FEAR STREET Part 1: 1994 – Netflix Movie Review

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Admittedly, I never read the R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series in my youth. I dunno why. Honestly, most of my pre-teen youth days were spent reading, but I was a pretty slow reader so I never actually got to devour R.L. Stine’s books at the rapid rate that some of you other fans have. (I did read a few of the Give Yourself Goosebumps series to death, though!) Nevertheless, I did recently pick up a copy of Fear Street’s 14th book, The Knife from my local neighbourhood cabinet library. Then I ate it up over two nights while my kids had their bath. By doing so, I gained enough knowledge about the series’ whole concept and dove right into Fear Street – Part 1: 1994 with the same excitement as the rest of you.

Yes, bandwagoning!

Cashing in on Millennial Fears

The most frustrating, but also my favourite thing about Fear Street – Part 1: 1994 is the blatant Millenial pandering. For me, this movie dropped right after I cut my summer vacation short because British Columbia was hit with that insane heat dome that overwhelmed the province with such hellish temperatures that a small town north of me literally burnt down in a matter of 15 minutes. Despite the fact that my family went somewhere slightly cooler for the heat wave, my toddler son just wasn’t having it and we decided against trying to go camping in 40+ degree weather.

Then we got home and a massive thunderstorm struck another fire right on the edge of town that threatened houses. My daughter was scared of the storm, so I had to talk her out of her fear like a good parent while my anxiety literally devoured me inside. I found all the family photos and shit and shoved them into luggage that I’d just emptied that day of camping stuff. My husband was like WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? and I was like WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE OF CLIMATE CHANGE BUT I HAVE TO PRETEND LIKE EVERYTHING IS NORMAL AROUND THE FUCKING KIDS BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW HOW TO EXPLAIN TO THEM THAT WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND THIS IS WHAT THE REST OF OUR LIVES IS GOING TO BE LIKE NOW.

So yeah, the movie starts off with a neon-soaked totally not dead mall and that Robin from Stranger Things, only she works bookstore instead of an ice cream place. A woman buys a new copy of a Fear Street-like series and Robin channels my inner teenage hipster and calls it drivel or trash or something. Then the mall closes and the totally cool after-closing soundtrack kicks off with Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”.

It’s pandering to my internal NEED for better times and I was totally okay with it after the horrific week I had.

Woke High School Stuff

Fear Street‘s first act centers around the rivalry between two high school story centred around two communities. One, Shadyside, is a somewhat poverty-ridden one cursed with mass murders every few years. Sunnyside is, of course, the one full of fancy houses and well-maintained yards. Our protagonist, Deena, and her brother Josh, however, live in a pretty nice house. Like if I were elementary school Rebecca watching this, I’d think they were rich AF. Movies rarely ever show poverty right with interior settings, honestly, and that’s just a petty qualm I have with films in general.

We get a really nice visual of the Shadyside school bus driving from one community to another to convey this, which really cut into my poverty-stricken core, man. Fear Street 1994 has a diverse cast, which the movie utilizes exceptionally well, considering some of the social commentaries it touches on, but we’ll get to that aspect later. Instead of rehashing the entire plot, I’ll just give my general impression of each main character.

Deena

Our protagonist, who has recently broken up with her girlfriend, Sam. Much of her character’s evolution centres around this relationship. She focuses a lot on Sam’s recent move to Sunnyvale and how this dynamic has disrupted their relationship. I liked Deena, but there isn’t much going on with her, other than her mission to save Sam.

Josh

Deena’s younger brother plays the nerd character and functions as the expositional know-it-all. I thought the movie wrapped a lot of the exposition well through his online chats with another anonymous fan of Shadyside lore. Again, there isn’t much to him other than his social isolation, which resolves to a degree when Kate takes an interest to his knowledge and we get some sexy times.

Kate

When I was a younger reserved Christian kid, I hated bad girl characters like Kate. She sells prescription drugs to kids in Sunnyvale, for the most part, which is how she knows Simon and is aware of Simon’s brother’s recent party OD, though he was only dead for a couple of minutes, yo. Out of all the slasher movie tropes, I thought Fear Street did the best job with Kate. Instead of making her vapid and vain, they made her resourceful, networked, and was well-aware of her surroundings. Typically, characters of her calibre die early in the movie, but Kate kept going. Instead of her being that early-on comedic death, her murder in the movie’s climax packed a decent punch.

