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Fear Street Part One: 1994 – Review: A Fun Slasher Film by Director Leigh Janiak

July 7, 2021

Quick Thoughts: Grade – B – Fear Street Part One: 1994 is a fun slasher film that combines 1990’s horror nostalgia, mean kills, and likable characters to create a memorable experience.

Fear Street Part One: 1994 is the first of three films directed by Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon – watch it!) that will be released on Netflix in 2021. Janiak shot the three films back to back to back, and all three have stories that revolve around teenagers battling a cursed witch named Sarah Fier who ran amok in the 17th century. The R-rated slasher film was inspired by author R.L. Stine’s wildly successful Fear Street series that have sold over 80 million copies and topped the New York Times Bestseller List for weeks at a time. The more adult themed books by Stine provide plenty of fun material for future installments, and the series is kicked off promisingly with Fear Street 1994. What’s fun about the movie is how it celebrates nostalgia but still is its own thing, with its own wildly intricate storyline. Another bonus is the fun gore that Janiak (seriously, watch Honeymoon) fought to include. In a recent interview with IndieWire, she said “Right away, I was like, these have to be R-rated slasher movies, I was thinking about being 10 and 11 and sneaking to the video store and renting things I wasn’t supposed to rent, like ‘Child’s Play’ and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street.’ That was an important part, always, for me.”

The trilogy starts off in 1994 with a Scream-esque opening that features Maya Hawke (this film’s Drew Barrymore) being killed inside of a shopping mall while she’s closing up the bookstore she works in. The cat-and-mouse game features shots directly lifted from Scream, and it lets you know what to expect during the 107-minute running time (1990s music, movie references, blood). From there, we meet Deena (Kiana Madeira), her younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), her ex-girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), and two high school drug dealers named Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger) who live in Shadyside, Ohio, a meca for serial killers who have been terrorizing the town for hundreds of years. The majority of the teens in town suspect that something paranormal is afoot, but the adults and sheriff don’t buy the theory, and thus it’s up to the teenagers to solve the mystery after they disturb the grave of Sarah Fier during a melee between them and the residents of Sunnyvale (the nice section of town). 

What makes Fear Street Part 1: 1994 so entertaining is that it has a mean streak. There are unexpected character deaths that probably won’t entertain hardcore horror hounds who grew up on 1980’s (and late 1970s) slasher cinema, but, will excite young kids who are just getting into horror and haven’t watched A Serbian Film yet. Also, the glossy digital cinematography by Caleb Heymann (Stranger Things, The Mortuary Collection) contrasts well with the surprise head slicing, and he finds fun ways to make the movie visually exciting with overhead shots, cranes, and inspired shots that subvert horror tropes.  

The performances are all solid, and the standouts are Kianna Madeira and Fred Hechinger (watch News of the World, he has a small but memorable role), who find ways to make their characters likable and three-dimensional during all the killing. There really are no weak links, and the only complaint about the movie is that it adds layers and layers of plot atop a film that doesn’t really need it. Fear Street 1994 could’ve been streamlined to create a tight 90-minute film, but you probably won’t mind spending a few more minutes with the likable actors and memorable killer(s). 

Final thoughts: Watch Honeymoon

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