You “Scream,” I “Scream,” R. L. Stine screams that he wishes he’d written “Scream.” But his “Fear Street” books are close enough.
“Fear Street: 1994,” the first film in an eras-spanning Netflix trilogy directed by Leigh Janiak (“Honeymoon””), is an affectionate homage to Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven’s “Scream” films, and an amusing pastiche of other horror titles from that era (“Heathers” to “Nightmare on Elm Street” to “The Blair Witch Project”) and this one (“Stranger Things.”).
It’s a teen slaughterhouse — slaughter school, slaughter hospital, slaughter mall — thriller in which the deaths have a pathos and grim realism, the character “types” resonate and the music and slang of the ’90s delivers all sorts of warm fuzzies.
“Yo-semite! Cash me!”
It opens with a mass murder at the closed Shadyside Mall, and sets up a whole class warfare dynamic between endlessly violent Shadyside, where sleepovers and summer camps are habitually the source of local bloodletting, and its wealthy, violence-free antithesis, sunny Sunnyvale.
As one snotty, letter-sweatered jock observes, “It’s not a tragedy when it happens every week. It’s a joke.”
The mall killer “dude was wearing a Halloween skull mask,” Shadysider Simon (Fred Hechinger) smirks. “How’s that not FUN?”
“People DIED!” his pal Deena (Canadian actress Kiana Madeira) reminds him. And us.
Hewing to formula, “Fear Street” takes us through a nightmarish couple of days, in which social classes clash, romantic drama plays out, and Deena and her younger brother, Internet/video game “nerd” Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), stoner Simon, their mutual smart-girl pal Kate (Julia Rehwald) and former Shadysider/current Sunnyvalist Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) try to piece together just what is going on, and how to fight it.
Because as always, the sheriff (Ashley Zuckerman) is skeptically useless.
Clue number one? Shadyside’s athletic teams are called The Witches. Clue number two, the origin story of those witches. And clue number three, the urban legend nursery rhyme all the kids grew up knowing.
“She’ll take your blood, she’ll take your head, she’ll follow you until you’re dead.”
The film is R-rated R.L. Stine — simple, catchy, punchy and playfully derivative. While it’ll be interesting to see what the upcoming (in very short order) Netflix sequels (“1978” and “1666”) will serve up, you don’t come to Stine adaptations for blasts of originality.
And even the character/pplot twists here have a sort of pre-ordained reach for “inclusion,” which is both refreshing but overly-obvious, as if Stine and then the filmmakers adapting him are advertising. “See what we did?”
The best thing representation in film, streaming and TV is the flood of new talent getting a deserved shot. Hechinger, Flores and Zukerman are the only truly familiar faces here, and everybody’s good.
That goes for Janiak’s “big break” movie, as well. It’s a promising start and one that could make “Fear Street” another touchstone in modern horror filmmaking, a “Scream” for the “Stranger Things” era.
MPA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, drug content, language and some sexual content
Cast: Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Olivia Scott Welch and Ashley Zukerman
Credits: Directed by Leigh Janiak, script by Phil Graziadei and Leigh Janiak, based on the books by R.L. Stine. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:47