‘Fear Street Part 1: 1994’ review: Adaptation of R.L Stine series is the summer’s scariest surprise
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is one of the biggest surprises of the summer. As someone who often has a hard time getting into the horror genre, Leigh Janiak’s 1st of three films based on R.L Stine’s series of the same name is a perfect combination of gore, frivolity, and just enough campiness that will win over the most cynical moviegoers. Think Scream with a supernatural twist, and that’s Fear Street Part 1: 1994. What immediately stood out about this first film was the attention to detail. Each cast member seemed to have an extensive understanding of the time period this narrative takes place in.
How is this possible as 99% of the cast weren’t even a thought in their parent’s minds in 1994? Come to find out that before part one, each member of the cast had a specific playlist and list of movies that had to watch prior to filming. The list movies they had to watch were – The Goonies, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Friday the 13th, Carrie, The Crucible, and The Village. Each of these songs and films reflected the first film’s tone at various points and gave this cast a solid foundation going into filming.
The first of what will be three films takes place in 1994 when a group of teenagers makes a connection between a series of horrific events that have haunted Shadyside for 300 years. Has never nightmare ended, or is it ongoing? In many ways, Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is a tale of the haves and have nots. It seems that all of these surrounding towns have become endlessly fascinated by these killings which happen in Shadyside, while the residents in the town seemed destined to a life of living on the “fringe”. If there was an example of a tragedy weighing down a town, this it.
We have Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald), who try to help their families survive by selling drugs. Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) spends his spare time looking up conspiracy theories about their town on AOL. There is a love story in this between Denna (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) which speaks to how same-sex relationships were perceived in 1994. Their fates become intertwined when a prank goes horribly wrong, and they disturb the grave of a witch who has had a grip on the town from beyond since the 1600s.
Sam’s family split due to divorce, and she moved away from Deena in hopes of leading a different life rather than being true to who she was. I’m sure there were plenty of “sam’s” in the ’90s who attempted the same, so it’s to see Janik’s connection here. Denna, of course, wants her to be true to who she is and acknowledge their love for each other. This, of course, leads to some friction which quickly dissipates when a skull mask-wearing killer starts chasing them all over town. Yeah, if someone were chasing me like that, I’d drop whatever issues I had to avoid being killed too.
This ensemble is tons of fun, and it’s to make a connection between this crew and ones we’ve seen in movies like Goonies. Their chemistry is undeniable. What was fun is to see how each of these kids has to rise above what’s holding them down. Josh has no choice but to overcome his anxiety. Simon and Kate have to look beyond what’s superficial and see people for who they are. In the beginning, these two would have never said a word to Josh at school, but now their lives depend on it. Denna has to learn patience and not push people away, which directly connects to Sam coming to terms with her true self. Sometimes evil can come at us with a knife, and other times it’s societal.
The joy of this film stems from the writing and the ensemble, and its production design. There set was very reflective of the time period this takes place in, capturing the tone and colors perfectly. Also, pay close attention to the little details in the film. There are plenty of tips of the cap or easter eggs that show reverence to both the genre and the source material.
The beauty of Fear Street: Part One 1994 is how it manages to be so entertaining yet leaves the audience wanting more. In fact, the whole third act of the film has an episodic feel to it which was very smart of Janik to do. She could have easily fallen into this vacuum of needing to remain faithful to its source material which would have been a mistake. The audience needs a reason to return, and Fear Street: Part One 1994 gives us a massive one in the film’s final moments. Lucky for us, Part 2’s release isn’t that far away.
Fear Street: Part One 1994 comes out on Netflix on July 2. Fear Street Part 2: 1978 is next on July 9 then Fear Street Part 3: 1666 on July 16.
Watch the first five minutes Fear Street: Part One 1994 featuring Maya Hawke below.