Netflix's big Fear Street Horror Trilogy event kicked off yesterday with Part One: 1994 - and it was a marvelously entertaining throwback slasher that took me by surprise.
Based off of R L Stine's popular YA Fear Street Series, the film very such stands on its own with many references to appease fans of the 90's books. Of course, the 'Stephen King of children's literature' isn't new to the big screen, having given us 2 major Goosebump movies, and in similar vein, 1994 lovingly embraces the lore and vibe of the books whilst delivering a fun and modern twist (albeit set in the 90s!).
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is a pretty gnarly and effective slasher about a group of teenagers who come into contact with a curse that’s been plaguing their town of Shadyside for three centuries — one that is mysteriously connected to an accused witch, Sarah Fier, who was hanged in a settlement in the area back in 1666 (which of course is the title for the third and final installment). This curse is never fully explained, causing many fans to groan about plot holes in 1994, forgetting it's just the first of a 3 part storyline, so the film clevily holds its cards against its mysterious chest, ya know, for intrigue and anticipations.
However, this part offers up a group of teens inadvertently disturbing the resting spot of the witch, who has created, in one way or another, a type of cult of killers over the centuries; so this gives us quite a few fun supernatural killers all in one movie!
The opening scene is exactly what we've come to expect from a slasher, post Scream, where we see Stranger Thing's Maya Hawke meeting her gruesome end when closing up after hours in the Shadyside Mall. It completely sets up the tone of the film, giving us stunning neon colours, a fun chase scene, a kick ass character who doesn't go down without a fight and a middle finger; a fun looking skull masked killer and the opening teases the kind of violence (and melodrama!) we are to expect throughout the film.
But, be warned; this may be a Rated R slasher with some fantastically over-the-top and gory kills, but the Young Adult vibe from the books is very much evident, so prepare and expect for teenage drama and a moody emotional core.
Honeymoon's Leigh Janiak co-writes and directs, and her style definitely evokes the essence of older slasher movies, whilst offering changes to the trope, most notably through transparently caring about its characters who just want to get through the night alive and in general have been underestimated; these teenagers are still trying to figure out who they are whilst running and screaming from the band of killers.
One aspect I wasn't expecting, was the seamlessly Queer representation. The main protagonist Deena (played by Kiana Maderia) is Queer, and has a romantic storyline that is normally given to a cis straight couple. There's no woke or coded angle here, just a girl in love with another girl, leading the cast of misfits.
Now let's talk about the soundtrack.... I freaking loved it! It's a bit too much and in your face, and at times I felt like I was watching an MTV movie (not that I have an issue with that!), but man, song after song, I was totally vibing out. A part of the movie's agenda to recapture the vibe of the 90's, Janiak has assembled an incredible soundtrack, and considering the importance a mixtape plays in the storyline, it's a smart move to make music such a strong presence. So expect some NIN, Garbage, Iron Maiden, Sophie Hawkins, White Zombie, Snoop Dog, heck, even Roberta Flack. Obviously I've already built my Spotify playlist :-)
So, the first installment is packed with '90s nostalgia, gushings of blood, and legitimately surprising twists. Fear Street ’94 isn’t just another ’90s slasher, it almost aspires to be ALL ’90s slashers at once, throwing extra rules, antagonists, and bits of mythology at the audience thick and fast. And whilst there's no resolution, with the story continuing into Part 2, the final set piece was very much an exhilarating thrill ride any slasher fan will surely enjoy!
Bring on Fear Street Part Two: 1978 next week - for fans of Crystal Lake type Camp Slashers, this looks like it's going to a slashing good time!
Review by Craig Fisher.