“Fear Street: Part One – 1994” is the epitome of teen slasher films and the first in the Netflix trilogy directed and co-wrote by Leigh Janiak with writers Kyle Killen and Phil Graziadei based on R.L. Stine's Fear Street books.
Filming of “Fear Street: Part One – 1994” and its subsequent sequels took place in Atlanta, Georgia and surrounding areas, including Decatur, East Point, and Rutledge. The half-abandoned North Dekalb Mall located in Decatur, often used by film productions, became the inside of Shadyside Mall.
A group of friends, Deena, Samantha Fraser, Josh, Kate, and Simon, fight to survive the evil plaguing the seemingly cursed town of Shadyside, Ohio. Deena's archetype friend circle includes Kate, the type A personality pill-pushing cheerleader, Simon, the comedic relief and habitual flirter, and her brother Josh, a techie and aficionado of Shadyside's psycho-filled past.
The film's opening scene unfolds inside Shadyside Mall – clever on the writer's part – nothing is more 90s than a mall. "It began as a prank and ended in murder," Heather, played by Maya Hawke, tells her last customer of the night as she sells the woman a copy of “Fear Street: The Wrong Number” before closing B. Dalton's bookstore.
Nine Inch Nails’ "Closer" sets the tone for the gruesome, bloody demise the audience knows is coming. Music is just as advantageous as the lighting in a horror film, both of which director Janiak immaculately uses to create suspense. Fear Street's soundtrack is an unabashed 90s mixtape featuring NIN, Garbage, Cypress Hill, Radiohead, Snoop Dogg, Prodigy, and more. Music composers Marco Beltrami (Chaos Walking) and Marcus Trumpp (Love and Monsters) worked together on the film's original score.
Director Leigh Janiak pays homage to director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson's “Scream” in the film's first seven minutes. Heather meets the same quick bloody end as Drew Barrymore's character in the opening scene of Scream. She is stabbed to death by a psycho wielding a knife, wearing a skull mask and long black-hooded robe.
Netflix should capitalize on the skull mask and get it in stores and on the shelves in time for Halloween.
The movie references continue through the film. When Deena spots the skull mask killer in the driveway across from her house, the figure stands out in the open, lurking near a tree reminiscent of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” Later in the film, Simon refers to “Poltergeist” in the woods and suggests the friends rebury the bones of Sarah Fier to amend for disturbing her grave. Then there’s the ax through the science lab door reminiscent of “The Shining.”
“Fear Street” fully embraces the teen slasher film tropes with teenage angst, bloody kills, jump scares, a curse, disturbed grave, and being chased by a killer through the woods. A three-hundred-year-old curse unleashes a trio of infamous slashers from Shadyside's past summoned by the witch, Sarah Fier. First, there's the skull mask killer, the ax-wielding murder in a burlap sack mask known as the Camp Nightwing killer – no doubt a nod to Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th” – and lastly Rudy Lane from the 60s who kills her victims with a razor blade.
When the audience meets Shadyside High School student Deena, she's struggling over a recent breakup with her girlfriend, Samantha. Props to the writers for the inclusion of LGBTQ characters in Deena and Sam. Visibility matters in every film genre, including horror.
The character dynamics and how the plot unfolds, though predictable at times, is what makes “Fear Street: Part One – 1994” worth a watch.
The dialogue is memorable and quotable. Simon's character delivers several moments of perfectly-timed wit and sarcasm. A stand-out character who deserved more screen time.
The cinematography alone is worth watching the film; the lighting and composition of shots are pristine. Cinematography is often overlooked in slasher films, but Janiak combines lighting and framing in shots to add depth to the scenes and build upon tension.
“Fear Street: Part One – 1994” is a good start to the Netflix trilogy that begins to slowly unravel the myth of Sarah Fier and her curse that plagues the town of Shadyside. Here's hoping Film Street: Part Two – 1978 builds on the momentum and delves deeper into Fier’s story.