Film Review – Fear Street Part 2: 1978
Fear Street Part 2: 1978
In Fear Street Part 1: 1994 (2021), we were introduced to the town of Shadyside, which developed the reputation of being “Murder Capitol, U.S.A.” It’s a place burdened by tragedy and loss, with folktales of a witch cursing all who live there. In Fear Street Part 2: 1978 (2021), we jump back in time to see how the witch’s evil plagued the young people, some of whom grew up still carrying the curse on their shoulders. The setup is an allegory for anyone has ever felt trapped in a small town. No matter how much you hate it there and want to escape, a piece of it will always remain with you.
Director Leigh Janiak (who cowrites this installment with Phil Graziadei) transfers the setting to Camp Nightwing, where a group of kids and their counselors are spending their summer. The neon-tinged lights of suburbia are replaced with cabins, trees, mosquitoes, and outhouses. Luckily, the needle drops that were so abundant at the beginning of 1994 are not as distracting this time. Since Janiak and her team have already established the mood and atmosphere of the trilogy, they have more room here to focus on the story and how it ties into the first and third films.
Where 1994 drew heavily from ’80s suburban nostalgia – from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) to Stranger Things – 1978 makes clear reference to summer camp slasher flicks such as Sleepaway Camp (1983), The Burning (1981), and the granddaddy of them all, Friday the 13th (1980). However, the balance between horror and fun that gave 1994 a sense of revelation is absent this time around. This is a meaner, nihilistic experience. While the body count is higher and the bloodshed is more abundant compared to the first film, the experience of watching it was more dour. Instead of being smart and resourceful teens, these characters revert to horror movie types. Their potential victims waiting to get picked off.
In the center is Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink). Ziggy is an outcast at the camp, bullied by other kids so intensely that they accuse her of being a witch and threaten to burn her. Being ostracized has left Ziggy with a bitter taste in her mouth, and through most of the plot Sink plays her with a hard, cynical edge. She gets little support from her sister Cindy (Emily Rudd), who puts up a front as the pure, virginal innocent. Cindy is a counselor at Camp Nightwing, denying her Shadyside upbringing while trying to pretend that she belongs with the members of idyllic Sunnyvale. She wears the cleanest outfits and has a picture-perfect boyfriend in Tommy (McCabe Slye). However, just like Ziggy, Cindy herself is often singled out, especially by her former friend, Alice (Ryan Simpkins).
When we descend upon the camp, they are in preparation of the “Color War,” an event that pits kids from Sunnyvale against those from Shadyside. The competition is basically Capture the Flag, but before the fun can begin an axe welding psychopath shows up and starts wreaking havoc. From there, our characters get split in different directions, from running through the dense forest to crawling deep in underground passageways, all to avoid the killer and find the connection to the witch “Sarah Fier.”
Regarding the horror, the production doesn’t skimp out on showing us some gruesome, axe-to-the-face type of gore. Although no moment matches the shock value of the meat slicer scene in 1994, Janiak and her team make up for it with the sheer amount of bloodshed we get. In most mainstream horror movies, a scare scene will usually cut away just as the monster or killer attacks. That is not the case here. Utilizing slow motion and turning up the sound effects, much of the action has an in your face, can’t look away quality. Janiak allows us to see heads getting lobbed off and bodies getting punctured in intimate detail. Once scene has the killer chop up a victim as though they were cutting wood. This is a very wet movie, and I don’t mean in terms of water.
Although the scares and kills scenes are more extreme in 1978, the narrative does not support its characters as well as it did in 1994. Ziggy and Cindy have a dynamic that’s worth exploring, but much of that is shoved aside as soon as the killing spree begins. Many of the characters move and speak simply to move things along. Where 1994 allowed time for our heroes to take a breath and develop their onscreen chemistry, 1978 stumbles as it downshifts into the mechanics of its plot. Besides Ziggy and Cindy, Alice has the most backstory but how its revealed feels forced and awkward. Nick (Ted Sutherland), a counselor who displays compassion toward Ziggy, has potential but leaves little impact – the writing focusing more on how he fits into the timeline of Fear Street as opposed to meaningful character building.
1978 is a step down from the promise the first film left behind. While the craftsmanship in the action and horror are still there, there’s an underlying cruelness that makes this a downer of a watch. As the closing credits advertise, Fear Street Part 3: 1666 will jump even further back in time to show the origins of the witch and the curse she placed on Shadyside – ultimately tying all three time periods together. Hopefully this second section was just a rest stop for better things to come.