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Before he created the uber-popular Goosebumps books, author R. L. Stine authored a series of horror novels for teenagers that hooked an entire generation on the genre: Fear Street. At the time, horror literature aimed at teenagers was big, but Fear Street managed to strike a nerve with its young readers by marrying supernatural horror with the real-life anxieties and insecurities that its audience faced day to day. There are murders, ghosts, witches, sex, and tons of dead teenagers.
Netflix’s new Fear Street trilogy does not directly adapt any one book in the series, instead capturing their essence while telling an original story of a town plagued by murder and the supernatural. When a serial killer seemingly returns from the dead to stalk new victims, a group of teens are forced to uncover the mystery that has plagued their town for centuries if they want to live.
Fear Street Part One: 1994, the first of three films debuting on Netflix over the course of three consecutive weeks, owes a lot not only to the Fear Street books, but to classic horror movies that shaped the genre, from Wes Craven classics to a more recent horror hit. So grab your Halloween masks, clutch your crucifixes, and lock your doors, because we’re rounding up the movies that inspired Fear Street: 1994.
[NOTE: Mild spoilers for Fear Street Part One: 1994 follow below.]
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This is the clearest source of inspiration, as Fear Street: 1994‘s opening scene is ripped from the opening of Wes Craven’s 1996 classic. A killer in a white mask and black cloak stalks a young girl played by a recognizable actress (Stranger Things’ Maya Hawke in this case), and just as we think she’s going to get away, he catches up to her and stabs her to death — but not before the girl manages to remove the mask and reveal the killer is a classmate.
Beyond the opening scene, the tone of Fear Street: 1994 feels like a continuation of what made Scream so special in terms of self-awareness. The characters in Fear Street may not talk like they know they’re in a horror movie, but they sure are familiar with the tropes of the genre, and they use that to their advantage to avoid easy traps and figure out a way to survive the night.
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The moment you put the words “summer camp” and “massacre” together, a reference to Friday the 13th is never far behind, and when it comes to Fear Street, there’s no denying it. During the opening credits, we discover that one of the many tragedies to have hit the town of Shadyside took place at a summer camp by a lake, where a masked killer massacred every camper.
Friday the 13th helped popularize many tropes and rules of the slasher genre, as well as make kids afraid of going to camp. The brief flashbacks we get of the Camp Nightwing Massacre look like direct homages to the original 1980 film and its first sequel, Friday the 13th Part 2, and we can expect even more references to this classic franchise when Fear Street Part Two: 1978 — which focuses specifically on Camp Nightwing — is released.
While its tone and opening scene are reminiscent of Wes Craven’s self-aware masterpiece Scream, Fear Street: 1994′s Skull Mask killer screams John Carpenter’s Halloween for the rest of the movie.
Michael Myers is perhaps the archetypical silent killer in horror slashers: able to sneak in and out of places without being detected, frequently staring straight at his victims from a distance. In Fear Street, we see the Skull Mask killer stalk the main characters from outside their homes, ominously standing in the middle of the street and staring silently. The moment one character realizes what’s happening and turns around, the killer has already disappeared. The film also borrows from Halloween II later in the story, right down to a few of the jump scares.
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Though less obvious than the previous comparisons, Fear Street: 1994 also borrows from the recent smash-hit adaptation of Stephen King’s It, mostly in terms of theme. A big part of the first Fear Street is the idea of a local legend about a witch who supposedly possesses regular people and forces them to commit heinous crimes, which recalls the insidious history of Pennywise’s presence in the town of Derry.
When our young characters begin to piece together what’s happening, they spend a large part of the story investigating the town’s past and its connection to the local legend; a scene in which one of the kids takes newspaper clippings off of a corkboard to explain the town’s history feels just like the haunted projector scene in It. And like It, Fear Street also feels like a horror movie wrapped inside of a coming-of-age story, with its young protagonists all facing different but relatable teenage problems and struggling to embrace who they truly are by the end of the film.
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While it would be easy to assume that the look of the Camp Nightwing killer draws directly from Jason Voorhees pre-hockey mask getup in Friday the 13th Part 2, it actually bears a stronger resemblance to an earlier and hugely influential horror film: The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Inspired by true events, The Town That Dreaded Sundown tells the story of a killer wearing a burlap sack who terrorized a Texas town. The Camp Nightwing killer’s own makeshift mask, with its rustic, DIY arts-and-crafts aesthetic, echoes the classic look of the killer from Sundown.
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Though it’s not a big part of the story, we do get one mention of George A. Romero’s seminal work in the horror genre. When our young heroes discover that a resurrected Skull Mask killer is chasing them, they go to the police and ask for help. Of course, the cops don’t believe a word they say. Instead, they mock them for their wild theories, asking them to describe whether the killer was more like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead, the latter of which introduced the idea that zombies could retain some of their human memories and continue to do some of the things they used to do, like hanging out at the mall.
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When the teens in Fear Street realize that an ancient witch is chasing them for having disturbed her final resting place, one of the characters suggests they pull a Poltergeist and re-bury her uncovered bones to allow the witch to rest again.
That plot point is a reference to Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, wherein a family is haunted by supernatural forces because their house is located on top of a cemetery. Though the developer swore that the cemetery had been relocated before construction began on the housing block, in reality, they had only moved the gravestones and left the bodies — inadvertently kick-starting the chain of events that would terrorize the Freeling family.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 streams on Netflix on July 2, 2021.