If you grew up in the ‘90s, or were a weird kid growing up in the 2000s like me, you’re probably familiar with R. L. Stine. A children’s author who put out books faster than Stephen King does these days, Stine is well known all across America for introducing the horror genre to young readers. With a bevy of iconic villains and even more iconic book covers in his Goosebumps series, his second largest series is finally getting the big screen treatment. Fear Street is being done in a fitting manner for Stine’s messy and haunted worlds: a trilogy on Netflix chronicling a centuries-long story.
This trilogy is telling a story unrelated to any of Stine’s books, but seeks out to capture the feel of Fear Street’s more teen-oriented approach. The books get surprisingly grisly, and I’ll get to how this movie handles that, but here’s the story: the town of Shadyside, Ohio has been dubbed the murder capital of the USA, largely believed by the citizens to be the result of a curse placed on the town by a witch who was executed in 1666. The legend is that the witch possesses people to murder others, as there is a long history of seemingly random killings in the town. After the latest incident, a group of friends are stalked by a cavalcade of undead killers when the witch’s grave is disturbed.
That’s not all the film has to offer either, as there is plenty of time given to the protagonist and the town of Shadyside. As if being the murder capital of the country wasn’t bad enough, the neighboring town of Sunnyvale is one of the richest and safest cities around. The two towns, and their high school communities especially, are constantly engaged in a class conflict that comes to a head at a vigil held for the latest victims. Our main character Deena dismisses the town’s history, as she has plenty in her day-to-day life to worry about. Her friends are pushing drugs, her brother is always in an AOL chat room, and she’s just split up with her girlfriend who has moved from Shadyside to Sunnyvale. While the film explores the conflicts in its characters well enough, the relationship between the two towns is more of a footnote in the film. Once the killings begin, town-to-town relations come to an end.
The film has a grittier edge than even Stine’s more mature series already holds, and the film is still shooting for a teen audience. The queer romance at its center is an important one for its audience to see, as is the strong performance by Kiama Madeira as Deena. As a slasher film it can feel very vanilla, but Netflix is not exactly targeting someone like me who’s more versed in the genre. We begin with a pretty blatant Scream homage (proper Netflix casting choice and all) before the main plot begins. The skeleton hoodie wearing killer in the beginning of the film is entirely devoid of personality, but it gets a bit better once a Jason Voorhees clone and ‘60s teen with a straight razor enter the equation. There are also some gnarly kills in the climax which I didn’t expect to see given what the previous hour had to offer. But while the characters get plenty of focus, the same can’t be said for its villains. Obviously the film doesn’t want to overplay its hand when it has two more chapters of an overarching story to get through, but none of the three killers have anything special about them that isn’t an homage to some other genre veteran.
I sound like I’m babying this movie a bit, but I do think it’s important to go ahead and state that this is very much an entry-level slasher. Director Leigh Janiak and her team know what they’re doing by selling this trilogy of films as more of a miniseries than individual stories. The next two parts of the story will be released over the next two weeks, both traveling further into the past to explain the history of Shadyside. I hope the next two parts—which look to be a classic sleepaway camp killer riff and a Puritan period piece—get a bit weirder and go into more of the history of this world. When adapting an author that largely functions in anthology like Stine does, finding a feature length film in a properly constructed world of horror can be a messy task, but this adaptation is an alright start. The method of release is an interesting experiment, so I’ll be tuning in for the next couple of weeks to see how Fear Street rounds itself out.