The number one rule of horror films: you must be scary. And if you’re not, you better be fucking funny. This film aims for scares more than laughs and comes up short either way. There’s potential here given the long-form arc of three interconnected movies, two of which are to be released in the coming weeks. Perhaps 1978 and 1666 will bear greater fruit and add depth to 1994, a film which mistakes a great 90’s soundtrack and queer representation for a good story. Slasher films could really use abandoning the idea of annoying wet blankets for protagonists. The best friends are always infinitely more entertaining and/or interesting. Here, played by Julia Rehwald and Fred Hechinger, they’re pill-dealing high-achievers using high school drug money to save money for college or support their struggling family through an Employee-of-the-Month grocer work ethic. They’re funny, charming, and more empathetic, whereas lovelorn Deena (Kiana Madeira) is an angry sad sack berating her ex for moving on too quickly. Her entire personality is built around this relationship, as if she was originally written as an angry man with a loser-sized chip on his shoulder. Fear Street 1994 is too glossy and ultimately too generic in spite of its attempted subversions and a couple of nifty twists and turns down the stretch. Director Leigh Janiak waits far too long to unleash the gore-hounds on her characters and the picture suffers for it, languishing on what seems like two meaningless love stories between young actors with very little chemistry. She’s fortunate the two best friends are so damn endearing and that, when the blood does finally begin flowing, the kills (or one kill, to be exact) are worth the wait. Fear Street simply doesn’t offer enough scares to justify everything else, and it’s definitely a problem that the film’s best actress (Maya Hawke) is only in it for five minutes.
Update: 1978 was worse, with less creative kills, more bit-on-the-nose dialogue, and somehow failing at smaller ambitions, such as approximating Friday the 13th versus 1994‘s riff on Scream. I think I liked the genre better when more experienced actors in their 20s were playing teenagers, no matter the oddball nature of it all. They felt slightly more mature, and could get away with more brutal imagery. These are like Stranger Things with less likable characters and a little bit more of the red stuff. It’s good to see Gillian Jacobs finally joining the fray, but I’ll be skipping 1666.
1994, Grade: C+
1978, Grade: C