The name R.L. Stine is probably most linked to ‘Goosebumps‘, with the books he wrote, the 90s TV series, the TV films and the cinematic films Goosebumps (2015) and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018). However, it seems Stine’s other book series ‘Fear Street’ was almost forgotten about, the book series much like ‘Goosebumps‘ were horror tales but these were more for the teen audience. To see that some sort of ‘Fear Street’ adaptation has only come around in 2021 is quite shocking, because it has taken so long for this to come to the screen and what we do have now is a surprisingly good start at least.
Netflix have produced a trilogy of films based on Stine’s ‘Fear Street’ books, with a central story linking all the films together. The first film Fear Street Part 1: 1994 (2021) naturally takes place in 1994 as the title suggests and this is where the story begins. The town of Shadyside has a dark history with on-going murders having tainted the town and every so often when murders happen, they deem the killer to have gone crazy to explain the out of nowhere killing spree. The film opens with one of the murder sprees, in a shopping mall as it is closing, as a masked killer stops at nothing to take lives very reminiscent of Scream (1996). After this opening the film focuses on Deena (Kiana Madeira), her younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), her best friends Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) and her ex Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), as they feel the aftermath of these recent killings but also start to find out nothing in Shadyside is quite what it seems.
While this trilogy of films is not directly based on one ‘Fear Street’ book, it does use the location of Shadyside from the books and has the same feel of the books. Part 1 is very much a homage to 90’s slasher horror, as mentioned previously the opening is very Scream-eque and the main characters are high school students. The film also blends in elements of the supernatural, another staple of the books and something definitely seen in 90’s horror too. With its inspirations worn on its sleeve, this is not actually a carbon copy of those 90’s films, Part 1 is very much its own entity and going into some unexpected places.
The film has some strong elements, it looks fantastic and has some very unsettling atmosphere, the soundtrack is a lot of fun (even if some of the tunes were not accurate for the time), the characters are very well rounded and the main story that links the films together is quite intriguing and keeps up the twists and turns. The performances are great, with Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch being the heart and soul of the piece, they are both flawed characters, but this makes them more endearing as they deal with these flaws. Benjamin Flores Jr shines as Josh the nerdy younger brother, he becomes an important source of information as he spends his time researching the town and the murders but also forms bonds with the other characters. Julia Rehwald and Fred Hechinger were also solid in their roles, perhaps not the most likable characters at first, they definitely shed some layers to reveal more.
There is a coming-of-age story in the film, intertwined between the horror elements of the story with Deena and Josh. Deena as the older sibling is opinionated and angry at the world, Josh wants to hide away and be online where he feels comfortable. Along the way Deena starts to open up about why her and Sam are no longer together and how she perhaps lashes out towards Sam because she sees those flaws within herself. The characters were written in such a way that they just happened to be queer, not having it forced in and it works so much better with this natural approach. Josh learns to become more open and start to make friends away from the screen, he comes out of his shell and is a lot less shy along the journey.
Fear Street Part 1 is a very enjoyable first entry into this trilogy and sets up the town, the story, the mood and atmosphere. It ends on a very tasty cliffhanger, with a hint of what is to come and enough clues to begin working out what exactly is going on and whether there will be the ultimate twist at the end, which the books were so good at. This is a fun throw back to 90’s slashers, but also a film that will surely engage those who haven’t read ‘Fear Street’ or are new to horror and this entry will have viewers eager for what’s to come next.