Movie Review: “Fear Street Part One: 1994”

The concept of the Fear Street series is one of the coolest I have seen in awhile.

I remember back when Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends were first announced, we had speculation of them being shot back-to-back and both being released in October, and that idea was mind blowing, to say the least. In the end, that didn’t happen, in-fact, because of Covid-19, we’ve had to wait even longer for the second film. No such problem with Fear Street, because, as I write this, the sequel has already arrived and, tomorrow, a third final film is due out as well.

That alone is really neat, and I was modestly curious when I first heard about it. That in mind, the horror genre has made me jaded and cynical over the years, and so, when I heard about some R. L. Stine adaptation, I anticipated something about on par with the more recent Goosebumps films. Charming, but mostly a baby’s first Slasher movie that’d be promoted on Nickelodeon. Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong about it. Not only did the series receive an R-rating for language and brutality, but the reviews I have read suggest a solid slasher film altogether. Sign me up!

Directed by Leigh Janiak, with a script co-written by Phil Graziadel and Leigh, respectively, Fear Street comprises its cast with names like Kiana MadeiraOlivia Scott WelchBenjamin Flores Jr., and Maya Hawke, to name a handful. Of them, you may recognize a handful, either from other Netflix properties or elsewhere. Maya Hawke, of course, had a significant role in the most recent season of Netflix’s acclaimed series Stranger Things. The reason I mention that is because I found the film tonally similar to Stranger Things, particularly the third season, which I felt had a much goofier, more light-hearted charm about it. In that instance, I actually considered it a downgrade from what came prior, but for Fear Street, I found it resonated pretty well.

I have seen a lot of comparisons to other series’ from moviegoers who’ve seen Fear Street, for instance, Wes Craven’s Scream, and I can certainly see that in some respects, but I actually found it more comparable to something like Nickelodeon’s Goosebumps series. Fear Street follows a group of teenagers in Shadyside, Ohio, terrorized by an evil that has inflicted itself on the town for centuries. The characters are goofy at some instances, and sometimes particularly exaggerated, which means they would fit right in with David Arquette’s portrayal of Dewey in Scream, with dialogue and characterizations that are colorful and light heart.

Even instances when Fear Street is serious and playing it straight, it can often feel like there is a dissonance between what is happening on-screen and how it resonated with me as a viewer, largely because how I feel I’ve been primed to react. Those’re the instances, along with certain plays at humor, where I found myself believing this was distinctly opting for a more playful approach, rather than white-knuckled tension.

This is not a death sentence, and, actually, isn’t even necessarily a criticism. The slasher genre is a fun genre, filled with burnt-faced wise-crackers and dolls come to life, but the playfulness, too, does feel different from that. It feels interesting, for lack of a better word. It feels similar to one thing, but also very similar to another, making for a real mishmash.

The best I can say is that it feels like a blend of old-school slasher values and a modern, very manufactured production, filled with as many soundtracks as they can squeeze in. Maybe I would compare it less to Wes Craven’s Scream and more to the Scream television series that appeared on MTV, which may’ve been badly received by those who watched it, but I found fun to be had with it early on.

Likewise, I think there is a lot of fun to be had with Fear Street.

R. L. Stein’s Goosebumps series always felt like blatant riffs on classic monster stories, and, in its own way, I believe Fear Street celebrates slasher characters, with occasional moments that’ll have you feeling vaguely nostalgic.

Fear Street may not reinvent the wheel, but it does have fun death scenes, amusing characters, interesting lore, and a decent enough narrative to weave it all together. Comparative to other more modern mainstream slashers like Happy Death Day and Freaky, I actually find myself more behind Fear Street. Whereas those films paid homage to the genre, I found that they often ventured too far into their own parodic high-concept. That’s fine for them, but Fear Street offers more of what I’m actually looking for. When I search for 80s slashers like The BurningThe Slumber Party Massacre, or Chopping Mall, I am looking, best case, for a fun, competent film with a goofy concept, played straight. Fear Street feels like it pays homage to the genre that inspired it without losing the cohesion that made the earlier classics succeed. It isn’t a flawless film, but neither were a majority of them. I could see this film being looked at fondly, five, maybe, ten years from now, as a Halloween time classic (provided the sequels can hold their own).

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