Review by Jonathan W. Hickman
Based on the best-selling series by R.L. Stine, director Leigh Janiak (see 2014’s “Honeymoon”) delivers a gory homage to the horror genre. The endeavor is an amusing set of three films that unfortunately strikes an uneven tone. While all three espouse the serious theme of tolerance, the crude, jokey, splatter-happy, slasher style might rub some viewers the wrong way.
Fear Street: Part One – 1994
Review Rating: 6/10
Acting as the first installment and as the anthology’s wrap-around narrative, “1994” centers on a group of teens in the fictitious community of Shadyside. It’s in this place where bad things happen. Over the years, many residents inexplicably perished in unexplained and violent circumstances.
The cause of the continuing murders might be supernatural and related to a curse arising from a horrible wrong in the town’s past. And it will be up to Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores, Jr.) to investigate and hopefully defeat the forces of evil that manifest themselves in zombie or ghost-like serial killers.
This episode in the series is in the comic horror style typified by Wes Craven’s “Scream” films. And the opening sequence nostalgically reminds us of the time when such an approach was cutting edge. Less successful are the dramatic touches that seem to be at odds with the campier elements.
Fear Street: Part Two – 1978
Review Rating; 7/10
“1978” is a slight improvement over the first film. Taking place at Camp Nightwing, this story digs deeper into the Shadyside mystery.
Following the “Friday the 13th” playbook, we meet sisters Cindy (Emily Rudd) and Ziggy (Sadie Berman) as they navigate the cutthroat world of summer camp. But when more than personalities collide, the campground becomes a staging ground for a bloodbath. Is it the curse that drives seemingly peaceful Shadyside citizens to cut up their friends and neighbors? The mystery continues with…
Fear Street: Part Three – 1666
Review Rating: 7/10
Possibly the most dramatic of the films, “1666” transplants the characters from 1994 into a period set gothic horror setting reminiscent of Robert Eggers groundbreaking film “The Witch.” By inhabiting the past lives of Shadyside’s past, Deena, Josh, and others learn through a weird spiritual connection about the origins of the curse. Look fast for a nice, wild-eyed cameo by Atlanta’s popular character actor Mark Ashworth (see the CW’s “Star Girl”) playing a village leader.
Janiak does a good job bringing the story full-circle while toning down the comic violence in the portion of the film set in 1666. And the action-packed 1994 conclusion that takes place in a shopping mall might pull in the “Stranger Things” crowd.
But if the ambition is to convey the need for openness and understanding toward those different from yourself, “Fear Street” isn’t the transcendent project that it might have been. Whenever the pace slows, Janiak turns to a jukebox soundtrack of hits from the era (wonderful in the “1978” film), coupling the tunes with splatter violence in which the characters are repeatedly stabbed, slashed, and beaten. It’s fun stuff, but it failed to move me beyond its campy, deferential roots.