SPOILERS for Netflix’s Fear Street: 1994. There may also be spoilers for some of the original Fear Street books, which I read five bazillion years ago.
Gah, okay, I just watched Fear Street: 1994, and I am SO HAPPY! I loved the Fear Street books when I was in my tweens and early teens, and some of the stuff from those books still lives rent-free in my head*. When I found out Netflix was adapting Fear Street, I started freaking out with excitement. Now that I’ve watched the first of the three installments, I’m even more excited! They did a great job of adapting and updating the book series’ mythos of Shadyside, that ever-cursed town, without adapting any of the books directly.
*Thanks to the 99 Fear Street trilogy, I had an irrational fear of garbage disposals that lasted into my mid-twenties. I could use garbage disposals, but I always had images in my head of someone getting their hand stuck in one. Thanks for that, R.L. Stine!
Before I break down what I loved about Fear Street: 1994, I want to talk about why I loved the books so much. They were the pulpy horror books that I devoured. I was never really into Goosebumps, but Fear Street was just the young adult (YA) series I needed when I was waiting for the rest of the Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events books to be released. Yes, there was a time when readers were still waiting for HP and ASoUE books to be published. Anyway, Fear Street was a series about the residents of Shadyside, a town where citizens tended to die at an alarming rate. As the books progressed, they became more about curses and ghosts and witchcraft, particularly with The Fear Street Saga trilogy and Fear Street Sagas, both of which combined pulpy horror with (probably not that accurate) historical fiction. The characters were pretty much always teenagers, and they often got into crazy horror/supernatural dealings. I always cared enough about the protagonists that I hoped they would survive. Mostly, they did, but a few weren’t that lucky. It was a great series for someone who was just beginning to have a more teenage view of the world. Also, most of the books had been published by the time I discovered the series, so I didn’t have to wait for anything!
Okay, now that I’m done babbling about the book series, let’s dig into why Fear Street: 1994 is fantastic:
- The trilogy knows what it is: I love that this first installment is set in the series’ heyday, the 1990s. The first Fear Street book, The New Girl, was published in 1989, and most of the books were published in the 1990s. The story even starts in a B. Dalton, that bookstore staple of malls throughout America at the time. On top of that, Maya Hawke’s character rings out an early Fear Street book to a bored customer. Then, when she’s being pursued, we see more early Fear Street books on the shelves with the name “Robert Lawrence” replacing the ubiquitous “R.L. Stine.” I think “R.L.” stands for Robert Lawrence, so the books’ presence and that in-joke are signs that the writers understand that they’re adapting a series of pulpy YA horror books. The opening sequence lets us know that we’re in for a fun, terrifying ride, but we shouldn’t take it too seriously.
- The way the Shadyside mythos is integrated and updated: Fear Street: 1994 manages to integrate some hallmarks of the book series’ mythos around the town of Shadyside pretty organically while also updating them to add extra context. Most of the bloodshed is (supposedly) caused by Sarah Fier, who was burned as a witch in 1666. In the books, Shadyside was founded by the Fier family, but they changed the spelling of their name to Fear in the 1800s. The film introduce an extra town called Sunnyvale that has connections to the Goode family. The Fear Street Saga trilogy details a centuries-long feud between the Fier/Fear and Goode families. I could go into the details, but there is a witch-burning involved, though it’s actually members of the Goode family who are burned on the Fier family’s orders in 1666 in that trilogy. It looks like the opposite may be the case here. The mayor that speaks at the Sunnyvale vigil for the recent slayings in Shadyside is credited as “Mayor Goode,” and he mentions that he has a brother. The Sunnyvale sheriff says everyone calls him “Sheriff Goode,” so he’s most likely the mayor’s brother. In this adaptation, Sunnyvale is extremely safe and has a lot of wealthy, while Shadyside has an extremely high murder rate and is rather working class and/or poor. People just get by in Shadyside, while everyone prospers in Sunnyvale. (This is similar to real-life places like Oakland and San Francisco. Or everything north of Delmar vs. south of Delmar in St. Louis.) This brings undertones of class discrimination and racial disparities, since we see more BIPOC in Shadyside than we do in Sunnyvale. The film brings in real-life undertones that weren’t present in the books, but make the world of Shadyside feel more lived-in.
- Improved representation: The heart of the story lies with Deena and Sam. Sam as in Samantha, not Samuel. The Fear Street books mainly featured white, heterosexual protagonists, though many of them were female. Fear Street: 1994 manages to bring BIPOC and LGBTQ+ characters into the story by presenting them as likeable but flawed protagonists. Deena does mention that Sam didn’t want to tell anyone about them, but other than that (and Sam’s mother’s hostile attitude towards Deena), they’re treated the way a heterosexual couple would be treated. They were breaking up, and now they’re getting back together through the course of the story. Even though the end showed Sam being possessed by evil magic, this film managed to subvert the horrible Bury Your Gays trope by having Deena bring Sam back from the dead with EpiPens. Also, Deena is BIPOC, and her brother Josh, also survives, subverting the equally horrible Black Dude Dies First trope. For the first time outside of a Jordan Peele film, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ characters are allowed to make it to the end of the story, and they’re tasked with finding a way to stop the ongoing bloodshed.
- The Goodes probably have something to do with all the supernatural murders: The final installment is called Fear Street: 1666, and 1994 sets up some hints that the Goodes may be involved in all the supernatural horrors going on in Shadyside. Sheriff Goode left a note for someone that reads “IT’S HAPPENING AGAIN.” Then we see a hooded figure magically carve Sam’s name into a rock, under the names of Shadyside’s previous spree killers, like Ruby Lane and the Camp Nightwing killer. It’s absolutely possible that Mayor Goode (or another Goode family member) is under that hood, using dark magic to keep Sunnyvale prosperous while Shadyside suffers. I really hope that these hints lead to an exploration of the feud between the Fiers and the Goodes in the 1666 installment. These hints are signs that the writers got familiar with the Fier/Goode feud aspect of the Shadyside mythos, and I love that. It was always my favorite part of Fear Street.
- Adults are useless: If you watched this film and wondered where the parents are, all I can tell you is this: that’s Fear Street for you. Parents and authority figures are often useless, and the teen protagonists have to stop the murders and/or evil magic in the story themselves. They’re pulpy horror stories, but they’re also about teenagers dealing with big problems by themselves. Those types of stories are probably good things for tweens and teens to read so they know they can face big problems whenever they arise.
Okay, this post was just me babbling about the parts of Fear Street: 1994 that I liked. What did you like about it, if you watched it? Have you ever read any of the Fear Street books yourself, or are you new to Shadyside? Leave a comment and let me know!