The first installment of the Fear Street trilogy, Netflix’s slasher opus that dropped on a weekly basis, landed with the highly confident thud of a murderer’s axe into an unsuspecting teens skull and told a story loaded with twists and turns that cheekily riffed on the many titles released during the slasher craze of the nineties. Well, another week means another installment and jogging out the gate with the confident lope of a masked madman is the sequel which sets it’s sights on homaging the original golden age of slasher flicks with Fear Street Part 2: 1978.
But with a mostly different cast and a back story that’s rapidly getting evermore complicated, can this bloody trip to Camp Nightwing (who the fuck goes to a camp named Nightwing?) maintain the momentum built up by it’s legitimately charming predecessor?
In the wake of the bloody swathe sliced through the town of Shadyside by the latest of a long line of serial killers that have plague it’s inhabitants over it’s history, survivors Deena, her girlfriend Sam and Deena’s brother Josh realises that the horror isn’t over when Sam is possessed by the spirit of Sarah Fier, a witch hanged in 1666 who’s curse has been behind centuries worth of murders. Wrapping Sam in phone cord and dumping her in their trunk, Deena and Josh go to the only person who they believe can help them, the reclusive C. Burman who survived a similar slaughter back at summer camp in 1978 and who may hold the secrets of beating Sarah Fier once and for all…
Summer at Camp Nightwing is in full swing and sisters Cindy and Ziggy are having very different experiences. The elder Cindy is trying to blend in with the better off kids from neighbouring town Sunnyville while the tomboyish Ziggy is having to weather some brutal bullying for having the audacity to have been brought up in Shadyside. As the rivalry between the two towns is stoked into a frenzy thank’s to an upcoming Shadyside vs. Sunnyville game of capture the flag, numerous strange occurrences start happening that start hinting at the horrors still to come. The camp nurse, whose daughter went on a mysterious kill spree years before pulls a knife on Cindy’s sweet boyfriend claiming that he’s next one due to join the growing ranks of Shadyside’s sparkling history of serial killers and sure enough, poor old Tommy is eventually taken over by an otherworldly force, grabs himself an axe and starts chopping any Shadysider he can find into teen cutlets.
As C. Burman tells her tragic story to Deena and Josh, more pieces of the Sarah Fier puzzle fall into place, but will it be too late to save Samantha?
It’s a genuine pleasure to announce that this second trip to Fear Street just about manages to keep the same momentum as part one despite having to work with all the disadvantages of suffering from a pretty serious dose of middle film syndrome. Essentially shorn of a beginning and missing an actual ending due to the fact that the whole trilogy comes a three-to-one package deal, 1978 suffers a little by essentially being a period set slasher that’s bookended by stuff that’s not going to make a shred of sense if for some deranged reason you’ve decided to watch this movie first. Also, after absorbing the sheer amount of witty trickery that 1994 had to offer, it’s a little easier to spot the twists before they happen; for example the main overarching twist is something I managed to crack within the first couple of minutes.
However, despite the change of year, location and cast, 1978 manages to still be a smart, entertaining blood sprayer that excels in both it’s character work and it’s ability to still make you underestimate how brutal the kills are gonna be despite being based on the books by Goosebump’s author R.L. Stine (one poor fucker has his face flat out bifurcated with the business end of the killer’s axe).
Also, the fact that we’ve already been introduced to some of Sarah Fier’s stab happy puppets due to their resurrection during 1994’s final act pays off nicely at their appearance here sparks off the same part of your brain that lights up when ever someone mentions a reference to another character in the MCU – for example the camp nurse is the traumatised mother of the razor swinging Ruby Lane and we get to see exactly how the Camp Nightwing Killer comes together with his particular brand of burlap chic.
It’s obvious at this point that director Leigh Janiak has a sizable love and knowledge of the horror genre (check out the visual nod to Jack Nicholson’s iconic door chopping in The Shining) and she nails the aesthetic of a modern day version of the late 70’s just as well as it did for the mid-90’s – and that’s not just because of the relentless deploying of awesome songs from the period at the beginning of every new scene. Camp Nightwing itself is virtually perfect – although I would obnoxiously argue that it’s setting is maybe two years too early due to the fact that it’s more obvious influences were released in 1980 (Friday The 13th) and 1981 (The Burning) – and where the vibe of other movies set in the same time period sometimes feels a little forced (The Texas Chainsaw remake was the most millennial version of the 70’s even seen on film) this just feels bang on in an exaggerated sort of way.
Moving the central relationship from a young gay couple to two sisters who are rapidly growing apart keeps the strong female vein continuing through the series and the central performances of Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd (no relation to Paul) is well written and performed.
So, at time of writing we’re currently at two for two but I’m now immensely curious as to how it’s current aesthetic is going to translate to the third chapter set in 1666 – can’t see many needle drops happening there, personally – and a switch to a super serious Robert Eggers territory might not give us the out and out blowout the trilogy needs to declare this entertaining experiment a rousing success.
So a slight step down from the pleasant surprise of 1994, then; but 1978 still manages to fling enough twists, gore and characters to root for (hey, that rhymes) to make Fear Street I’ll gladly visit for a third and final time.
Demanding more Fear Street? Axe, and you shall receive.