FEAR STREET PART 1: 1994 Makes for a Glorious Queer Throwback
Fear Street Part One: 1994 (very long title) is a helluva good time. It’s propulsive, winking, violent and shocking where it counts, and more than anything, a great deal of fun. It’s also, and perhaps more importantly, quietly, revolutionarily queer. Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch) are on the outs after Samantha moved away with her fresh divorcee mother to Sunnyvale, Shadyside “Murder Capital USA’s” neighboring town, a place where the grass is quite literally greener. There are no madmen massacres or boogeyman butchers there– those are restricted to the adjacent zip code.
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In 1994, a group of teenagers discover the terrifying events that have haunted their town for generations may all be connected — and they may be the next targets. Based on R.L. Stine’s best-selling horror series, Fear Street follows Shadyside’s sinister history through a nightmare 300 years in the making.
Early nineties sapphic friction is quickly replaced by terror when Shadyside’s resident witch, Sarah Fier, is brought back to life (metaphorically speaking) and unleashes a grab-bag of decade-specific slashers to track down Deena, Sarah and her cadre of friends. The violence is accelerated and, more than anything, Fear Street Part One: 1994 becomes one long chase movie as Deena and Co. are relentlessly pursued. It’s elevated by Marco Beltrami’s indefatigable, Scream-esque score (seriously, it sounds so much like his nineties work), some splattery effects work, and some vintage teen antics. Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald) in particular are fantastic, the kind of edgy yet endearing teen sidekicks that buoy most slashers.
The queer elements are ingrained and, curiously, end up as Fear Street Part One: 1994’s best and worst quality. At its best, and the best overshadows the worst here, it’s precisely the kind of slasher I’d wanted more of (or, frankly, any of) as a teen myself. I grew up on tawdry slashers with barmy gore. I wore out my VHS copy of The Prowler from too many rewinds and scoured eBay when I got my first job for copies of Sorority House Massacre II and Alone in the Dark. After a full day of class and work, I’d unwind by streaming Terror Train, Graduation Day, or whichever Friday the 13th sequel was available to watch on my cable’s On Demand service.
Yet, for as much as I enjoyed them, for as much as I relished grainy cassette quality and fuzzy co-ed slaughter, I never quite saw myself in them. Even the contemporaries (at the time) were distinctly lacking in queer elements. Self-serious slashers, among them I Know What You Did Last Summer, House of Wax, or one of sundry early slasher reboots were almost caustically heteronormative. It wasn’t even an instance of burying one’s gays– there were no gays to bury. In the same way kids pictured themselves at Hogwarts or riding off into Middle Earth, the adventures I dreamed of involved masked killers and long, inexplicably sharp kitchenware.
It was enervating to insert myself, though. There were no stand-ins for myself, and in lieu of that, I had to set a core part of my identity aside to identify with the movie geek or the splatter fan. I was Randy or some direct-to-video gore hound protagonist. There was no one quite like me. It’s exceptionally refreshing, then, to see queerness so centered in Fear Street Part One: 1994. I noted that it’s simultaneously Fear Street’s worst quality because, well, it’s not a particularly endearing queer couple. Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch are talented actors, but their brooding, dour characters feel like they belong in a different movie entirely. When Fear Street zigs, their existential outburst and suffocating angst zag. It’s discordant and odd, the only part of Fear Street that doesn’t relish its throwback roots. It’s almost too contemporary in how serious it is– the horror of old was fun.
Still, for as grating as it can be on a character level, thematically, it works, and it works because it’s reflective. It’s handled no differently than the dreadfully dull drama between Julie and Ray in I Know What You Did Last Summer or the almost inert engagement rejection in The Strangers. In other words, it’s no less derivative than any number of straight slasher relationships, and that’s important.
It’s important for an entire generation of queer slasher fans to see Simon nonchalantly sporting nail polish and rings. It’s important for a queer couple to take the lead, in spite of– or perhaps because of– how vanilla and boring they really are. It’s slice-of-life. It’s representation in a vintage, video nasty slasher that has a pretty wide audience and distribution channel. Queer horror has thrived on the indie scene, but there’s something about seeing it so prominent in what amounts to one of the summer’s premier horror events. Queer kids deserve more horror. They deserve good horror, bad horror, and everything in between. Every trope, every subgenre, every gnarly kill and oh-so-close chase then escape. They deserve it all, and it’s about time they get it.