Let's take a trip back to the late 80s, early 90s with R.L. Stine's 'Fear Street' book series. This was Stine before he got around to the more child-friendly 'Goosebumps'. This was straight up teen horror. While 'Goosebumps' had its time in the spotlight, however, 'Fear Street' is still alive and well, constantly pulling a 'Ninja Turtles' and reinventing itself. Originally ending his run in 1999 with a spin-off called 'Fear Street Seniors', things were revived in 2005 with the 'Fear Street Nights' three-part miniseries, and revived again by 2014 with six new stories - the last one being 'Give me a K-I-L-L' as recently as 2017.
There could be more that I'm missing about the history of 'Fear Street', including an incredibly failed pilot episode for a series. But the real point to make here is that, at least to me, when Netflix announced bringing out a 'Fear Street' series, it felt like some sort of revival. It struck me as a chance to basically watch a more adult version of a 'Goosebumps' story, complete with language and gore. So what better place to start than 1994, having the first film of this trilogy take its hints from 'Scream'? Funny story, I almost rethought doing these 'Fear Street' reviews because frankly, I thought this was too much of a 'Scream' ripoff, and I was quite honestly not viewing it in the right way.
This is to say that when things didn't make sense, it got annoying - I even got down to the inaccuracies of the release dates of some of the music chosen for its (honestly really good) soundtrack. But, don't worry, I came back to this in the exact way I should have; viewing this as a satire of late slasher horror, using 'Scream' as its source. It was, after all, perhaps the most memorable slasher horror flick of the 90s (which is saying a lot), so the fact that this is satirising a satire while still not being 'Scary Movie' is sort of just something we need to get around. It does work if you look at it in such a way, the way it utilizes such corny tropes and is able to get away with sheer stupidity sometimes.
It all starts when a mall bookstore employee named Heather Watkins (Maya Hawke) is surprise-killed by a man sporting a skeleton costume, revealed to be her friend Ryan (David W. Thompson). She is the last of several victims around the mall before he is shot through the head by a cop. According to most, this is just another case of a Shadyside, Ohio resident gone crazy - especially to those of the neighbouring town of Sunnyvale. The two towns provide an interesting personality to the movie, in that just as the names suggest, Shadyside is where dark and terrible things keep happening, but Sunnyvale is, in a word, "perfect" (and yeah, they're snobs and we don't like them). Some Shadyside teens believe it to be the work of the Fier Witch, who cursed the town in 1666 before her execution (incidentally, the title for the third upcoming film).
Enter our lead, Deena Johnson (Kiana Madeira). Her brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) is a believer of the witch while she thinks its ridiculous; her friends Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald) have gotten back into the drug game, and she has recently broken up with her girlfriend, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) largely based on Sam feeling the need to remain closeted because her Mom is awful, and her moving away to Sunnyvale. During a candlelit vigil for the victims of the mall killings, a brawl breaks out between Shadyside and Sunnyvale school representatives - basically football players, cheerleaders and school band members. Eventually this gets to an accident that causes Sam to see visions of the witch before she's taken to the hospital, which ultimately leads the five "stereotypes" down a rabbit hole while trying to solve the mystery of this apparent town curse.
I was able to respect this movie on a parodic level, and I think that's really what they were going for. And for something released as a Netflix original instead of some kind of big screen trilogy, it holds its own. My main problem with it was the characters - I really wasn't a big fan of anyone here, except maybe Josh, who plays the role of geeky guy no one wants to listen to, but knows the truth. For the most part, everyone else was either too angst-ridden, or too over-the-top. For example, Simon is a character you wish could just sit and shut up down for two seconds, trying very hard to be Matthew Lillard's character from 'Scream'. To be fair, the film is playing on those horror stereotypes, but sometimes its a little much. Deena needed to take a chill pill one too many times in this with her intensity.
All in all, I can't really deny that I got pretty much what I expected, so I can't get too nit-picky about things. To me, this is definitely 'Goosebumps' for grownups - but if I'm honest, I enjoyed that original Goosebumps movie a bit more (call me crazy). This doesn't quite have the same fun factor 'Goosebumps' had, or to be more fair, 'Scream' for that matter. It all ends with a sneak peek into the next chapter for '1978', which seems very much to be playing on 'Friday the 13th', taking place at a camp, and maybe a little 'Halloween' due to the year portrayed. But more on that with my next 'Fear Street' review!