If we’re all being honest, apart from the occasional standout release like Gareth Evans’ Apostle, Remi Weekes’ His House and David Bruckner’s The Ritual, Netflix’s horror output is about at strong as a cheerleader’s ankle as she runs through a forrest from a knife wielding killer. However, the monolithic streaming service is aiming to change all that with the release of Fear Street, a fully formed horror trilogy releasing over three weeks that’s looking to make the blood stream just as much as subscribers.
Adapting Goosebumps author R.L. Stine’s series of books into a ready made Marvel Cinematic Universe of blade swinging freaks – but with the added, good natured gore of Freaky – Netflix undoubtedly hopes this one of a kind event will score them points with a cynical horror community.
It’s time to take our first trip down Fear Street.
The town of Shadyside is undergoing somewhat of a “rough patch” after the latest in a long line of residents snaps and slices up a bunch of people working late at the local mall while wearing a nifty looking skeleton Halloween costume.
As the school prepares to stage a vigil for the dead, the downbeat Deena is enduring the aftermath of a bad breakup after her girlfriend Sam has started dating a boy from a rival school and things get even worse when a prank unleashed in the heat of the moment when she causes an auto accident that inadvertently disturbs the grave of Sarah Fier, a witch who’s legend, it’s told, has directly caused the endless string of lunatics that been plaguing the town for centuries.
Sure enough, soon Deena and Sam are forced to reconcile their differences when they have a run in with the Skull Masked Killer, which is far more alarming than you’d normally think when you take into account that the slasher was shot dead by Sherriff Goode in the pre-credits sequence. Teaming up with Deena’s internet addicted brother Josh and her two, quirky friends Kate and Simon, the group find out that an apparently resurrected Skull Mask Killer is literally the least of their problems when the boney beserker is joined by other notorious murderers from Shadyside’s highly checkered past in the form of the Nightwing Killer, famous for a spree in 1978 and the razor swinging Ruby Lane, a girl who indulged in a spirited mass murder/suicide back in the 50’s. As our leads try to avoid this psychotic greatest hits package of stalking maniacs, they try to figure out how and why this is all happening; is there actually a rational explanation for all this or are the town legends true and the witchy curse of Sarah Fuir really does hold the town in a grip of endless murder? Remember, there’s two films to go, so don’t expect this to be all sorted out in one go….
How much you enjoy this first installment of Netflix’s ambitious depends on how much you except that large, early chunks of the movie, – due to the 90’s setting – steals liberally from Wes Craven’s Scream and many other teen shredders released in it’s wake – Christ, even Scream composer Marco Beltrami is present with a very similar score. However, accepting that it’s supposed to be a massive homage and that the second installment (set in 1978) will undoubtedly and shamelessly raid the slashers of the 80’s is the key to this fun, peppy bloodletter and it’s many references (and in some cases – out and out steals) create a knowing sense of humour that soon gives way to some genuine invention.
It’s fun, but hugely derivative stuff – however, around the halfway mark Fear Street finally shows it’s hand and reveals itself with a supernatural twist that cements it’s aim to become a ready made, interconnecting universe that does for colourful slashers what The Conjuring did for it’s varied community of permanently pissed off spirits.
It’s a cute concept that wins you over gradually as it goes and it actually made me pretty stoked to see this whole thing through and the fact that everything is tied into the town legend of Sarah Fier, a witch who’s origins back in 1666 will be covered in the third movie.
Despite it’s many virtues, however, it’s hardly the epitome of knuckle whitening terror and some of the 90’s references, especially the music ones – get a little relentless – ok, you’re a period piece, we get it, you don’t have to smother us with admittedly cool songs every seconds like malfunctioning jukebox. There’s also the curious feeling that because the trilogy is already completed and the episodes are dropping within a week of each other, there’s the very real danger that this experiment could still crap out after this very enjoyable first swing; not to mention that even if it keeps the quality level high, once it’s all said and done, the trilogy could still fall between the cracks of Netflix’s algorithm and ultimately have all the staying power of a stick of gum.
Anyway, pros and cons of streaming aside, so far Fear Street’s looking pretty good and it’s mixture of Stine’s particular brand of young adult prose and some hardcore Wes Craven style gore ends up being a nice throwback fusion that should lasso fans of similar fare such as the ubiquitous Stranger Things. In fact, the movie’s refreshing stance of no dumbing down it’s more adult material leads to some truly impressive moments including a stupendous death by bread slicer that can’t be good for the up keep of the machine and a novel attempt to end the nightmare by ways of a massive – and I mean massive – drug overdose. Leading on from this is the further plus point that the story isn’t exactly precious about it’s energetic cast and that there’s no guarantees that all of it’s goofy leads will actually make it to the “To Be Continued” title card in one piece.
Part one of a ballsy yet relatable experiment in franchise, long form story telling that builds on TV shows like canadian based Slasher or the all but forgotten Harper’s Island that thought it was a good idea to stretch out a slasher film to nine frickin’ hours.
So, so far so good, and considering the second stroll down Fear Street (set in the late 70’s at summer camp Camp Nightwing) will come along a mere week after this drops, I guess we’d all better get ready for a trip to camp…