Review: 'Fear Street Part 1: 1994' is a ‘90s Slasher Mixtape

Review: 'Fear Street Part 1: 1994' is a ‘90s Slasher Mixtape

Fear Street Part One: 1994 is now streaming on Netflix.

Movie Reviews
4 min read

Fear Street: Part One - 1994

Review: 'Fear Street Part 1: 1994' is a ‘90s Slasher Mixtape

Come witching hour, a generation of horror fans read the RL Stine book they had bought at the Scholastic Fair earlier that morning. Though mom gave the money to buy a Roald Dahl, that spooky font, inviting artwork and the monster-of-the-week which adorned the cover lured the reader into picking the new Goosebumps paperback from the shelf. If Goosebumps was many a reader’s introduction to horror, Fear Street was their initiation into the club of horror lifers. Netflix, leveraging our nostalgia as ever, brings us a trilogy of Fear Street films sure to take you right back to those nights spent reading Stine’s books under the covers with a flashlight, before geeking out with classmates the next day at school, much to the librarian’s annoyance.

Olivia Welch and Kiana Madeira in a still from Fear Street Part 1: 1994.

(Photo courtesy: Netflix)


A serialised story told across three time periods, Fear Street transports us to 1994 in Part 1. Stine fangirl Leigh Janiak builds her ‘90s time capsule with loving, blood-soaked homages to the decade’s popular slashers like Scream. The body count in fact kicks off with the death of its biggest star akin to the opening in Wes Craven’s 1996 meta-slasher. Taking Drew Barrymore’s place is a familiar face in the Netflix catalogue in Stranger Things star Maya Hawke. A prank call comes in. Hawke’s mall store clerk is stalked by a cloaked killer before being knifed to death. Here, Janiak throws her first curveball. Discovering the identity of the cloaked killer imbues an element of mystery in Scream, but here he is uncloaked right off the bat — and shot down. What drives the mystery in Fear Street has nothing to do with the killer, but the town of Shadyside.

Think of Shadyside as suburban Gotham. Or as the press have branded it: “Killer Capital USA.” The town has such a cursed history, a killing spree every few years is deemed customary. This isn’t the first spree in Shadyside, and it won’t be the last — as a group of teens soon discover.

Janiak doesn’t resort to the arsenal of archetypes that usually populate slashers, or realign them like The Cabin in the Woods did. Gone are the virginal final girl, dumb jocks and token minority characters.

Making up the cast instead are a group of misfits who would have traditionally padded the body count. Deena (Kiana Madeira) is a queer girl trying to cope with a recent break-up. Her ex Sam (Olivia Welch) is trying to deal with it her own way after having recently moved to the neighbouring town of Sunnyvale. Deena’s brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr) nerds out over the town’s murderous history in AOL chatrooms. Kate (Julia Rehwald) is a cheerleader reframed as a drug-dealing valedictorian. Simon (Fred Hechinger) is the loveable dork. The cast of fresh-faced actors ground the characters in teenage realism, looking inward at juggling the demands of high school and escaping their town’s history. Crosstown rivalries, crushes and rekindled flames fill in the required emotional beats of a teen melodrama.

A still from Fear Street Part 1.

(Photo Courtesy: Netflix)

When Deena and gang chance upon the resurrected evil at the centre of the Shadyside’s grisly past, the body count starts to rise. Janiak stages some gory kills to make good on that R-rating. A head gets thrust into the blades of a bread slicer. Another head gets an axe plunged into its skull. Indeed, the slasher has been a horror mainstay because it promises a sizeable body count and gore quotient. It’s the only genre where overkill has positive connotations.

All the ‘90s nods add to the film’s pulse as much as the blood. The decade comes alive in a neon-splashed Shadyside, awash in fiery reds and blues.

A PJ Harvey poster adorns Deena’s bedroom wall. My So-Called Life runs on TV. Kids still wear Iron Maiden T-shirts. Wrapping it all up is a whole Lollapalooza of artists, from Nine Inch Nails to Pixies. A large chunk of Fear Street Part One: 1994 in fact feels like a ‘90s mixtape with a horror movie built around it.

The slasher is a cultural relic that keeps on giving. The genre has earned subversions, which have earned subversions of their own. While Fear Street Part One: 1994 finds effective ways to refresh the semantics, far more entertaining and meaningful subversions have been executed elsewhere: Behind the Mask - The Rise of Leslie Vernon, The Cabin in the Woods and It Follows to name a few. Janiak’s film lacks the satirical bite of Scream. Or that killer hook which even lesser slashers of the ‘90s like I Know What You Did Last Summer possessed.

Maya Hawke in Fear Street Part 1.

(Photo Courtesy: Netflix)

Those seeking a straightforward horror film with some scares may be pleasantly surprised. Those aware of slasher mechanics may less likely be caught off guard by any frights the film serves. Nonetheless, if you’re a horror lifer, you will no doubt impatiently await the next two instalments — at least for the sake of closure.

Our rating: 3 Quints Out of 5

Fear Street Part One: 1994 is now streaming on Netflix. Part Two: 1978 and Part Three: 1666 will release on July 9 and 16 respectively.

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