Trick or Treat 2021: Two Cents Takes a Trip to FEAR STREET

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

For those of us who grew up reading R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, his Fear Street was the big bad older cousin to those gleefully ghoulish entry points into horror. If Goosebumps stories were naughty and mischievous in a way that’s irresistible to children, the Fear Street books were downright mean, setting aside ghosts and ghouls in favor of slashers, replacing goo and and cobwebs with gallons upon gallons of blood.

The Goosebumps series got a fun adaptation a few years back, one which strove to be a kid-friendly gateway vehicle to the books and to the larger horror genre. That movie had its share of spooky-ooky elements, but it was all in service of a PG-rated naughty and mischievous good time.

So it’s only fitting that the Fear Street adaptation came a little while later, and true to form, it skews older, hits harder, and is R-rated and downright mean.

Directed by Leigh Janiak (whose debut film, the gorgeous, unnerving Honeymoon, remains criminally underseen) crafted a horror epic, with three films moving backwards through time to illustrate the bloody history of sister towns Sunnyvale and Shadyside and the witch’s curse that ties together generations of murder and mayhem.

The first film, Fear Street Part One: 1994 is set in *checks notes* 1994, and follows high schooler Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) have more on their minds than legends of evil witches. They live in Shadyside, a town rife with poverty and unrest even before you factor in that it’s the murder capital of the world, the polar opposite of the neighboring rich, perfect Sunnyvale. Deena’s more focused on the fact that her closeted girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) has moved to Sunnyvale and tried to cut out every part of her shameful Shadyside past, including Deena.

But teenage turmoil gets thrown into sharp relief and when the girls and their friends’ misadventures place them in the crosshairs of a curse none of them fully believed in. Soon killers from across the town’s tortured history are loose on the streets once more, on the hunt for innocent blood.

Janiak continued her saga across Part Two: 1978, and then brought it all home with Part Three: 1666 (get it?). In a rare move for Netflix, the king of Binge elected to release the films one at a time, and the weekly distribution helped turn the Fear Street series into the horror event of the summer.

But for now let’s just talk about 1994, which starts out as a loving homage to the likes of Scream before pivoting into weirder and wilder territory that sets up the rest of the trilogy. Is Fear Street a good spot to set up shop, or was this just a wrong turn? — Brendan

Next Week:

We go from our most contemporary pick to our oldest. 1959’s Caltiki the Immortal Monster might seem by its mere description a copycat of Hollywood trends, with a creature similar to The Blob and trappings of both atomic age sci-fi and matinee jungle adventures. But its pulpy subject matter is treated with utmost seriousness and a cinematic eye, gorgeously shot in moody black and white. The incredible visuals are the work of the legendary Mario Bava, who also took over as uncredited director when Riccardo Freda stepped away from the project. But perhaps more interestingly, it’s among the earliest films to feature gruesome, realistic body horror imagery.

I’m a big fan of this vastly underseen film, and am very excited to share it with our film clubbers. You can catch it streaming (SD, ad-supported) on Tubi and Midnight Pulp platforms. However I would recommend purchasing the film on iTunes where it’s currently on sale for $2.99 (along with many other Arrow Video titles). This gloriously beautiful film should be seen in HD and it’s easily worth your three bucks to own. — Austin

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Justin Harlan:

When my wife and I found out about the Fear Street films dropping on Netflix, we were immediately excited. Thankfully, they did not disappoint. Essentially playing as one long film, the trilogy told an engrossing and fun horror tale that worked in virtually every way. The first of the series was — perhaps — the best, so I’m happy to share a few thoughts on it with my beloved Cinapse readers.

If you were born anywhere from the early 80s through the early 90s, there’s probably a ton of nostalgia in this one for you. It’s chock full of fantastic needle drops. Many of the most important scenes take place in or around a mall. And, the 90s style and feel is well displayed throughout the film. Though, it never plays as nostalgia porn that has no substance. Instead, it’s simply a mid-90s period piece done right.

The horror moments are effective. The action in the film really works. I can go on and on, because it truly is one of the best films to come out of Netflix in years… and, moreover, one of the best to come from anywhere this far this year.

Suffice it to say, it’s a surefire treat. But… I also have lots more thoughts on the film and its 2 counterparts. If you’re so inclined, you can read some of those thoughts here: Verdict: Treat

Brendan Foley:

I really loved the Fear Street movies but I don’t like this first film very much.

Maybe the deeper period settings of the subsequent makes the heightened elements and performances click better, or maybe those ensembles just gel better, or maybe the series just plays better once it has fully embraced the supernatural angles and is free to explore that material in ways both giddy and gruesome.

Whatever the reason, 1994 just lands with something of a thud, more annoying than engaging and more aggravating than entertaining. Some of Janiak’s choices make a ton more sense once you’ve seen the full trilogy and understand how many mechanisms are being set up for glorious payoff down the line, but that still doesn’t account for how grating many of these characters/performances are or how asinine and nonsensical many of their decisions are.

All this being said, there was enough style and intrigue in 1994 to get me to watch the other two movies, both of which I loved pretty much completely and which retroactively made 1994 play significantly better. So while I still don’t really dig this movie on its own, I’m happy that the Fear Street saga opens weak and then proceeds to a fantastic middle and finale, rather than opening strong and then tapering off. Verdict: TRICK (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

I don’t have any prior investment in the Fear Street brand nor much knowledge of R. L. Stine (whose typically abbreviated name “Robert Lawrence” gets a winking cameo in the film’s opening) beyond a smattering of Goosebumps, so I went into this pretty fresh.

Early on, I felt it was kind of an average slasher, but as more of the backstory and world-building became revealed, I found myself getting more invested. I was genuinely surprised by some of the film’s choices, especially with respect to the demise of certain characters that I thought were “safe”. I’m also at the age where the film’s pointed nostalgic cues hit me just right (playing Castlevania and listening to White Zombie still sounds like a perfect evening to me).

I’m ultimately left excited to further my journey with these characters and their world by viewing the rest of the trilogy, so I’d say… Verdict: Treat (@Austin Vashaw)

Trick: 1
Treat: 2

Verdict: TREAT!

Next week’s pick:

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