Fear Street Part 2: 1978 (2021)
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Earlier this month, Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy kicked off with a bang. The first movie, 1994, cheekily payed tribute to nineties slasher flicks whilst delivering an intriguing story about a 300-year-old witch that cursed the Ohio town of Shadyside. Its follow-up, Fear Street Part 2: 1978, takes us back to the seventies and has a stab at homaging the summer camp slasher films of yesteryear, mainly 1980’s Friday the 13th, as it comes complete with its own burlap sack-masked ax murderer. Directed, once again, by Leigh Janiak and based on the series of young adult books by R. L. Stine, this middle Fear Street chapter feels more like a complete movie, deepening the Shadyside-Sunnyvale conflict and mythology whilst dispensing the blood and gore we’ve come to expect from these types of campsite slashers.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 literally picks up right after the first movie, where Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) has been possessed by the witch Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel). In order to save Sam, her lover Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Deena’s brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) seek out the mysterious caller, C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), who warned the teens that there was no escaping Fier at the close of the prior film. Once at the reclusive Berman’s home (they take Sam with them and leave her tied up in the boot of their car), Deena asks if there is any way she can save her girlfriend. This is where Berman recounts her story of the Camp Nightwing Massacre of ’78.
Rewind back to the summer of 1978, where we meet the Berman sisters, who are attending a Shadyside-Sunnyvale camp run by teen counselors. The feisty redhead Ziggy Berman (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink) has been accused of being a thieving witch by Sunnyvale camper Sheila (Chiara Aurelia) and is on the verge of being kicked out of the site. She’s threatened by Sunnyvale bullies and roped to a tree, then burnt with a lighter until future sheriff Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland) jumps in to save her. However, Ziggy’s goodie-two-shoes polo-shirt-wearing sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) isn’t happy with Ziggy’s hell-raising actions, seeing as she’s trying to be a picture-perfect teen; Cindy even refuses to shag her good-natured boyfriend, Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye).
Things get complicated when the camp’s nurse, Mary Lane (Jordana Spiro), viciously attacks Tommy in the mess hall and is consequently removed from the site. Cindy and her counselor friend Alice (Ryan Simpkins) investigate the nurse’s possible motive. It’s here where the girls learn that Lane was the mother of a previous Shadyside killer and that she’d been studying the myth of an ancient witch, Sarah Fier. They also discover a diary that details a deal Fier made with the devil. Matters worsen after poor Tommy gets possessed and turns into a crazed ax butcher that callously starts slaying all the Shadysiders he encounters. Now, with the ax-wheedling Tommy set loose at the camp, the kids must find a way to survive the ensuing bloodshed whilst potentially ending Sarah Fier’s centuries-long curse.
Written by Zak Olkewicz and trilogy director Janiak, 1978 wears its horror influences on its sleeve, and that’s part of the enjoyment. The obvious reference here is Friday the 13th’s Camp Crystal Lake. There are also nods to Stephen King (who gets name-dropped) as well as his films Carrie (1976) and The Shining (1980). Fear Street: Part 2 wholly embraces classic horror stereotypes, such as the virgin, the jock, the rebel, etc. What’s more, the movie has a quasi-It Chapter 1 (2017) look and feel to it — the gritty orangey cinematography by returning DOP Caleb Heymann is excellent. It’s also fun seeing the rivalry between Shadyside (who smoke weed, roll joints, and have premarital sex) and Sunnyvale, as well as their camp shenanigans before the carnage ensues — the highlight is a uber-competitive game of capture the flag. Additionally, Janiak continues exploring themes of teen love, female relationships, and the toxic rivalry between the towns while advancing the main narrative in interesting ways; we find out more about Fier, how the witch might have cursed Shadyside, and how she could potentially be stopped. Fear Street 2 works as a semi-stand-alone movie and a prequel; there are callbacks to the previous film and enough moments to tie both Fear Street chapters together nicely.
Seeing as this is a prequel, we know that at least one of the Berman sisters will survive, but Janiak (whose direction feels tighter) keeps the tension high irrespective, creating several intense moments throughout, all of which are heightened by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts’ effective score. Speaking of which, while not as in-your-face as 1994, we get another barrage of era-specific needle drops, including The Runaway’s ‘Cherry Bomb,’ Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,’ and renditions of ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ by both Nirvana and Bowie, which open and close the flick. Janiak and her team also serve up some horrid, wince-inducing bits of violence (think hacked-off limbs and a ruthless ax to the face), even if a fair chunk of the kills are quick or occur off-screen. Either way, Fear Street Part 2 is darker and bloodier than its predecessor; this is a mean-spirited (a bit too mean in parts, though) and gory flick that should please those looking for a wet, hot, brutal summer camp slice-and-dice.
Star Sadie Sink holds the entire thing together and delivers a full-blooded performance as lead Ziggy; Sink is constantly compelling, likable, and easy to sympathize with, despite being an aggressive troublemaker — she’s labeled as a ‘witch b*tch’ by some of her peers. Emily Rudd, The Romanoffs (2018), lacks Sink’s charisma but does okay as Ziggy’s straight-arrow sister, Cindy. Faring better are Ryan Simpkins, A Single Man (2009), who portrays Cindy’s rebellious short-haired ex-friend, Alice, while Sam Brooks, Stargirl (2020), seems to be having a great time as her stoner boyfriend, Arnie. Ted Sutherland, The Walking Dead: World Beyond (2020), is also ‘good’ as young Nick Goode, who eventually becomes sheriff of Sunnyvale. Here, Goode’s working as a junior counselor at the camp and hits it off with Ziggy, the pair teaming up to concoct a punishment for ‘mean girl’ Sheila. In a more minor role, Michael Provost is amusing as an overzealous Sunnyvale counselor who hooks up with a flower-child Shadyside leader, Joan (Jacqi Vene). Lastly, Gillian Jacobs, Community (2009-15), does solid work in her handful of scenes as the traumatized Camp Nightwing survivor, C. Berman, but is sure to play a larger role in the final part of the series.
Concluding with an interesting hook that sets the stage for the last Fear Street chapter, which takes place in 1666, Fear Street Part 2: 1978 is a frightfully fun middle section of an ambitious 300-year-long story. With assured direction by Leigh Janiak, great work from stars Sadie Sink, Ryan Simpkins, and Gillian Jacobs, and a bloody good body count, Fear Street Part 2 is another satisfying slice of terror from a team that clearly knows how to craft pulpy horror.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)