TV / Movie Reviews

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Fear Street Part 1- 1994

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/Stars: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Ashley Zukerman, Maya Hawke, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Jordana Spiro, Jordyn DiNatale, Jeremy Ford, David W. Thompson/Runtime: 106 minutes

I think it is safe to say that for the generations that grew up on them, Fear Street was not merely a terrifying series aimed at scaring the heck out of the teen demographic. Rather, it was an invitation and a way of showing other people that you were a charter member of an organization that cherished being scared thus causing us to know little sleep for weeks on end for years straight. All you had to do to become a member was be capable of being able to read through the night and not permit yourself to stop at a cliffhanger and instead push yourself to either get the book done or your parents came in the next morning to get you up so you could head to school. Along with that though came constant stories that one day we would also be getting a series of cinematic adaptations of our beloved Fear Street series, and yet this is one series that I praise highly for progressing along in a manner that would make Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid proud. Even more praise worthy was the fact that whenever we thought it was down and out for the count, an update would come along and thus restore our faith that one day we would see these movies. So imagine my surprise when not that long ago I discovered that not only were we at long last getting the trilogy we had long been promised, but the movies were all done and, in the scariest plot twist ever, heading to Netflix. Jokes aside, I can safely say that upon seeing at least the first one that my worries have (for the time being) been placated. This is because Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is a genuine treat for everyone who repeatedly placed faith in a serious adaptation of these iconic stories and yes if you love horror films and/or this series you will scream, but it won’t just be a scream of terror. Rather, it’ll also be one of genuine unadulterated happiness as well.

The plot is as follows: 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 upper and comers in society reside, whereas the latter is where you go to be regarded as nobody…..or a serial killer. Oh yeah I guess I forgot to mention one other thing you should know about Shadyside. It’s a place that has had so many gruesome homicides occur that it has, for all intents and purposes, become regarded as the Killer Capital of America. Indeed it seems that every couple of years or so yet another ruthless killer decides to come forth from the shadows to butcher people before dying quite the brutal death themselves. As for why this seemingly occurs time and time again, local folklore has long held that Shadyside is stricken by the curse of a one-handed witch by the name of Sarah Fier who, even after 3 centuries having come and gone since she was punished for her alleged offenses, is believed to be the one driving people to commit these horrific atrocities. So it is that in this horrific literal slaughter world that we see our main character is a high school girl living in Shadyside by the name of Deena. A girl who has been through quite the wringer already, but who when our story opens is struggling to cope with the fact that the secret love of her life Sam has moved to Sunnyvale and in the process caused a rift to form between them. Of course, angsty teenage love squabbles are about to put on the backburner when a freak series of events causes the curse to come roaring back to terrorize the land of the living thus putting our dynamic duo and everyone they know and care about in mortal peril and forcing them to try and find a way to put the curse to rest before they are claimed as its latest victims….

Now it goes without saying that if you were a filmmaker wanting to make a cinematic adaptation of a book series very much in the vein of the Fear Street series then you might have a wee bit of a challenge before you. A factor that incidentally may or may not be because of the wide variety of tales in the series being both a positive and a negative. Thankfully, this is a factoid that only makes co-scribe/helmer Leigh Janiak’s deep love for the series and just being a fan of the series even more treasured since the creative choice to conjure up a novel narrative gives both those who love the series and those who’ve never heard of something they both will enjoy even while possessing enough Stine style to appease the fans despite the novel and adult path the narrative goes down. That’s because although the books were set in the realm of genuine horror, it was still by and large at times PG-13 proceedings. It is with that in mind that perhaps the most significant detour that this film takes from its literary source material is that chooses to add in blood and guts, sex, and visceral violence. Thus not only is this a rousing celebration of its source material, but also to the horror films that fans of the books would have watched after reading the stories and thankfully film helmer Janiak doesn’t hold back in the slightest.

