R.L. Stine’s young adult book series Fear Street was the “grown up” Goosebumps. Books about teens for teens, which allowed for slightly more suggestive horror content. If Goosebumps was a G, Fear Street was a hard-PG. Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street: 1994, the first in a trilogy of adaptations for Netflix, is firmly R-rated.
I was a Goosebumps obsessive as a kid. I wanted to join the Goosebumps fan club (a real thing), in which I would receive a book every month and updates on all new things Goosebumps. Alas, the club was defunct by the time I signed up—it probably had been for years, considering Stine concluded writing the original series of books when I was three. Fear Street, on the other hand, completely passed me by. It’s likely because my childhood fascination with horror had matured into a full-on slasher film phase by the time I was a teenager. So I couldn’t be bothered with the PG-rated stuff.
Fear Street: 1994 is still young adult horror at heart. It just adds crass language, occasional gore, and drug use to the mix. Janiak (whose 2014 debut Honeymoon is an intriguing low-budget psychological thriller worth seeking out) seemingly picks up the thread left by the 2019 adaptation Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (a hard-PG-13?). Both rework beloved children’s horror stories into a somewhat linear narrative that can at times feel like an anthology given the disparate monster iconography.
In the case of both films, this stretching to include different supernatural villains comes off as drifting and loose. Not that this is inherently a negative. I enjoyed Scary Stories more for its varied monster designs than for how they connected to form a coherent story. In the case of Fear Street, the art design is far less fun and elaborate, but it does a better job at providing characters worth rooting for.
Part one of this trilogy takes place in 1994, but aside from the AOL chat rooms and period soundtrack it feels like a suburban slasher from any year. The evening babysitting and subsequent hospital setting are reminiscent of Halloween and Halloween 2, respectively. An extended set piece in an empty school reminds me of a more modern take on an ’80s formula in It Follows. And with the angsty romantic dynamics, this may as well be a two-parter from Scream: The TV Series (on which Janiak directed two episodes).
The film surrounds a series of mysterious murders occurring throughout the 20th century in the town of Shadyside. When a group of teens link these murders together, theorizing that they are connected by a supernatural evil, they themselves are set upon by this deadly force.
After some second act tedium, the film culminates in two lengthy set pieces—one at a school and the other at a grocery store. Both are thoroughly entertaining showcases which jump-start the film like an Epi-Pen to the chest. And the denouement, hinting at the future films of the trilogy, sends this installment out on a high note.
Back-loaded as the entertainment may be, Fear Street: 1994 is a solid start to a horror trilogy which promises to pastiche decades worth of genre tropes and trappings. The tag at the film’s close previews a Friday the 13th-style summer camp slasher in Part Two, which gets my personal interest piqued (I was watching Friday the 13th sequels at the age when I should have been reading Fear Street). Here’s hoping it delivers with similar horror-fan fervor as Part One.
Fear Street Part One: 1994: B
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)