'Fear Street Part 1: 1994' Review: A Bloody Love Letter To Horror Fans Who Grew Up In The Era Of 'Scream'

A blood-drenched love letter to horror fans who came of age in the era of ScreamLeigh Janiak's Fear Street Part 1: 1994 is a creepy, funny, ultra-violent take on the type of teen-centric horror popularized by R.L. Stine near the dawn of the 21st century. Stine may be more famous for his Goosebumps books aimed at middle-grade readers, but he also had a whole slew of Fear Street titles geared towards (slightly) older audiences. This Fear Street isn't an adaptation of any specific Stine book, but director Janiak and company have worked to make sure the film evokes the same sort of vibe you got while poring over those paperback pages late at night in bed with a flashlight. It exists in a world where parents are nowhere to be seen, teens are the center of the universe, towns are subject to ancient curses, and blood spills frequently. And it's a total blast.

The first entry in a trilogy (the second and third films will arrive in the weeks following this one), Fear Street is a pastiche of '90s horror tropes done well. There's a much worse version of this film where we're constantly rolling our eyes at how derivative everything is. But Janiak and co-writer Phil Graziadei strike just the right balance, crafting something that pays loving tribute to the past instead of just ripping it off. That's not to say Fear Street doesn't stumble – the last half of the film grows repetitive, and the over-abundance of '90s needle drops on the soundtrack starts to become tiresome (there are scenes here where one hit '90s jam plays for only a few seconds before jumping into another, as if someone off-camera is fiddling with a radio and can't make up their mind). Mostly, though, Fear Street is a bloody bit of nostalgia that will seem comfortably familiar to those who grew up with Scream as their gateway to all-things-horror.

Janiak isn't shy about those Scream influences, either. The first scene of the film immediately recalls the now-famous Drew Barrymore opening of that groundbreaking Wes Craven slasher, where we get to watch a familiar face stalked and stabbed by a figure decked out in grim reaper-style garb. Poor mall worker Heather (Maya Hawke) just wants to close up for the night while jamming out to some Nine Inch Nails, but instead, she gets chased around the darkened stores and shadowy food court by a silent, knife-wielding psycho. In any other town, this might be an abnormal event. But as we quickly learn, in the town of Shadyside, it's par for the course.

Shadyside has a long, gory history of townsfolk suddenly snapping and going off on horrific killing sprees. The killings date all the way back to 1666, and you'd think at this point, folks would stop living in a town with such a gruesome history. But that's easier said than done. Teenage Shadysider Deena, played with the perfect amount of fiery attitude by Kiana Madeira, can't just pack up and leave, and her current situation has given her a doom-and-gloom mentality; the angsty opinion that everything is absolutely fucked and it will never get better. Seemingly confirming this philosophy is the fact that Deena's girlfriend Sam (Olivia Welch) has gone and moved off to neighboring Sunnyvale.

A stark study in contrasts, Shadyside and Sunnyvale may be only a half-hour away from each other, but the towns are like night and day. While Shadyside is wrought with so much death and tragedy that it's earned the nickname Killer Capital, USA, Sunnyvale is picturesque and perfect. Janiak stages a great way of showcasing this by having a school bus first drive through the rundown and overly depressing neighborhoods of Shadyside before crossing over into the rolling lawns and mansion-like homes of Sunnyvale.

Deena and Sam's romantic troubles end up taking a backseat as they suddenly find themselves with targets on their backs. While everyone in town is used to death and dismemberment at this point, it's suddenly been ratcheted up, with masked killers chasing after Deena and Sam and their friends Kate (Julia Rehwald), an overachiever who sells drugs on the side, and goofy comic relief Simon (Fred Hechinger). Deena's computer nerd brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), who is obsessed with serial killers and the supernatural, has a theory that all of this bad stuff happening is due to the curse of a witch named Sarah Fier, but that's just an old town superstition...right?

Because Fear Street is the first in a trilogy, it concludes in an open-ended manner that's a tad frustrating. I get it – they need to set up what comes next, and we'll all get to see that next installment very soon. Still, even the slasher movies of old with endless sequels knew how to wrap things up before the credits started to roll. This misstep isn't big enough to sink Fear Street – it'll probably have the opposite effect, having audiences immediately craving more. And while I took issue with the non-conclusive conclusion, I confess that the minute Fear Street Part 1 ended I was ready to head back to Shadyside for more plasma-soaked fun.

And like the slashers of old, it knows how to have fun. Not all of the humor works, but throwaway lines like, "Do you know how expensive AOL is?!" garner big laughs. But best of all, Janiak and company manage to make their teen heroes (and potential victims) likable. We start to care about these kids, which makes some of their gruesome demises surprisingly upsetting. This is not the type of slasher where you're cheering about the body count. No one is safe here, but you'll start to wish they were.

The dead walk, the body count rises, and beepers buzz (no one has a cellphone here, obviously). Fear Street is like a big soup pot full of everything – there are shades of ScreamA Nightmare on Elm Street, Stephen King's ItHalloweenFriday the 13th, and more. Watching Fear Street brings back memories of wandering around musty video stores and browsing the HORROR section for the most lurid VHS box art you can find. There was something sacred about that experience, like going to church. Your eyes would scan row after row of tapes, seeking out covers with fonts in dripping blood, or masked killers brandishing impossibly sharp weapons. And you would rush back home with your rentals and your snacks, and then the screaming, gory fun would begin. If you've longed for some semblance of those video store horror days, you're going to want to take a trip to Fear Street immediately.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10