Horror is such a copycat genre that there are few films that feel genuinely original. It’s no small irony, then, that some of the better entries are those that straight up acknowledge their unoriginality, using their time to make fun of or comment on the genre while still serving up some fun thrills.
That would appear to be the goal of the new Netflix movie Fear Street Part One: 1994, the first of three films based on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series that will premiere over the course of three weeks. Writer/director Leigh Janiak has used the basics of the books to craft movies that pay homage to different classic horror films, cheekily starting with a takeoff on the original homage, Scream.
The film is set in fictional Shadyside, aka Killer Capital, USA for the many murders that have taken place there over centuries. Some believe that a witch named Sarah Fier, who was burned at the stake in 1666, is the cause of the continued killings, inhabiting various people throughout the years to do her murderous deeds as a curse against those who did her wrong.
The latest to run afoul of Sarah are a group of teenagers led by Deena (Kiana Madeira), who’s still pining after her ex-girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), who’s recently moved to neighboring Sunnyvale, which is very safe compared to Shadyside. Deena’s brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), who is obsessed with the killings, has a crush on Kate (Julia Rehwald), who has a flourishing side business selling pills to her classmates alongside her friend Simon (Fred Hechinger).
Janiak and her co-writer, Phil Graziadei, walk a tricky line in this first film, introducing the idea of Sarah’s curse while knowing there can be no resolution until the third film. The seemingly more natural idea would be to start in 1666 and go forward in time, but the filmmakers have bucked the norm to do things their own way.
It will be interesting to see how the others play out, because Part One: 1994 is definitely meant to feel like a ’90s movie, with a lot of era-appropriate songs and a jokey quality similar to Scream. The various kills and a killer wearing a skull mask call to mind that film, too, but not in a bad way. The intent is clear right from the start, and the way the characters interact make it almost impossible not to have fun while watching them.
Save for a couple of people with minor roles — at least in this film — there are no recognizable names in the cast. But a lack of preconceived notions works for the young group, as each is free to create their own persona. Madeira and Rehwald are the best of the bunch, with each combining vulnerability and spunkiness that makes their characters memorable.
Each of the main actors will be in the next two films, although since the story is going backward in time, it’s unclear what form their parts will take. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 (which will be released on July 9) looks likely to be a Friday the 13th type of film, while Part Three: 1666 (released on July 16) will bring witches to the fore. If they’re as successful as this first film, horror fans will have cause for celebration.
Fear Street Part One: 1994 is now streaming on Netflix.