FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 (2021), the first film in a three part trilogy based on the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine and now playing on Netflix, feels like a TV show, but to its credit, actually plays like a theatrical release.
The television show feeling is there because all three films were released in quick succession, and all three are presently available on Netflix. This is not your classic movie trilogy where you have to wait three years, or even just one year, for the next part. You can binge watch all three in one sitting.
I was impressed by director Leigh Janiak’s handling of this movie, as she successfully captures the look and feel of a 1990s slasher flick. In fact, the opening scene is a direct homage to the opening scene in Wes Craven’s SCREAM (1996). It’s very well done, so much so that it just might be the best sequence in the entire movie. The film also earns its R rating, as it contains its share of bloody slasher murders, the most gruesome of all coming towards the film’s end, involving a bread slicer in a supermarket.
Yet, while I enjoyed the work of Leigh Janiak, I was far less impressed with the screenplay by Janiak and Phil Graziadei. I had no problem with the dialogue which serves its purpose well, but the overall story I found to be a snooze, and the characters not all that engaging. Truth be told, I really didn’t like any of the characters in this movie all that much.
And at one hour and forty seven minutes, the film runs a bit long. Ninety minutes would have been just fine.
Anyway, the story told in FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 involves two neighboring towns, Shadyside and Sunnyvale, Ohio. As you can guess by their names, Sunnyvale is nearly perfect, while Shadyside is known as a sh*thole, a place that attracts evil, where slasher and serial killer murders happen on a regular basis. The general population of Shadyside is people of color, while wealthy white people live in Sunnyvale. I liked this symbolism and hoped that this movie would move in a direction that delved into the plight of the haves and have nots, especially concerning race, but it really doesn’t. It’s not that kind of movie. I mean, to its credit, there are hints here and there, but the film downplays them and doesn’t go out of its way to make racial disparities a central theme.
Shadyside is the way it is because it’s been cursed by a witch since the 1600s! Oh my! And a group of teenagers run afoul of this witch when after a car accident, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) inadvertently disturbs the witch’s grave. This major plot point is actually a rather ludicrous scene. The grave is barely beneath the soil, and this is a witch that has been buried for four hundred years?
So, the witch decides that Sam must die, and she sends a group of slasher killers from Shadyside’s past to hunt down and kill the girl. Standing in their way are the girl’s friends, including her on again off again girlfriend and main character, Deena (Kiana Madeira), Deena’s younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores, Jr.), and their friends Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger).
As plots go, the one in FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 is pretty lame. It’s also farfetched, and little or no effort is made to make it seem at all believable. The reason to watch this flick is the work of director Leigh Janiak. She nails the 1990s slasher flick trope throughout. Similarly to the way I love the 1980s references in the Netflix show STRANGER THINGS (2016-present), I enjoyed the 90s references here in this movie.
The cast is okay. While I didn’t really like either character, I did enjoy the performances of Kiana Madeira as Deena and Olivia Scott Welch as Sam. They are both very good. I also enjoyed Julia Rehwald as Kate and Fred Hechinger as Simon.
Ashley Zukerman plays Sheriff Nick Goode, a rather weird character who seems like he walked off the set of TWIN PEAKS (1990-1991). He is supposed to be the caring, concerned law enforcement officer, but throughout the whole movie he seems to be walking in a dream. Zukerman starred in the underrated horror movie THE WIND (2018) where he played a supporting role as the main character’s husband, and he made much more of an impact in that movie.
For me, the best performance in FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 belongs to Maya Hawke who sadly gets killed off in the film’s opening moments, similar to the way Drew Barrymore’s character was slain in the opening sequence of SCREAM. Hawke was equally as memorable on the TV show STRANGER THINGS, and I just hope she lands some major starring roles soon. She’s very, very good. And she’s also one of the main reasons the opening sequence to this movie works so well. You don’t even know her character. Yet she evokes so much sympathy and horror when her character is slain. I think it’s the way she so desperately fights for her life.
Strangely, “Fear Street” is never mentioned in this movie. Shadyside is a cursed place, and the teens there all lament that they live there, but there’s no reference to the actual street they live on. I guess that’s something we’ll have to wait for in the next film in the series.
FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 has its moments. Its strength is it nails the 1990s slasher movie feel with ease, and director Leigh Janiak deserves a lot of credit for this accomplishment. But its story is meh, its characters unlikable, and in spite of some gruesome bloody scenes, really isn’t all that scary.
But it’s certainly worth a look, and it was good enough for me to want to check out the second film in the trilogy.
FEAR STREET: PART ONE – 1994 is basically a good looking movie in need of a stronger story. Had it had one, it would have been something to scream about.