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Through the lifecycle of its development, the trilogy of Fear Street films based on R.L. Stine’s other legendary series of YA thrills has moved stealthily. Whenever fans thought that the project was going to fall into limbo, an update would arrive in the nick of time to keep hope alive. The big surprise arrived with the announcement in summer 2020 that the completed trilogy was headed to Netflix, which to some may have been the most fearsome twist of all – but all worries can officially be dispelled, as Fear Street Part 1: 1994 rewards all interested parties for their continued faith, and the screams you’ll hear will be ones of pure, terror loving joy.
The main conflict at the heart of Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is an age old rivalry between two towns in Ohio: Sunnyvale and Shadyside. The former is where all the privileged social climbers live, whereas the latter is where you go to become a burnout loser. Sam (Olivia Welch) and Deena (Kiana Madeira) live on opposite sides of that divide, and it only puts further strain on their already stressful secret high school romance. Of course, things only get worse when the curse that’s led to Shadyside’s history of tragedy and murder resurfaces, threatening the two lovers and everyone they know.
Co-writer/director Leigh Janiak shows her fandom by getting the DNA of Fear Street and taking it in a mature direction.
Adaptations of hit book series like R.L. Stine’s Fear Street anthology are notoriously difficult, as the source material featuring a diverse array of stories can both be a blessing and a curse. It only makes co-writer/director Leigh Janiak’s fandom for the books all the more valuable, as the decision to create a brand new story gives both fans and newcomers something to dig into. But there’s enough Stine DNA in this film to bring die hards to the table, even with the new mature direction the story has taken.
While the book series was built in the horror-thriller world, it was admittedly a PG-rated affair. Perhaps the greatest departure that Fear Street Part 1: 1994 takes from its main inspiration is its inclusion of gore, sexual situations, and harsh violence. Leigh Janiak shines yet again in this respect, as this first of three installments pays tribute to the slasher movies that Fear Street fans would have grown into after reading the books, and she pulls no punches while doing so.
An impressive body count and tons of gore are balanced by an intriguing story and characters you’re going to get attached to.
Right from the beginning of Fear Street Part 1: 1994, the tone is set for the entire trilogy, and it’s thanks to that blood and violence previously mentioned. In the time it takes for the pre-credits sequence to play out, the lethality at play is established, proving that no one is safe in Shadyside... which is both a bummer and a plus, as you’re going to get attached to Fear Street's protagonists and miss them when they're gone.
The teens of Shadyside are more than mere “‘90s kids” that toss off references and cultural touchstones. Every member of the Fear Street gang is so well drawn, from cheerleader Kate (Julia Rehwald) to Deena’s younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr,) that the threat against all of them gains more villainy by merely targeting them. And at the heart of the action is the love story of Deena and Sam, which only invests the audience further in seeing who does and doesn’t make it out of Fear Street Part 1: 1994 alive.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is a strong opening for the trilogy, and will leave the audience waiting restlessly for the next two installments.
The title alone alerts the audience to the fact that there’s two more Fear Street movies coming down the line. With the entire trilogy filmed and lined up for a week-by-week release, it’s to be expected that the story in the first part won’t end with a neat and tidy bow. That being said, the story of Fear Street Part 1: 1994 still feels like a complete stand-alone experience, while also having enough of a hook to keep people hungry for the sequel arriving the following week.
Organically teasing the franchise it’s setting up, while also delivering all the thrills and bloodletting one would expect, Fear Street Part 1: 1994 acts like a sequel in an origin story’s clothing. Leigh Janiak’s initial installment doesn’t depend on the follow-ups already in the can, giving horror fans and R.L. Stine obsessives what they want up front. It’s that energy that makes the scariest thing about the Fear Street trilogy the fact that we have to wait a week in-between each story’s arrival. Promising "the movie event of the summer," Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is a strong opener that shows the odds are in the favor of that claim being proven absolutely accurate.