‘Fear Street’ reimagines ‘scream teens’ for new generation

Netflix expands its horror lineup, following up on its successes in YA romance.

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Maya Hawke stars in a “Fear Street” film set in 1994, which premiered last week as the first part in a trilogy.

Netflix

It’s not uncommon for Hollywood to stake a bet on a trilogy, or to even film several sequels at once. But it’s downright unheard of to release the entire thing in three consecutive weeks.

Yet unlike a traditional studio, that’s a gamble Netflix is able to take with director Leigh Janiak’s “Fear Street” films, three features based on R.L. Stine’s popular teenager slasher series. The first of which, “Fear Street Part 1: 1994,” about the strange happenings in the cursed town of Shadyside, Ohio, debuted last week. This weekend, the series goes back in time even further, to 1978, and next Friday it rewinds all the way back to 1666. Some of the cast even appear in multiple films. The ambitious series takes on the roots of systemic oppression tied to this small town.

“I was personally obsessed with this idea of cycles of time, and history repeating itself and generational trauma. I was also a big fan of ‘Quantum Leap’ and ‘Back to the Future’ and I thought there was something that would be cool and satisfying to see characters who had experienced their own terrible events in the ’90s, in the ’70s and bring them back to the 1600s where their ancestors, or however you want to interpret it, experience something similar,” Janiak said. “What we ultimately ended up coming up with was a hybrid of movies and what people think of more traditional television.”

“Fear Street” is also kicking off a new strategy for the streamer: reviving the “scream teen” genre. Netflix saw massive success tapping into YA romance with franchises like “The Kissing Booth” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” and is now turning its attention to horror, another staple of teen moviegoing. The studio has several YA-geared horror films rolling out this year, including “There’s Someone Inside Your House,” from filmmaker Patrick Brice.

“We found really exciting and great success when we leaned into YA romance, a category that I loved growing up with John Hughes. It became really clear that’s a rich space for us,” said Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s vice president of independent and documentary films. “We started to look at horror, which is just a classic storytelling arena. What Leigh has done with ‘Fear Street’ is taken that ambition and combined a lot of the best in storytelling. She’s modernized it through a lens of who gets to fall in love, who is represented on screen, who survives the first 15 minutes? If you look back at the history of horror movies, it tends to be the outsider. She’s re-defined what that looks like and feels like. And she’s done it in a way that’s remarkably fun.”

As the executive behind addictive docuseries like “Making a Murderer” and “Tiger King,” Nishimura has a preternatural ability to scout the next big thing in binge watching. Unlike YA rom-coms, horror movies are one of the few genres aside from superheroes that still generate significant ticket sales at the box office. But that doesn’t mean that streaming can’t get in on the game too with originals that speak both to a current generation of teens and adults nostalgic for the slashers of their youth. And Netflix may even open up the genre to new audiences.

“There are going to be many, many, many people for whom these movies are their first horror,” Nishimura said.

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