Fear Street, Part 1: 1994 (2021)

One of the many aspects of “Fear Street” that always set them apart from the “Goosebumps” books is that RL Stine relied a lot on folklore. With the “Fear Street” series, it depended a lot on the folklore and urban legend aesthetic, exploring more universal themes usually found there. There were always ideas about revenge, and mystery killers, and inherent terrifying nature of Halloween, and yes, even vampires. Fear Street always had something new to offer readers, and the movie carries that tradition.

Set in 1994 we meet Deena, a young high schooler who looks after her brother Josh, a computer aficionado obsessed with the lore of the town. Deena is still reeling from the break up with her partner Sam, who has moved to the neighboring town Sunnyvale, a much safer and more prosperous town. Deena realizes she’s being stalked by a knife wielding killer in a skull mask and cloak. As the body count rises, Deena, Josh, and her friends Kate, and Simon try to survive while attempting to uncover the origin of the relentless killer, and what they have to do with the mythical curse placed on the town by witch Sarah Fier.

The good thing about “Fear Street, Part 1: 1994” is that it can be appreciated as a slasher film, while also being absorbed within the attempted expanded universe that Netflix launches. “1994” is one in an upcoming trilogy that goes backward instead of forward, dropping us in to 1978 and 1666. There is so much alluded toward in Part One that thankfully shows incredible promise and so much titillation allusions toward something bigger. The trilogy is a pseudo-anthology that also embraces folklore much in the same vein as the books, and explores the darker ideas behind small towns and their history. Like most burbs, the towns of Sunnyvale and Shadyside, Ohio cast a dark shadow and twisted legacy that has lived on for generations.

After a pretty gory prologue, the movie craftily establishes that the town we’re setting down upon is soaked in the blood of many and has harbored an inexplicable habit for producing horrendous serial killings and murders. The production of killers and massacres has become such a common place that the town of Shadyside has somewhat all but accepted the concept and spends much of their time waiting for the next ticking time bomb. There’s so much to unwrap in “Part 1,” but the screenplay by Leigh Janiak and Phil Graziadei thankfully never feels scattered or incoherent. We’re given bits and pieces of the puzzle we progress through the narrative.

It’s implied that with every film going forward, we’ll be given better insight in to the previous film, otherwise enhancing the experience and allowing us to revel in the fright. Director Leigh Janiak’s direction is fantastic, as she channels much of the same energy from the Stine book series, while also injecting a nightmarish tone that makes the circumstances increasingly dire. The cast also offer top notch performances including Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., and Julia Rehwald, respectively. “1994” is a stellar horror film packed with some great meta-humor, genuinely creepy moments, and some gnarly blood shed. I anxiously await the next two chapters in the trilogy.

Now Streaming Exclusively on Netflix.