Film, Film Review

REVIEW: Fear Street, Part 1: 1994 (2021) dir. Leigh Janiak

Streaming Friday, 7/2 on Netflix


NOTE: The following review contains spoilers.

As a ravenous R.L. Stine reader when I was younger, the promos for Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy—and the subsequent decision by the MPAA to rate them R—had me bursting with excitement and curiosity. I grew up with the Fear Street and Goosebumps books, spending countless hours in the dusty, dimly lit corner of my hometown’s local library, devouring title after title. These books were my introductions to horror fiction.

That being said, the prospect of R.L. Stine’s work growing with me and being adapted into an adult-themed slasher was a dream. At 26, my horror tastes have matured and become more defined, and I wondered how they were going to take the beloved paperbacks of my youth and translate them to a gory, neon-drenched Netflix flick that was genuine. In the ’90s, we had the amazing Goosebumps television show, and in 2015, we had Jack Black’s comedic take on Stine in a feature-length Goosebumps movie. These are good and all, but I wanted to see scary. I wanted to see a horrifying, brutal take on R.L. Stine’s work now that I’ve grown older. So I worried—would these films do his work justice?

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 opens with sheer, adrenaline-pumping, gory goodness. In 1994, high school student Heather (played with dry wit by Stranger Things’ Maya Hawke) is closing up at her job at Dalton’s Books at the neon-slick mall in the shabby town of Shadyside. Her friend and fellow mall employee, Ryan (David W. Thompson) appears and asks if she needs a ride home. She accepts closes up the bookshop, only to be ambushed by a skull-masked killer with a jagged blade. Heather gives chase and discovers many others have been slaughtered in the food court. The killer jumps her from behind, stabbing her in the back, and pinning her to the floor. As she’s being repeatedly stabbed in the chest, blood spurting out of her mouth and staining her teeth, she tearfully rips off the skull mask to reveal Ryan as her killer. Ryan is shot in the head by the police.

The grisly murders send ripples of fear through Shadyside, but no one is exactly surprised. The small town has a vicious, horrific history of people “snapping” and murdering the people around them. From a slumber party massacre to a milkman slaughtering a neighborhood full of housewives, the town is not a stranger to death. The rumor is that the spirit of a witch named Sarah Fier (of local lore) has possessed each of these killers, causing them to wreak havoc and bloodshed.

Deena Johnson (Kiana Madeira), a fellow high school student of Heather’s, cynical and skeptical of these claims. She has just broken up with her girlfriend, Sam (Olivia Welch), who moved to the town’s rival, Sunnyvale. In an act of bitter revenge, Deena and friends Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) pull a school prank that goes wrong, landing Sam to be the next target of the witch. Together, Deena, her younger brother Josh (Benjamin Christopher Flores Jr.), Simon, and Kate must find a way to end the evil that is coming for Sam.

If they can survive, that is.

Fear Street is a refreshing flick that feels old school, like a film Wes Craven would make if he were still alive—original with splashes of comedy and oozing with gory, horrific kills.

From AOL and Instant Messenger to mixtapes and beat-up school bus seats, Fear Street takes you back in time with ease and realism. Our characters, played by relatively unknown actors (which works to this film’s benefit), stand out. Maderia and Welch have electric, tangible chemistry—it’s refreshing to have an LGBTQ romance leading a horror film.

Rehwald is a snappy, confident, strong support and pairs stunningly well with Hechinger’s fast-talking, hilarious quirkiness, and Flores’ calming voice of reason. Together, the group is a loveable, chaotic rag-tag crew. They’ve matured with us from the young characters we once read in R.L. Stine’s books as kids.

The kills in Fear Street are brutal and unforgiving, creating a structurally sound slasher that doesn’t hold back. The film’s opening is wickedly strong, with Heather’s death igniting a series of bloody murders that leaves a splotchy trail throughout the film. As Fear Street rolls, various monsters, unleashed by Sarah Fier—all wielding weapons, from a straight razor to a hatchet—slice and dice, and the bodies begin to pile up. In the last act, particularly, the gore unleashes in a grocery store, a la the 1989 slasher Intruder (the healthy doses of ’80s horror movie references were very much appreciated). Kate, after putting up a fight, is pushed head-first into a meat slicer in one of the most vicious kills I’ve seen in recent horror flicks.

Fear Street gives the horror-loving ’90s kids everything we want now that we’re horror-loving adults. Our horror tastes have matured. Our beloved R.L. Stine paperbacks of the past have been translated into a gory, neon-drenched Netflix flick that oozes with a thrilling narrative and horror-tinged nostalgia—all while bringing back the characters that we once loved reading about as kids.

Fear Street Part 1: 1994
dir. Leigh Janiak
106 min.

Streaming Friday, 7/2 on Netflix (the first of a three-part series– watch this space in the coming weeks for our reviews of coming installments!)

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