Ghosts, witches, curses, murders, all that and more filled the pages of R.L. Stine‘s Fear Street books, and now they’ve made it to the streaming screen with Netflix’s movie trilogy. Every kid who grew up in the 90s and 00s remembers Stine’s iconic Goosebumps, but Fear Street touches on all the insecurities and struggles of teenage life while injecting copious amounts of horror tropes that add camp and pulls at the nostalgia strings.
It’s not hard to see the inspirations that Fear Street Part 1: 1994 pulls from. From Scream to Halloween, to Poltergeist, Fear Street Part 1 oozes horror tropes. The first part of the three films tells the story of two towns: the cursed wrong-side-of-the-tracks Shadyside and the uber-privileged uber-safe Sunnyvale.
Home to some of the most gruesome murders in American history, Shadyside has been dubbed the murder capital of the country. The plot follows teenager Deena Johnson (Kiana Madeira), her ex-girlfriend Samantha Fraser (Olivia Scott Welch), Deena’s younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), and their two friends Kate (Julia Rehwald) and Simon (Fred Hechinger).
Much of the strength of Fear Street lies in the excess of horror tropes and callbacks. Yes, Deena and Sam’s struggling relationship and Sam being closeted is a key plot point of the movie, and yes, the struggle the kids feel from being Shadyside townies who live in a seemingly bedeviled town is very real. But, it’s the tone, the cinematography, the set design that really catapults Fear Street into something more. On the surface, the story feels very Riverdale. Indeed, the fact that Shadyside’s school mascot is a witch, hinting at the town’s shady past with a witch’s curse from 1666, feels very modern teen horror.
The problem with shows like Riverdale and Nancy Drew and Sabrina is that they only really touch on the eerie vibes they like to reference. Everything is a tease and meant to be the stage for the teen drama. This puts the spooky at the forefront and that’s exactly what makes it better. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still tons of sex, drugs, and teenage angst. But they didn’t forget the mass murderers, the ghosts, or the bloody demises.
No one is saying Fear Street is changing the landscape of horror cinema. It isn’t. Not at all. But it is a fun summer horror movie, one that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and one that stands strongly on its own while also introducing the mythology of the town to keep us coming back for more. I have to commend Netflix for not doing the easy thing which would have been to turn this into a 6-8 episode series, as it easily could have. Breaking the story apart into a film trilogy that jumps back and forward in time allows for three cohesive stories, rather than one conglomerate piece.
With two more films coming out (one this coming Friday and another on the 16th) there is still a lot of story to tell for Shadyside. And Part 1 leaves a lot of room for the mystery of Shadyside to expand and grow before its final conclusion.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is streaming now on Netflix. Fear Street Part 2: 1978 streams July 9th.