Being a teen is life or death in Fear Street

Back with a vengeance: the 90s

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Sorry to my housemates, who have been stuck with me in lockdown for a week now, which basically means a week of me forcing them to watch three-hour-long, extremely depressing movies every night. For less depressing recommendations, subscribe to this newsletter!

Something else I’ve watched this week but notably not at night because I’m baby and scared of all horror films is Fear Street Part 1: 1994, a movie which turns back the clocks and indulges us in full nostalgia mode: teen angst, but make it 90s (and also make it a small-town slasher with a serial killer on the loose). Screaming!

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Fear Street Part 1: 1994

I like to tell everyone who will listen that I am a child of the 90s, although what I actually am is someone who was not culturally conscious (or really conscious at all) until 2009, so really, saying that I am a “90s kid” is like saying I’m “clean eating” or saying I’m going to “close” all of my “tabs” in that it is wish fulfilment. I wish I was a 90s kid in the Lucas Hedges in Mid90s way AKA brooding and chain-wearing, or at least in the Jawbreaker way AKA murderous and mean-girl. But knowing my luck, I am probably a 90s kid in the Drew Barrymore in Scream way AKA first to be murdered in a horror film (sorry for spoilers but you’ve had 25 years). 

Maybe I could also be a 90s kid in the Fear Street Part 1: 1994 way AKA terrorised by an evil witch’s curse over my American small town and forced to outsmart it by manically searching for clues on AOL message boards. The first in a three-part adaptation based on the R. L. Stine series, 1994 is THEE ode to a very specific time capsule of teen horror. There are flannels aplenty. There are creepy abandoned food courts in neon-lit shopping malls. There is someone using the phrase “welcome to the suck!”. There is a key plot point involving a phone book and a very tense landline call.

Anyone who went to a Catholic school in the early 2000s will know the particular pain of seeing the Fear Street library books placed deliberately away from Goosebumps and only allowed to be taken out once you hit a certain age (which, somehow, I never was), so watching Fear Street now feels like a small act of teen rebellion. It’s apt, because rebellion is the bedrock of 90s teen horror itself, and in Fear Street it manifests through each of our central quintet (or pentagram, as it were), a gang as ragtag as they get: queer couple Deena and Sam, conspiracy-minded tech nerd Josh, valedictorian with a drug-dealing streak Kate, and general weirdo Simon. They’re all scrappy outcasts who defy parents, principals, and police to get to the heart of a series of heinous murders in their town.

What Fear Street captures so well — an extension of a 90s lineage that includes Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, even Final Destination (even though this is teeeechhhnnicallllyyy from the year 2000) — are the sheer stakes of being a teen away from adult supervision or interference. It takes the angsty, internal throes of adolescence and externalises them, giving them physical form as a murderer, a witch, a corpse. Suddenly, an era of your life that often feels like life or death isquite literally that: life or death. 

I am unsure how much authority I have to comment on the actual accuracy of Fear Street’s version of the 90s, but does it even matter? It’s a big old nostalgia hit (with the NIN, Garbage, and Soundgarden-inflected mixtape to boot, obviously), except...better. Infused with a throwback hindsight, the kind of twisty lore that could only be R. L. Stine, and a thoroughly contemporary set of characters, Fear Street Part 1 is a teen horror triple threat. Lucky there are two more parts coming.

Fear Street Part 1: 1994 streams tonight.

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Michael Sun is the Netflix Culture Editor at Junkee.
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