Teen slasher flicks — we all know how they work.
The kids are horny (unless you’re the bullied virgin), the night is dark and full of terrors, and the blood is fire engine red. Wash, rinse, repeat. There have been dozens of these films since the 80s — a true mixed bag of quality — but rarely do you feel the pulse of a new idea within the genre. Fear Street Part One: 1994 might be no exception to the rule: it’s derivative of better films and largely predictable. But also? It doesn’t really matter, because it’s a really, really good time.
Based on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street book series, 1994 kicks off a Netflix film trilogy that moves backward in time, with the next titles being 1978 and 1666. Netflix is trying out a new release strategy, with each film dropping on subsequent Fridays in July 2021 (Part Two debuted July 9th, and Part Three will be released July 16th). It’s a pretty innovative idea — it asks us to strap in on three different Friday nights in the summer for some scares, but never asks us to wait too long. And honestly, these aren’t the type of films that you would want to wait around for a year for, but I can certainly stay invested in these characters for a month.
1994 introduces us to the world of Shadyside, Ohio; a town cursed for as long as any of the residents can remember.
Making the town look even bleaker is the constant comparison to its neighbor — just down the road is Sunnyvale, a town with far different, brighter prospects. In the year 1994, Shadyside’s curse rears its ugly head in the form of a gruesome mall massacre — par the course for a town that has seen more than its fair share of infamous killings over the years. The media calls Shadyside the “murder capital of the United States”, but the town residents offer a different explanation: a witch by the name of Sarah Fier, who cursed the town before her death in 1666 (get it — Fier? Like Fear?). After an accident puts a group of teenagers squarely in the crosshairs of Fier’s evil eyesight, they must find a way to break the curse to save themselves.
Tight direction and an R-rating keep Fear Street Part One moving (and scary).
Given Netflix’s release strategy for the series, this film didn’t have to stand alone. But it manages to tell a complete story — and set up its sequels — with surprisingly little downtime or fluff. Most of the credit has to be given to a tight script and excellent pacing. From the opening scene through to the last frame, you’re rarely given downtime between the tension and the kills. And throughout all of it are a series of iconic 90s-era needle drops and humorous side characters, keeping the vibe light, fun, and nostalgic.
The other element of the film that really succeeds is the smart blend of classic Stine-style teen horror with genuine, R-rated gore. R.L. Stine’s Fear Street source material is meant for teens; the book series is largely an introduction to horror, which means generic monster mythologies derived from more original works, teen troubles without an adult to be found, and violence that is implied but left largely to the imagination. On the screen, Janiak gives us all the violence we need and more, leaving nothing to the imagination and making these deaths as shocking, bloody, and gruesome as you can dream up.
There’s nothing original here, but it still feels fresh.
1994 is clearly inspired by Scream, a horror classic that borrows from other classic horror films as well. There’s a slasher who dons a cheap Halloween costume, friends who know all the “rules” of the game, and plenty of jocks and townspeople to meet their ends. And you can tell that Part Two will borrow heavily from Friday the 13th with its summer camp killer setting, and Part Three will take us all the way back to the Salem Witch Trials. The ideas here are nothing that horror fans haven’t seen before.
But what makes this film so fun is that rarely do horror fans get to see all these beloved mythologies together in one world before; hunting the same characters, preying on the same town, and interacting in a way that would normally only happen in the dreams of the fandom. And it isn’t just that all of these baddies and haunts are here in this one film to play with — it’s that it was clearly made by people who love this stuff too. You can tell, when you’re watching something not exactly original, when it was made by a team that cares about the source material, loves the genre, and is making a movie that they would enjoy watching. And that is what Fear Street Part One: 1994 is — just a great time by horror fans, for horror fans.
So come for the 90s horror vibes, stay for a couple of killer death scenes, and enjoy everything in between. And if you’re a true teen discovering scary stories via Fear Street as I did back in 2005 — viewer beware, you’re in for a scare.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Fear Street Part One: 1994? Comment down below!
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