3 movies, 3 weeks, 1 killer story! R.L. Stine and Stephen King books were everything to me when I was a youngster getting into horror. As much as I loved his Goosebumps stuff, the more young-adult skewing Fear Street series was always an impressive, dark, and disturbing favorite. Netflix’s R-rated movie trilogy event is a great way to keep true to the spirit of Fear Street’s multi-book storytelling arcs. Leigh Janiak co-wrote and directed all three Fear Street films (with writer Phil Graziadei), which will no doubt give them a cohesive and complete feel when all is said and done. If Fear Street Part One: 1994 is any indication, this will go down as the best adaptation of Stine’s work to date, even though it’s not based on a particular book. It’s a gory, mysterious throwback slasher with a dollop of the supernatural that brought me back to that nostalgic feeling of childhood glee.
A mall massacre which leaves 8 dead in a bloody killing spree sets the stage, and delivers that big slasher killer reveal a mere 5 minutes or so into the runtime. The credits (feeling very Wrong Turn) fill in a brief backstory of Shadyside murders—it’s a town with multiple massacres over several years, all with witch Sarah Fier allegedly at the helm. 300 years after being hanged, Sarah apparently puppeteers the murders from behind the scenes in a heinous act of revenge. Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her friends don’t exactly believe in the witch’s curse, but the creepy occurrences become to strange to ignore. The only way they can survive is if they band together to uncover the mysteries of the town’s sinister underbelly. Making it out alive won’t be as easy as they think: horrifying killers lurk around every corner, waiting to pounce.
The characters are far more than simple caricatures—Deena’s brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) communicates with a stranger in a chatroom about the oddities of Shadyside; Kate (Julia Rehwald) appears to be a bitchy cheerleader at first glance, but a budding friendship with Josh reveals surprising depth; Simon (Fred Hechinger) has a brother who OD’d, and seems like the typical douche who jokes about the witch, and thinks mooning someone is the funniest thing ever. He and Kate deal prescription drugs, and long to escape Shadyside for good. Deena and Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) used to date, but Sam was afraid of making their relationship public, and there is still tension between the ex-girlfriends.
1994 opens with a suspenseful chase scene evoking 90’s horror, and a very wonderful Scream homage. This prelude to the events in the film take exact cues and framing from Wes Craven’s masterpiece, wearing horror homage proudly like a badge of honor. The addition of series composer Marco Beltrami is the icing on the cake. You can feel his score in every moment of tension, and with each appearance of the varied roster of spooks. His Scream and The Faculty scores definitely served as inspiration. The throwback vibe extends to every facet of the production, including clever set design utilizing real-life iconic R.L. Stine covers (under the guise of fake-named Robert Lawrence), like The Cheerleaders, lining the bookshelves of a store. Chat rooms, phone landlines, a banging soundtrack filled with 90’s greats “Creep” and “Insane in the Brain,” among others, further serve to evoke a simpler, cell-phone-free world.
A cliffhanger ending leaves you begging for the next installment. There are epic and gory kills, especially in the final act, that come with a shocking, brutal mean streak I wasn’t expecting from this Netflix production. With varied murderers, including the Skull Mask Killer, and a manic neon-soaked tone, 1994’s fast-paced chills and supernatural thrills are a wonder to behold. At times, I was reminded of Netflix’s terrific The Babysitter films, more in execution and fun factor than tonally. To say that I’m excited to see what the other two films in the Fear Street trilogy hold would be underselling it. 1978 looks to inject Friday the 13th slasher flavor, while 1666 aims for a witchier angle. If they’re even halfway as engaging, gorgeously filmed, and lovingly sketched out, the next great horror series may be upon us.
Fear Street Part One: 1994 slashes its way to Netflix on Friday, July 2nd. Afterward, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 arrives July 9th, and Fear Street Part Three: 1666 on July 16.