CAST: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, McCabe Slye, Ted Sutherland, Gillian Jacobs, Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Olivia Welch, Jordana Spiro, Chiara Aurelia, Jordyn DiNatale, Drew Scheid
RUNNING TIME: 110 mins
BASICALLY…: In 1978, attendees at a summer camp in the town of Shadyside face unspeakable evil…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
The first in Netflix’s three-part adaptation of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series was very much a 90s slasher movie, in the same vein as Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and as a result its enjoyment factor really depended on your tolerance for similar movies of that era, because not a whole lot else aside from intriguing backstories and set-ups was carrying it.
The same can be said for the second part, only this one is much more in tune with slashers of the 70s and 80s, an era of horror movies remembered much more fondly than the 90s, which right there makes Fear Street Part 2: 1978 a slightly more tolerable entry than the previous one because, frankly, those eras of slashers are more enjoyable. Plus, this one seems to embrace its actual identity as a full-blown slasher a little more, complete with the kind of gory and uncomfortable kills that dominated those movies from said bygone eras.
We briefly start right where the previous entry left off, where – spoilers, for those who have yet to see Fear Street Part 1: 1994 – survivors Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) are desperate for a way to bring back Sam (Olivia Welch), the latest Shadyside resident to fall victim to fabled witch Sarah Fier’s curse and become an unstoppable killer. They end up approaching reclusive resident Christine “Ziggy” Berman (Gillian Jacobs), who had survived a brutal massacre at a summer camp back in 1978, and who might provide answers as to how Deena and Josh can end the curse once and for all. The action from this point onward switches entirely to that fateful summer at Camp Nightwing, where teenage Ziggy (Sadie Sink) is staying with her older sister Cindy (Emily Rudd), a camp counsellor. The camp is divided between young visitors from Shadyside and the much better-off Sunnyvale, but when events surrounding Cindy’s boyfriend Tommy (McCabe Slye) lead to another Shadysider becoming possessed with the insatiable urge to kill, Ziggy and a bunch of other campers and counsellors must try and find a way to survive the long, bloody night.
Like 1994, this 1978-set entry of Fear Street is trying hard to emulate the time period in which it’s set. Not only is the soundtrack absolutely dripping with era-appropriate tunes (music by Neil Diamond, The Runaways, The Velvet Underground and David Bowie dominate), but there are multiple visual references to slasher movies from the 70s and 80s; Friday the 13th is the most obvious call-back, what with it predominantly set at a summer camp where a serial killer attacks, but you also have characters and designs who are straight out of other, less iconic movies like Sleepaway Camp and The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Even the bullies in this movie – it’s a movie set at summer camp, so of course there are going to be bullies – are insanely over-the-top in how cruel they are, like they’ve just been transported out of a Stephen King story (nods to the author’s work can be found in several instances here, including a prank that’s almost directly out of Carrie). Both of these Fear Street movies so far have gone out of their way to fetishize their respective time periods to near-Stranger Things type levels, but this one feels like it’s trying much harder to be one of the late-70s slashers that it’s paying homage to, which makes it increasingly difficult to see this one as its own standalone movie, and more like a passable emulation of all their tropes and stylistic choices.
Also like the previous entry, there aren’t that many things to latch onto in order to keep you invested, aside from some of the rather gruesome kills it dishes out every now and then (and believe me when I say that it doesn’t matter if you’re a staff member or a young camper, because nobody is safe from harm here). Most of the main characters are just basic archetypes of this kind of camp-set slasher film; you have the stuck-up prude, the outcast, the two horny stoners, the bullies and so on, and because you’re already so familiar with these kinds of characters, as well as the fact that the writing doesn’t exactly given them many extra dimensions to work with, there is little reason given as to why we should really care about them when they are killed or seriously injured. As for the overarching plot for this entire trilogy, there are only a mere handful of new developments regarding the central mystery, which are there only to set up next week’s third and final entry, set in 1666 (and honestly, based on the brief teaser at the end of this movie, it looks like it’ll be the most interesting one yet, or at least the one that isn’t shrouded in endless musical tracks the whole way through).
Despite the numerous flaws that I am finding with these Fear Street movies thus far, there is a level of enjoyment to be had when they actually do fully adopt their slasher movie identities, because that’s when things get a lot more intense and even thrilling. However, it is 1978 which feels like the far stronger slasher movie, not just because the kill count is higher, but because it gets pretty brutal with who it decides must meet their grisly fate (again, nobody of any age is safe in this film). Credit is due in part to director and co-writer Leigh Janiak for going as far as she can with chopping people’s heads off or puncturing their chests with a massive axe, and for also making the killer themselves actually feel intimidating when they’re lurking about in the dark or entering a room with dead expressions on their faces. The kills in 1994 felt more standard and by-the-book, whereas 1978 seems to have freer reign to target anyone it pleases in whatever fashion it sees fit, and because of that it’s a more entertaining movie to sit through.
That being said, the Fear Street movies so far don’t seem to be doing much for me; they’re fine in the moment, but they’re nothing I’d ever revisit in the wider range of slasher movies out there. Maybe next week’s 1666 entry will change that, though somehow I doubt it’ll be the one to finally get me seeing this whole trilogy in a more positive light.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 is a more entertaining slasher movie homage than the previous entry, for its brutal and gory kills alone, although it suffers from an overabundance of distracting era-friendly references and characters who are too familiar and thus not interesting enough to care about.