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'Fear Street Part 1: 1994' Review: The witch is back, and there's hell to pay

Fear Street Part 1 is here to remind you what 90s slashers are made of.

Maya Hawk in 'Fear Street Part 1: 1994'
(Image: ? Netflix)

Our Verdict

Fear Street Part 1 is a slasher fan's dream wrapped in 90s aesthetic and nostalgia jams.

For

  • ?? Great ensemble performance.
  • ?? The kills. The kills!
  • ?? Rooted in nostalgia but still marches to the beat of its own drum.

Against

  • ?? Some may tire of the constant needle drops (they're wrong, but it could happen).
  • ?? Could tighten up the runtime just a smidge.

This post contains spoilers for Fear Street Part 1: 1994

Shadyside sounds like it should be a picturesque town with white picket fences and children who are allowed to have dreams. Unfortunately, those hopes are saved exclusively for neighboring town, Sunnyside. All Shadyside kids have to look forward to is a school with a drug problem and a town that inexplicably finds itself with a new murderer every few years. That is, until a bunch of meddling kids screw up the pattern for the worse.

It’s Hot Witch Summer, and she’s ready to watch it all burn from beyond the grave. Fear Street Part 1: 1994 opens with strong Scream vibes that mix nicely with its whole cursed aesthetic. After the introduction to our spooky skull-masked murderer, we meet Deena (Kiana Madeira). Deena’s your run of the mill mad at the world high schooler with a standard pair of best friends. Simon (Fred Hechinger) is the slacker school mascot, and Kate (Julia Rehwald) is the overachieving cheerleader/class president/debate club champ who also happens to sell drugs on the side so she can get the hell out of town. They all hate their lives — though Simon’s pretty chill with it — but who can blame them? They live in Murder Town USA. 

Like most teens, these kids don’t know that the true horrors are yet to begin. But their loss (of life) is our proverbial gain. The aforementioned Scream DNA is written throughout Fear Street Part 1: 1994, but not in a way that keeps it from feeling like something fresh. That originality is a tough hurdle when you’re an adaptation rooted in 90s nostalgia, but our introduction to Shadyside seems to manage without much effort. This isn’t Goosebumps and it makes sure that you know it.

Fear Street is young adult fare, but this ain’t your momma’s PG-13 slasher. You will see people shot, stabbed, mutilated and sliced from start to finish in this first entry. Because it’s aimed at that younger audience, some viewers might expect the camera to pull away from the gore. Those viewers would be wrong. R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street” novels aimed to reach — and terrify — the demographic that had grown out of “Goosebumps.” Like his original saga, the first third of this new trilogy seeks to remind you that high school really can kill you.

The stakes get even higher when you realize that you’re genuinely rooting for these kids. Likeable characters aren’t a necessity in any story, but there should be at least a part of you that’s rooting for the people to live in a solid slasher joint. There is a kill in Fear Street Part 1 that will leave you devastated — even if you’re like me and find yourself conflicted because you loved them but also oh my god it’s such a cool kill! And it’s not the only moment that brings you to the edge of your seat. I’m not going to make any grand statements like “it breaks the horror mold” or “it’s doing something we’ve never seen before.” I’ve watched a lot of horror and those phrases are rarely true. But what I can confirm is that Fear Street Part 1 feels fresh as hell and it’s an absolute blast to watch.

The entire cast crushes it, but a special shout-out has to go to Benjamin Flores Jr. as Deena’s younger brother, Josh. He’s sweet, unassuming, and everyone involved would have either died (or died a whole lot sooner) if he weren’t involved on their little cursed witch adventure. Keep an eye out for his AOL chat buddy to become more relevant later on. I don’t know how it will tie in yet since we’re going further in the past, but his online role play bud feels like it’ll be more than we expect later on.

Centered in Fear Street Part 1 is a lesbian romance between Deena and her ex Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) that ends up being pretty well done. That shouldn’t have to be noted, really, but good LGBTQ representation is still so rare that it deserves a shoutout. Madeira and Welch have great chemistry together, and the latter’s quiet and slightly closeted Sam results in a couple pretty solid conversations between the two. Their strong on-screen connection may be the standout, but this whole cast jives quite well. Even silly old Simon has some big brotherly moments before the final credits role on this first entry in the trilogy.

Of course, the biggest question that comes at the end of any franchise starter — especially one meant to air back-to-back over three weeks — is whether or not it manages to stand on its own. There are obviously some major questions left unanswered at the end of Part 1, and you’ll be worried for the futures of some very key players, but this first entry does everything it’s meant to and then some. It leaves just enough intrigue to make you excited to come back for Part 2, but at no point sacrifices its own tale in 1994 to do so.

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 hits Netflix July 2nd, with Fear Street Part 2: 1978 drops July 9th and the final installment Fear Street Part 3: 1666 hitting the platform July 16th. 

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