‘Fear Street Part One: 1994’ Is A Love Letter To Horror Fans With A Compelling Portrait of an LGBTQ+ Romance – Review
By Angel Amaral
Ghostface asked audiences 25 years ago, “Do you like scary movies?” To answer that question, I absolutely adore scary movies as horrifying and crazy as that sounds. I believe human beings enjoy watching movies for various reasons. Such as to escape reality, reflect upon important issues, and elicit strong emotions we do not normally get to experience in everyday life. There are individuals who claim they are too scared to watch horror movies, which is a testament to the talent it takes to craft a great one. Some of my favorite horror movies include Wes Craven’s Scream, The Descent, and REC. I was exposed to all kinds of horror growing up – high brow, low brow, and everything in between. A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Shining, and Friday the 13th were a few of the options available on VHS at my grandmother’s house.
I feel horror movies are immensely undervalued, which is understandable since there is an abundance of them made where quality is not the priority. Personally, the horror genre, when handled with care, is the perfect vehicle for empathy and immersion into a story. The components of all good horror movies, which are found in Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street, are a gripping story, authentic performances, an eerie atmosphere, brutal kills, and our greatest physical or psychological fears being amplified. When all of these aspects are executed efficiently, they can cause viewers to laugh, cry, and yell in terror together.
Once in a while, we’ll have films within the genre that come along and turn the accepted rules on their head, like Scream and Cabin in the Woods. Fear Street is a bag of treats for movie fans! Even more so, it is the latest love letter to the horror genre while emphasizing a compelling portrait of bravery rooted in friendship and LGBTQ+ romance. Although it doesn’t quite match the level of greatness of the previous works it references, it is surely a thrilling way to kill time during the summer.
Fear Street Part One: 1994 is the first entry of Leigh Janiak’s ambitious horror trilogy based on the source material from Goosebumps author, R.L. Stine. One of my favorite Goosebumps stories is “Night of the Living Dummy”. Slappy the dummy is the sole reason why I feared dolls and puppets for a long time. Goosebumps is a series of horror fiction novels targeted at children. In contrast, Fear Street is clearly for adults with its mature themes, violent gore and sexual content. The story follows a group of angsty teenagers that face off against a supernatural evil responsible for brutal slayings. Of course, in a town called Shadyside, these tragic events have been occurring for hundreds of years. The introduction of Fear Street is a crystal clear callback to Wes Craven’s Scream. The setting is different as it takes place in a mall, like Dawn of the Dead, and the red herring is played by Maya Hawke. The opening act is one of the strongest and most memorable moments in the entire film.
The casting of Maya Hawke (of Stranger Things) is clever as it communicates to the audience that they are in for an unexpected and unsafe ride when her story unfolds. Before the opening ends, the audience learns that Fear Street is more than just a refreshing slasher movie. Critically, I think the direction they take beyond the slasher movie trope is divisive because it feels like overkill to take that extra leap beyond near-indestructible serial killers. I believe if they kept the focus on the simplicity of man being the greatest monster, the fear could have been elevated. Furthermore, when it is revealed what motivates the killings, the tension of danger for the majority of the main characters completely diminishes. There was potential to examine the cycle of violence and why it continues, how it can be better prevented, but I digress. Nonetheless, with its use of ’90s nostalgia and movie homages, the movie is amusing to watch.
Naturally, when there was a reference to a certain movie, like Jaws or Poltergeist, I reacted just like Leonardo Dicaprio’s Rick Dalton did when pointing at himself on TV in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The same reasons why Stranger Things is so popular are the same reasons why this movie will resonate with many people. Both of these projects from Netflix manage to capture the aesthetic and cool atmosphere of the time periods they are presenting, whether it be through music or iconography. Stranger Things aims for the spirit of Steven Spielberg’s early adventure-centric movies, like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, while offering a unique twisted voice. Fear Street operates the same way by embracing the spirit of horror classics and blending them with a mature version of Stranger Things. They even paid attention to detail with the camera work as they recreate an axe murderer chopping away at the door, like Jack Nicholson from The Shining.
As a result, we get a gory horror film splattered in neon lighting focused on children combating the fear of rejection within their community. Equally important, the main characters are likable as they have traits of courage, humor, selflessness, and kindness. One of the main criticisms I have most for the genre is the unlikeable characters. This is vital because when they die on screen, the shock value isn’t present, as our emotional attachment to them is weak. With this in mind, this is certainly not the case with Fear Street because I cared about the characters throughout their journey to reach their goals.
Previously, I mentioned how some of my favourite movies are Scream, The Descent, and REC. These horror movies all have something in common, which is the protagonists. The leads for these horror movies are women and great characters that are not afraid to fight back, which is exhilarating! The majority of horror movies of the past are known for having “final girls” that are only in distress. It wasn’t until John Carpenter’s Halloween and Wes Craven’s Scream entered the picture where the women lead, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) did not hesitate to retaliate or outsmart the greater evil. This productive tradition continues to be practiced in Fear Street with Kiana Madeira as Deena Johnson. She is a self-sufficient and outspoken teen, considered to be a misfit along with her friends among the Shadyside community. Despite dealing with a recent break-up, high school rivalries, and the grim life created by her absent alcoholic father, she is in complete control of her own fate, even when encountering frightful circumstances.
I love that the film doesn’t shy away from the savage nature of the genre. The horrid killings can make someone sick, and the response from the ignorant teens who make a mockery of the deaths in the movie is concerning. On the other hand, there are kids who take it seriously and do everything they can to ensure the safety of others, even if it means sacrificing themselves. I love that attitude; that an individual can either succumb to the darkness that surrounds them or decide to be the light through it all. On that note, I appreciated the authentic behavior from all the students, good or bad. Equally, it was nice to witness diversity among the cast as well. I confidently believe incorporating characters from different backgrounds and struggles in all stories can aid with a better understanding of others in the real world.
It is important to acknowledge Deena Johnson is an LGBTQ+ lead struggling with her past relationship. She cannot find peace in the past and tries her best to move forward. Unfortunately, it is not easy for Deena or her partner, Sam, to fully embrace who they are as people because of the homophobia of the time period. Remember, this takes place in 1994, so the scariest part of the film is arguably the feeling of being dehumanized for loving someone of the same sex. That dangerous sentiment still haunts us today as many people still deal with the fear of opening up and coming out, even to their own families. One of the characters in the movie anxiously feared the judgement and consequences of their same-sex relationship, which made them run away from their own hometown. I love that director, Leigh Janiak, visually encourages everyone to believe that the powerful feeling of love reminds us of who we truly are, despite what others say or think about us.
To conclude, this movie is worth a watch and I’m definitely looking forward to the next two parts that are hopefully scarier and just as well produced. I think if they stray away from relying on the Stranger Things trope, then it can become more disturbing. Although Fear Street Part One: 1994 is a horror movie with graphic deaths and an intriguing story, beneath the mask it’s really about overcoming the fear of your true self and holding onto your loved ones. Even when going through hell, an individual can still feel happy knowing there’s a chance they can be with the person they love most after the nightmare ends, similar to our experience during and after a horror movie with the people we care about.
Additional lessons I learned from Fear Street 1994: Know thy enemy. We’re all in this together. See the good in yourself. Times change, evil does not.