Review: When you reach the end, it’s just beginning: ‘Fear Street Part 1: 1994’ arrives

A figure in a skull mask and hoodie in a house at night
There’s a stranger in the house: “Fear Street Part 1: 1994” is the first in a trilogy of Netflix movies based on R.L. Stine books for older teens. Parts 2 and 3 will drop in consecutive weeks.

When is a miniseries not a miniseries? When it’s “Fear Street”: three full-length movies dropping on Netflix on consecutive Fridays to collectively tell a gruesome tale based on books by R.L. Stine. Parents beware: This is not aimed at a “Goosebumps” audience.

The first movie, “Fear Street Part 1: 1994,” finds teens in Shadyside, Ohio, dealing with the usual angsty teen stuff: breakups; the class divide between Shadyside and more-prosperous Sunnyvale; pining for a pretty drug-dealer friend; the usual. The teens come to realize recent murders may be part of a much larger pattern of mass killings that have cursed their town every few years for, oh, a few centuries. No wonder property values are lower in Shadyside. Do real estate agents list it as a premium if no one has been murdered in a house, as far as they know?

Anyway, scrappy, outsidery Deena (Kiana Madeira) has to put aside her heartbreak to stop the killer(s?) before someone close to her — her cheerleader ex (Olivia Scott Welch), her nerdy brother (Benjamin Flores Jr.) or her dealer friends (Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger) — ends up under the knife. Or knives. Or hatchet, whatever. The mystery sets up an arching horror tale told over the three films, set in eras indicated by their subtitles: “1994,” “1978” and “1666.” Rest assured, the three will add up to more than the sum of their parts.


To get to where “1994” is going, however, one must overcome a lifeless slasher-movie opening and a handful of ‘90s-ish horror clichés. The dialogue can be clunky and easy to guess in advance, and there’s an unfortunate reliance on jump scares. The thing to remember is this is all part of a larger story, and without spoiling anything, that story does get significantly more interesting.

That’s the virtue of this not being just another slasher film and its two recycled sequels; each “Fear Street” is a different animal yet still pieces of the same puzzle. The first two pay homage to the horror films of the eras in which they’re set. The third is its own thing. The three together end up expressing themes. For instance, the oafish class struggle in “1994” will evolve into a kind of sly social commentary later on.

There are some meta echoes banging about: There are sideways references to Jason Voorhees and those nutty kids from “Scream” (director and co-writer of all three films, Leigh Janiak, helmed some episodes of the short-lived “Scream” TV series), and there’s a recreated sequence from “The Shining.” The cast is appealing enough and does fine with what it has. Flores is endearing and Hechinger is funny.

It’s hard to imagine older teens will find “1994” scary exactly, but horror fans of that age might get a charge out of some of the more brutal dispatchings. The real enjoyment of “1994” is reaching the end and knowing it’s still headed somewhere.

'Fear Street Part 1: 1994'

Rated: R, for strong bloody violence, drug content, language and some sexual content

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Available July 2 on Netflix