Renowned writer R.L Stine is best known for his beloved Goosebumps books, and as a 90’s kids, they were definitely a great introduction to the horror genre. Following a hit anthology series and two films starring Jack Black, Hollywood turned to adapting a previous property from Stine – Fear Street – another horror fiction series, but aimed at a primarily older audience. Streaming service Netflix eventually picked up the distribution rights to a planned trilogy, with an intriguing premise and the tease of more gruesome deaths with a surprising R-rating. Released over the span of three consecutive weeks, the interconnected series will chart the supernatural history of American small town Shadyside, beginning with 1994 (Part 1) and flashing back to 1978 (Part 2) and 1666 (Part 3).
Directed by Leigh Janiak, Fear Street 1994 is the first instalment of the trilogy, introducing the sinister events and urban myth which has plagued Shadyside for centuries. Following a vigil for another brutal death of a young woman at their high school, Deena (Kiana Madeira), her ex Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) and a group of Deena’s friends are involved in an accident, unwittingly awaking the town’s ancient curse. The group must survive the night and work together to stop and contain the evil force, but can they overcome the powerful witch and her murderous minions?
Fear Street 1994 is a fun and self-aware slasher, harking back to elements from Scream and Halloween, with a surprising amount of blood and inventive deaths – particularly for an R.L Stine property. While ticking off all the major hallmark tropes of a slasher, including key scenarios, hapless police and masked killers, Janiak and screenwriter Phil Graziadei bring a refreshing take to the genre with the addition of an intriguing mythos and the hugely likeable band of misfits attempting to break the curse. The introduction of the occult in the form of Sara Feir, the film’s main antagonist, proves a fascinating connecting throughline between the instalments, with key developments setting up a compelling delve back in time. What happened to Feir has lead to a generation-spanning vendetta, which has plagued Shadyside residents for centuries. The possession of innocent people has lead to them committing horrific acts, occurring in a violent cyclical nature over a number of years, for some unknown purpose – laying a solid mystery foundation for the rest of the trilogy.
At the centre of the narrative is a touching queer relationship, which is surprising for a teenage flick let alone a horror film. Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch are both fantastic, bringing a genuine and believable dynamic as two young closeted lovers struggling with the external factors such as family views and differences in social and class. The inclusion and positive representation of their relationship certainly defies genre convention, along with the rest of the gang, who factor as underrepresented underdogs who usually wouldn’t have survived in previous slasher flicks, according to perceived genre ‘rules’. Fred Hechinger brings a lot of the laughs as Stoner goofball Simon, along with Benjamin Flores Jr. as Deena’s brother Josh – a nervous and nerdy expert on killers, who’s knowledge comes in particularly handy! The central cast and their endearing dynamic helps elevate the flick beyond previous slasher instalments, and you certainly root for them to survive beyond the ordeal.
As previously mentioned, the flick is surprisingly heavy on the gore and inventive kills, so definitely not family friend like previous Goosebumps outings! The addition of occult mythology in the slasher narrative definitely adds a lot of depth to the sub genre, with the revelation of Feir’s curse leading to a number of shocking and brutal kills. The production is another real strength, with impressive cinematography, decade appropriate settings (I particularly enjoyed the throwback to video stores) along with a number of brilliant needle drops (The Pixies, Garbage and Nine Inch Nails are definite bops).
Fear Street 1994 is an entertaining first instalment in the trilogy, with a number of strong performances and contemporary twists on the genre elevating the source material. With a number of closing twists and revelations setting up a compelling delve back in time, this is certainly a bold and solid entry to a what I hope is a satisfying horror trilogy.