the span of three movies, as Stine himself wrote several trilogies in this particular line of books. I’m most familiar with the 99 Fear Street trilogy, which involved a horrific scene of someone getting sucked into a wall and dying there. Unlike Goosebumps, the Fear Street novels had stakes and people actually died.

The first in the Netflix trilogy is set in 1994, which places it in the same decade as the post-Scream slasher boom if a few years before that movie actually dropped. The first thing you’ll notice when watching Part One is the Scream influence. The killer not only draws obvious inspiration from that, it also has the nice easter egg of looking exactly like the costume from the cover of Stine’s Halloween Night II, which was a standalone and not part of any of his book lines.

Other than the look of (one of) the killers, there are also some shots which are pulled directly from Scream, at least three that I noticed, including putting the film’s biggest name in the opening scene. It even seems like some of the musical cues are pulled directly from that movie. That might be intentional, considering Marco Beltrami did the score for both movies. It wears its love for that movie on its sleeve early on, before quickly turning into something else entirely. This is a wise decision, as it plays homage to its roots but doesn’t being chained to them, allowing it to be its own thing.

That’s the thing that really struck me with Part One. In using aspects of Stine’s books to mold the world, it’s very much its own story and it takes advantage of the fact that this is a trilogy. Unlike many of the slashers that came before it, it was designed to be that way. So the ending is leading somewhere. The larger backstory is leading somewhere. This isn’t stuff that they threw in for the hell of it. The reference Camp Nightwing, and that’s the setting of Part Two. They reference the first recorded killings in Shadyside and that’s the story of Part Three. It knows where it’s going so it doesn’t have to rush to get there.

As a result of that, we get time to build up the mythology and develop the characters, which helps a lot. This is a very likeable, engaging cast that manage to keep the movie from getting boring even in moments when something spooky isn’t happening. Even the most obnoxious character (that would be Simon) is done so intentionally and tamed down from other characters of that type. The only thing that isn’t really explored to its full potential is the Shadyside/Sunnyvale rivalry, but there’s two more movies for that very thing.

The movie isn’t trying to be very original but it does know the tropes of the movies its referencing. It borrows elements from a variety of movies, including Scream and, oddly, Final Destination 2, and mixes around the elements to create a story that works for what they’re going for. It’s very much like Scary Stores to Tell in the Dark in that way, which is probably why it ends up working much to the degree that film did. Does it borrow a lot from other slashers? Yeah, but what slasher doesn’t? The point is that it’s entertaining.

That’s not to say Part One is going to be a game changer or anything to that degree. It has quite a bit holding it back from that. For a movie with an R rating, it’s very tame with its kills (except for one that is very, very nasty). It also plays a little too much into the fact it’s set in the 90s. A reference to AOL and a few songs are one thing, but at one point the movie literally plays three or four songs from the decade within seconds of each other. The soundtrack is great, no doubt, but it could have backed off a bit on hammering in what the time frame is. Especially considering it never really feels like it’s set in that time period. They don’t particularly dress or talk like 90s kids dressed or talked, you know?

But ultimately, that doesn’t matter. It has an engrossing story, a enjoyable cast of likeable actors and more importantly, it’s fun. It’s easy to forget that horror can be fun and it’s good to point out those that are. More serious-minded horror has its place, but sometimes you just want a movie like this that’s meant to entertaining. And if it means more people turn to the books to find out what they’re about, even better.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Fear Street: Part One is a loving homage to the slasher boom of the last half of the 90s (even if it is set before that boom happened) that sets up the mythology of the next two parts of the trilogy. Even if it weren't part of a bigger story, it's just a fun slasher with memorable killers and an enjoyable cast. It may not be terribly original, but neither were the books it's based on.