As a result, although these movies might be adaptations of horror fiction for young adults, the films themselves are most assuredly R-rated affairs with the aforementioned ingredients to say nothing of a wonderful assortment of distinct 4-letter words. Yet whilst such adult material could become immature and in bad taste if left in less skilled hands, film helmer Janiak is wonderfully thoughtful when it comes to what we view, what we are able to listen to, and why. Thus the bloody death scenes in this aren’t just visceral; they’re also heartwrenching because we’ve grown to care about the people getting butchered. The love scenes aren’t just something you’d see in 50 Shades of Grey; rather they are also beautiful moments of genuine openness and honesty that remind us of how human our characters are. As for the language, it (to me at least) reminded of the period of time before PG-13 became an actual rating in which movies permitted kids to say 4-letter words because whether adults want to believe this or not kids DO swear. At the same time though, I am thankful that even though the film does allow cursing it also does not permit it to segue over into slurs of any sort since those might not be looked at too favorably nowadays.

Suffice it to say then that from the moment this slice of cinematic pie gets underway, the tone for all 3 of the Fear Street movies we will be getting is set and a large part of that can be placed at the feet of the blood/guts and visceral violence I mentioned earlier. Indeed in the amount of time it takes for the beginning of the movie to run, just how brutal and visceral things are going to get is set up whilst also showing us that truly no one in this film is safe from being viciously bumped off…..which is kind of tragic since you will bond with the group of kids at the heart of this film and be an emotional wreck when they die. Indeed the teens at the heart of this move are more than just simple “90s teens” that are just there to display culture from the era and throw out references as if it’s the only vocabulary they know and instead feel more like actual three-dimensional people. Indeed this starts with film lead Kiana Madeira who as Deena gives a wonderful performance that is a terrific mix of Ripley from Alien as well as an internal vulnerability you might see in a character out of a John Hughes movie. As Deena’s love interest Sam I also liked the performance from Olivia Scott Welch as manages to give a turn in this that is equal parts determination and yet also vulnerable as well. In terms of the support cast I really dug Benjamin Flores who as Deena’s conspiracy theory savvy little brother is actually a wonderful character rather than the typical “annoying younger sibling” archetype, Fred Hechinger (who was pretty good in News of the World from 2020) who is genuinely funny as a spot-on evolution of the oddball best friend you saw in a lot of 80s teen films, and Julia Rehwald who does wonderful at carving out her own character arc in this that is driven, comical, and yet a degree raunchy and surprisingly romantic all rolled into one. Suffice it to say then that by making these characters so three-dimensional and so riveting to follow the film really does aid the supernatural menace making their lives a living nightmare in truly becoming that much more horrific and heartbreaking.

All in all as if you didn’t know this already beforehand the title of this blood-soaked slice of cinematic pie should be enough to clue you, the viewer, into the fact that we will be seeing 2 more Fear Street films here pretty soon. Thus with an entire trilogy already in the proverbial can and set to be released on a weekly basis this month, it shouldn’t be that surprising to learn that the narrative in this one doesn’t exactly come with an resolution that is nice and definitive. However, having said that I do feel I should also add that the narrative in this first installment does also feel like it is its own thing entirely whilst throwing out enough hints to keep you intrigued as to see where things go from here. Suffice it to say then that Leigh Janiak’s first installment is able, even without the sequels, is able to give both horror aficionados and R.L. Stine lovers the slice of cinematic pie that they so desperately wanted. I mean let’s be honest everyone: An adaptation of Fear Street really didn’t need to be as good as this one turns out to be. I mean film helmer Janiak and everyone involved in this could easily have just scrambled together a recap of a narrative that Stine did and combined it with some attractive slasher shenanigans bathed completely in nostalgia with the end result being decent popcorn-level slasher fun and no more, no less. Yet this film’s helmer wasn’t satisfied with just giving us a decent film and instead, utilizing the books as a road map of sorts, gave us her own take on this series’ iconic legacy written in blood-red ink (or is that actually blood?) and the end result is absolutely phenomenal. Indeed Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is a slice of cinematic pie filled to the brim with intriguing characters, riveting world construction, a few winks that’ll please fans, and quite a few scares that’ll have you on the edge of your seat. Indeed those who aren’t either in the know or fans of horror might not comprehend why this slice of cinematic pie is so riveting, but for those of us in the know or who love horror cinema, this film’s cast and crew gives us a wonderful throwback to movies, especially the first Scream from 1996, that is equal parts teen emotion and blood in equal measure. Now let’s see just what exactly Parts 2 and 3 bring to this distinct blood-soaked table. On a scale of 1-5 I give Fear Street Part 1: 1994 a solid 3.5 out of 5.