Simon

Another trope character, which Fear Street crafted well. He didn’t amount to much in the movie. He proved himself the dumb white dude jock, but like Kate, his mission was simply to have a good time. So he proved himself a decent dude when he bonded with Josh over Kate’s interest in him. He proved himself shameless (in every possible good way) in the movie’s sex sequence where everyone got laid.

Sam

Easily Fear Street‘s best character, Sam plays the love interest who becomes possessed by the spirit of Sarah Fier, an accused witch who was murdered in Shadyside back in 1666. What few scenes that focus on her character portray her struggle exceptionally well. She attempts to cross the gap between Shadyside (her former community) with Sunnyvale (where she’s recently moved). She’s also closeted, so when she moves to Sunnyvale, she attempts to fit in by getting a boyfriend and doing your standard popular blond girl in high school stuff.

Then she rekindles her relationship with Deena and comes more to terms with her identity while subsequently becoming possessed by a witch. I honestly thought her character had the best arc and development, so when it came down to the movie’s cliffhanger ending, I did find myself quite hooked.

Murder Victims Were Too Smart

So we get a nice murder opening, which is fun properly executes all the features of a mall in its last glory days. Plenty of the murder chase sequences in Fear Street pay homages to Scream, which is my favourite horror movie franchise because I’m kind of a coward and knife-weilding human murderers just make for nice comfortable scares.

I did, however, feel that all of the murder scenes tried a bit too hard trying to make the victims smart. They never run upstairs or get caught trying to crawl through small openings or grabbing the wrong weapons. I knew the bookstore clerk was gonna die, but even she was a too smart so that by the time it came to the stabbing, it just felt a bit cheap and not rewarding.

As for the main characters, when they got to the grocery store, I really felt like none of them were going to die because they kept on doing stuff that was TOO smart. Like Kate literally just saw that muffin pan in the bakery and immediately used it stealthily to her advantage. Despite the adrenaline. Despite the fear. At this point in the movie, I felt convinced that everyone was going to make it out alive. Aaaaaaannnd, then the killer shoved her into the bread slicer thing, which was absolutely brutal and made for a great gory death scene.

Then, cut to Simon’s murder, which happened so fast and was so boring and dull and let me down beyond belief. Just the inconsistency of the suspense kind of threw me off and I would have liked to see more back and forth advantage between murderer and victim.

The Fear Street Lore

Again, the only Fear Street book I’ve actually read thus far has been The Knife, and that’s literally where all my Fear Street knowledge comes from. Basically, a bunch of weird stuff happens in Shadyside and it all centres around Fear St., which the movie changes to Fier St. As an aside, I did recently score a BUNCH of Fear Street books from a thrift store in my husband’s small town for FIFTY CENTS A BOOK. Even a first edition copy of The New Girl, which is currently going for $65 Canadian dollars on Thriftbooks?!

I don’t know if the books acknowledge any story of possession passing through the years to various members of the town or if this is solely a story developed for the movies, but Fear Street 1994 conveyed it all quite well, while also building us up for the prior incidents in 1987 and 1666 respectively. One the tropes of various Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes that I fondly remember is kids coming together to solve an ages-old haunting and Fear Street 1994 does this exceptionally well with some added teenage profanity and raunchiness.

The Murderer(s)

One unexpected element of Fear Street 1994 was having not one, but THREE murderers, and not in the twist Scream way, but in a time-altered supernatural way. To be honest, I found this concept a bit confusing. The killers seemed to spawn off of various characters in the present, 1994. So we get three killers, including Ryan, who murdered Heather and was subsequently killed in the opening scene.

Mall Skeleton Dude

I found Ryan’s costume to be the least-threatening, maybe because I live in present-day where one can buy a pretty decent realistic skull mask from Spirit Halloween. I find “realistic” masks pretty lame these days and tend to prefer killer masks that break realism. Like the Ghostface mask wasn’t necessarily scary as it was unsettling in its distorted simplicity.

I thought the skull mask made him too much of a dude in a mask as opposed to a menacing killer.

Camp Burlap Guy

I suppose this killer is of significant importance because he’s the killer in the second movie, which follows the camp murders from 1978, which left one victim behind for our 1994 characters to attempt to seek advice from. He’s entirely faceless and wields an axe, which is pretty menacing, but I dunno, that one scene where they blocked the door in the hospital and it took him FOREVER to break through with his axe, like that just made him pretty weaksauce.

There’s also a scene where he’s pursuing Josh in the grocery store and his axe accuracy is so off that he gets it stuck and unrealistically struggles with trying to wrestle it free from the metal shelving and Josh scramples away with ease. Meh.

