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Fear Street Part 1: 1994 Review

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PLOT: The teens of Shadyside, Ohio, try to defeat a deadly curse, which, for centuries, has led to a brutal series of murders that crop up with alarming regularity.

REVIEW: True story: R.L. Stine books were banned in my elementary school. Now, this was before Stine re-invented himself with the gentler Goosebumps franchise. At the time, he was known for Fear Street, which was defiantly young adult. When our monthly Scholastic flyers would come around, all of the kids would order the newest installment of the series to stick it to the teachers, so I grew up reading these books.

No doubt nostalgia will play a huge role in Fear Street’s success on Netflix, with them ambitiously releasing an entire trilogy of films the summer. They were initially produced by 20th Century Studios but sold to the streamer in a rich deal, and I have to say – well done, Netflix. This thing is going to be huge.

The first installment, FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994, is an effective homage to nineties slasher movies, particularly Scream. The opening teaser, with Maya Hawke, has a lot of callbacks to that famous Wes Craven film, and surprisingly Netflix opted to go ahead and make these hard-R despite the tween-friendly cast.

Even still, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Fear Street film series, like the books, is made with teen audiences in mind. The gore is plentiful but not too hardcore, while the F-bombs are no worse than they may see in edgy streaming shows. Kiana Madeira is our lead, Deena, a heartbroken Shadyside teen whose girlfriend, Samantha (Olivia Welch), has left her to go live with her mom in the wealthier next town, Sunnyside. She’s also pretending to be straight with a local jock, who’s a Grade-A asshole.

When Deena and her friends, including Julia Rehwald as Kate – the school pill pusher, Fred Hechinger’s Simon, the comic relief, and her awesome gamer brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) cause a car accident, the result is that Samantha is now the victim of an ancient witches curse. The bodies start piling up, and Deena dives into a mystery that I’m confident will take three films to solve (although each movie seems to have different leads).

It’s an ambitious trilogy, and I appreciate the callbacks to 1994, even if they’re piled on a little thick. The soundtrack is filled with wall-to-wall needle drops, making me think Netflix has unlimited money for soundtrack rights, but it can’t be denied that this is a fun little movie. Leigh Janiak, who directed the well-received Honeymoon, helmed all three movies, and she knows to keep the action going fast. The look of the film is slick, especially in 4K, and even if they were made for a theatrical audience in mind, Netflix feels like an ideal home for them. After all, two Strangers Things stars, Maya Hawke and Sadie Sink play massive roles in the trilogy, so the synergy is there. Kiana Madeira and Olivia Welch are likable as our young teen heroes, although the show is totally stolen by Your Honor’s Flores as Deena’s White Zombie/Iron Maiden obsessed gamer brother. I was this kid in 94!

While hardcore horror fans will likely just consider this a fun, light genre flick, keep in mind that this is made for a younger audience. Taken in that vein, Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is pretty solid and a lot harsher than it would likely be had it gone theatrical (it would have certainly been cut down to a PG-13). It’s a promising start to a trilogy a ton of teens are going to watch over and over this summer.

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