By: Kayla Caldwell
FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 from director Leigh Janiak (2014's Honeymoon) brings an energy that feels like its been cranked to 11 from the very first moments. It’s the who’s who of trendy actors who play teens. You’ve got Maya Hawke, fresh off of her star-turning role in Stranger Things as Heather, Kiana Madeira of Sacred Lies as Deena, Fred Hechinger from the fever dream that was The Woman in the Window as Simon, and Olivia Scott Welch of Panic (which I LOVED - check out my review here), as Sam.
Between the stacked cast of up-and-coming stars to the fact that it’s based on a beloved book series from R.L. Stine (of Goosebumps fame), FEAR STREET had a lot to live up to. And as of watching PART 1: 1994, I’m happy to report that this series is off to a good start. Fans of Wes Craven’s 1996 masterpiece Scream will be thrilled with a host of homages, from an opening to remember, to the big Tatum vibes from Kate (Julia Rehwald), whose clothes I would love to steal. There’s also seemingly a nod to The Lost Boys when newspapers declare Shadyside the “murder capital of the USA.”
FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 follows the chaos that is living in Shadyside, the tragic, shadow sister of nearby town Sunnyvale, which has long been smiled on by God. Headlines in the stunningly-edited intro show good weather and employment rates in Sunnyvale, while Shadyside stands as the ultimate foil, with years of headlines about depression (economic and otherwise), murders, and other violent crimes.
Nineties goth kids will likely be sucked into FEAR STREET, with an opening sequence that had me flashing back, hard, to days spent giggling at Spencer’s Gifts or spending hours in the food court, because, let’s be honest, none of us had cars or licenses, and there was nothing better to do. Also, the music is absolutely *chef’s kiss.*
It would be disturbing that a school in a town that famously killed witches would have a sporting team called the “Shadyside Witches,” but there are still teams in the NFL with aggressively offensive names, so it’s actually not that surprising. Another thing that isn’t surprising is the amount of disdain the Shadyside Witches and the Sunnyvale Devils have for each other. It’s like the murder-y version of Pawnee versus Eagleton.
Things really pop off when Sunnyvale has a vigil to pay respects to the men and women killed in the mall slaughter. Students can’t take the lip service from the Sunnyvale mayor who says all the right things, but without feeling, as one would expect from the mayor of the more successful and beloved town. It’s there that a fight breaks out, between Deena and Sam, but also Shadysiders and Sunnyvale students, feeding the flame of hatred that has long been fanned by Shadyside’s brutal history.
It’s kind of jarring how quickly these teens scream that they’re going to kill each other, but then again, being a teenager does mean having your emotions on HIGH at all times, so I guess it’s not that wild? What is, however, is what happens next. From honking at a school bus and screaming obscenities to full-on instigating a car crash, these teens were out of control without the assistance of living-dead henchmen.
But that’s what they get, in the form of Ruby Lane (Jordyn DiNatale), Skull Mask (David W. Thompson), the Nightwing Killer (Lloyd Pitts), The Milkman (Kevin Waterman), Billy Barker (Emily Brobst), and The Pastor (Michael Chandler), who killed children and cut out their eyes in 1666. It’s some pretty creepy foreshadowing, since we know the third movie in the series is Fear Street Part Three: 1666. They’re just some of the examples of times seemingly normal people turned into psychos. The common denominator? Sarah Fier, the witch who was hanged in 1666.
Now that they’ve decided the curse is real and Sarah Fier is after them, they need to figure out how to make it stop. The cops want nothing to do with a bunch of loud Shadyside teens who claim the dead are hunting them. It’s hard to judge them for not believing the kids at first, but they still could have handled it better. A sentiment which is not lost on Deena, who screams at one officer, “You’re a monster! You’re supposed to protect us!” FEAR STREET is filled with small moments of protest like this, whether it be the fact that Simon wears nail polish and spends half the movie in a deep V and Ugg boots, or that the majority of the movie is spent trying to protect a bi girl.
Nothing is in your face to the point that this would be labeled a “political,” film, but even in just presenting such characters and ideas without question or fanfare, FEAR STREET feels revolutionary. It’s a horror movie featuring a lesbian couple, but without being ABOUT the fact that they are lesbians. None of Deena’s friends bats an eye at her relationship with Sam. In fact, the only people not okay with it seem to be Sam’s mother and her rebound, Peter (Jeremy Ford) - because is this even a teen horror movie if there isn’t a girl with a big heart dating an aggro football player?
What follows next feels a bit Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark meets Scream meets Poltergeist, as the teens take it upon themselves to try to break the curse, hoping desperately that Supernatural and every other paranormal film or show is right in that giving the bones of their dead adversary a proper burial will end this nightmare.
Of course, at this point, there’s still at least 40 minutes of film left, so we know it isn’t going to be that easy. Thankfully, the group has Deena’s little brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), who knows all about the haunted history of Shadyside. Meanwhile, Officer Goode (Ashley Zukerman) seems to be doing his own investigation, despite mocking the kids when they asked for help. There’s something off about him, which becomes even more apparent when he leaves a mysterious note to an unknown subject, which reads, “It’s happening again.”
While mysterious and intriguing, this note also begs the question, “If you know this has happened before, why would you not remove the body and bury it somewhere that it won’t be so easily disturbed? “ But I digress.
As we’ve seen in spooky films before this, such as Hocus Pocus or It Follows, the FEAR STREET teens come up with a host of wild ways to break the curse, creating a dangerous trap because, well, they don’t really have many options here, do they? They even manage to squeeze in time for a quick hookup, because this movie is rated R, after all. The R is likely for gore, obscenities, sexual situations, and drugs - a note of warning to anyone who’s had issues with drugs/addiction or might be triggered by an overdose - but it doesn’t feel heavy-handed, or like anything was added simply to make it “more adult.”
The characters feel natural and human, and most are likable, even in their imperfection. If FEAR STREET PART 1 is like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Simon is its Chuck. Hechinger more than makes up for his confusing performance in The Woman in the Window, as, now that I think about it, probably my favorite character in the film.
Madeira shines as the lesbian heroine from the wrong side of the tracks who’s jaded at such a young age thanks to the hardships of her life. She’s Pretty in Pink’s Andie to Sam’s Blane, if you will. In one dark yet realistic outburst, Deena recounts the harsh realities of being a Shadyside resident. “Best case is what? Dead on the mall floor after a double shift, or maybe, maybe if you’re really lucky, you’re the one carrying the knife.” It’s a bit bleak for a film based on a series of YA books, but then again, so is life when you don’t feel like you have options.
Flores Jr.’s Josh is a perfect modern iteration of Scream’s Randy (Jamie Kennedy), and we all know what Welch can do, thanks to her star turn in Panic. And have I already said that I want to be friends with Kate? Because she’s a bad bitch if I ever saw one.
All in all, FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 hits all the right notes, and leaves you wanting more. Lucky for us, there are two more, imminently on the way. It’s a great way to introduce the Fear Street franchise to new audiences, but should also please the horror nerds who remember reading these books back in junior high.
FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 hits Netflix on July 2. Then, continue the fun by checking back here at CreepyKingdom.com for my review of the next film in the series, FEAR STREET PART TWO: 1978 on July 7!