Hot Rockabilly Chick

She’s easily the scariest killer because the movie introduces her crouched on the sidewalk, singing. And OF COURSE Simon finds her and thinks she’s sexy, which make for a fantastic nod that the most ridiculous horror trope of them all.

“She was hot! I don’t know! The bitch seemed normal!”

Simon

And it’s true! I don’t know what it is about women singing and acting strange (and maybe we need to dissect this concept more because it’s probably due to some patriarchal stuff) but the character proved the most menacing in her intimacy and slow pursuit.

The Soundtrack

Yes, it’s good. But again, kind of pandering? I’m being an asshole because I hate scored scenes, honestly, and Fear Street kind of runs the gamut of 90s movie scoring trends of just tossing a song over a scene and making it fit.

Granted, I was also just 7 years old 1994, so the songs in here don’t resonate with me the same way that they do with older horror fans and I don’t say these things to disparage people’s memories. I do have these same “nostalgic pandering” issues with the way scenes are often scored in Stranger Things simply for the sake of saying OMG EVERYONE, WASN’T THE 80S GREAT! FASHION MONTAGE! I just hate it when it’s more about slapping the audience’s shoulder than it is about setting a good mood around a specific scene.

I prefer creative scoring, like the way HBO used Cardi B to score this brutal scene in Lovecraft Country, but that’s just my qualm and I think it’s totally okay if you wanna cuddle your Fear Street 1994 soundtrack in your dying embrace. Because again, we’re all gonna die from climate change and we need to find good things to distract us.

Social Commentary

First off, I feel that we’re at the point in society where pretty much any remake of an old beloved (and perhaps dated) favourite franchise tries to remake it with an intersectional lens. I have no problem with this, but more of then than not, the “woke” stuff always feels too inserted into the plot and, again, feels more pandering than creative.

Poverty

Fear Street 1994 kind of dips a gentle toe into economic disparity, and the poor kid in me really resonated with it. The movie never dives too deep into the issue to get preachy, but instead uses the issue to convey how this disparity affects our characters, mainly Deena and Sam.

LGBTQ+ Relationships

Fear Street 1994 also focuses on a WLW relationship between Deena and Sam, which I thought was wonderful. Now, of course, it could have looked into how these women faced hatred based on the attitudes toward same-sex relationships in 1994, but this is a horror movie about slashers. It focused solely on their relationship and made them both relatively rounded characters.

Systematic Racism

The one part of social commentary that bugged me was the subject of race and the police. The movie does convey the police sheriff(?) Goode as an imposing figure who we’ll find more about later. In the scene where he addresses the teens before the football game, we can see all the “Goode” banners in the background, so it’s clear that the Goode name has some prominent influence in the town.

At one point, we see a Black man locked in one of the jail cells, who Goode basically ignores. Then, later, at the movie’s end, the nameless prisoner has a moment with Josh that makes for a cute nod at today’s systematic racism and police brutality. Which is fine. I laughed. But I also rolled my eyes a bit because the scene was so clearly a nod at the audience and it just pulled me from the movie. Now, don’t get me wrong. It is a necessary commentary and would have made for a great Key and Peele skit, but I personally didn’t quite feel that it fit the movie in the same way that social commentary worked in the “Sundown” episode of Lovecraft Country, for instance.

My Final Thoughts on Fear Street 1994

I enjoyed the way Fear Street 1994 managed to tie supernatural killing lore with teenage social structures. It’s not an uncommon movie plot formula, but I like how this movie is a part of a trilogy, so it will be interesting to see how it links the 1994 timeline back and forth between the other two time periods. It’s a great homage to slashers of the 90s while addressing modern social commentary through its characters.

Again, while some of the panderings felt a bit too slap-in-the-face for my hipster millennial self, I can appreciate that their choice of music definitely resonated with the horror audience. I loved the subtle nods to horror tropes and (despite the characters being too smart) the quick reactions of some of the protagonists in the murder sequences.

Looking forward to the next instalment with Fear Street 1978.

FEAR STREET Part 1: 1994

5.5

Plot

7.0/10

Characters

7.0/10

Setting

5.0/10

Scares

3.0/10

Pros

  • Wonderfully modernized characters based on horror movie tropes.
  • Loved the dynamic between the two rival communities.
  • Anything that ties back to witch hunts always gets a plus from me.

Cons

  • Slightly too pandering.
  • Characters were too smart that it ruined the tension.
  • The actual 90s was only that neon at my local bowling alley.