“In Shadyside, the past is never really the past…”
…Last week, Netflix unleashed Fear Street Part One: 1994, the first in a trilogy of films based off of R.L. Stine’s popular Fear Street books. Containing jaw dropping kills, a killer soundtrack, loveable (and important) characters and a pure 90s sensibility of teen slasher fun, the film has already become an instant hit amongst horror fans. Fear Street Part Two: 1978, however, is a step back that struggles to recapture that same spirit.
Director Leigh Janiak returns to the director’s chair, with a script from Janiak and Zak Olkewicz. Picking up right where the first left off, Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) meet up with C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), seeking an answer for how to save their friend, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). Berman takes them back to July 1978 at Camp Nightwing and the night that one poor Shadysider became possessed by the town’s legendary witch, Sarah Fier (Elizabeth Scopel) and went on a killing spree.
What follows is a vicious as hell camp slasher that rips your guts out, one bloody sausage-looking piece at a time.
Somewhere along the way with slashers, it became more popular to feature characters we can’t wait to see die rather than characters we hate to see die, and 1978 follows the former to a T...at least at first.
Opening Berman’s tale is Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink) running away from a pack of bullies which includes camp biotch Sheila (Chiara Aurelia), dickhead counselor Kurt (Michael Provost) and fellow asshole Will (Brandon Spink), to name a few. Mocking her and calling her a witch, they string Ziggy up to a tree and freaking burn her arm before others rush in to stop them. The whole thing is…extreme…to say the least, a theme which runs like an electric current through Fear Street 1978. And just when we’re starting to feel sorry for Ziggy, the promptly named Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland) offers to help her, to which she tells him to fuck off and gives him the finger.
Fear Street Part Two is riddled with cruel, obnoxious, and downright unlikeable people, a far cry from the previous entry. Ziggy’s uptight sister, Cindy (Emily Rudd) and her boyfriend, Tommy (McCabe Slye) seem nice enough, but between Cindy’s encounter with ex-friend/druggie Alice (Ryan Simpkins) and a shouting match with Ziggy emotionally ripping Cindy apart, scene after scene with these characters is bristling with an off-putting and over-the-top extremism that will have some audiences stepping back and going whoa, calm down, movie. If Fear Street 1978 were a person, it would be that friend that leaves an exclamation point after every sentence in a text, it is so far removed from anything resembling subtlety. Each and every character wears their emotions on their sleeve—much of it through expository dialogue to tell us how they feel instead of showing us—and it makes it difficult to latch onto and care about anyone.
I’m not one of those people who thinks every character has to be “likeable”, but slashers are always much more effective when everyone isn’t a jerk, because it helps us to care when the slashing starts. To the film’s credit, we do eventually gain some understanding of why some are the way they are, resulting in quite a few moments of grim tragedy, though that growth often feels more forced than earned.
In many ways, Fear Street 1978 is a brutal experience.
More akin to Sleepaway Camp than Friday the 13th, Fear Street 1978 is a mean movie with the kills and gore to match. If you thought Part One was shocking, you haven’t seen anything yet. With the killings taking place during an already contentious game of capture the flag between Shadysiders and Sunnyvalers, there is a tense tone of violence in the air long before the killer comes around, and once they do, anything goes. Much like in Part One, no one is safe, including kids, and Janiak isn’t afraid to get down in the gory muck. With seemingly no adults around, Fear Street 1978 is like Lord of the Flies with a killer on the loose. It’s grim. It’s cruel. And it strikes suddenly and viciously with shudder-inducing kills that let the gore fly. Nothing is quite as memorable as the bread slicer, and many of the kills are a little too much of the same, but each one hits like a punch to the gut purely because of its shock value.
Fear Street 1978 pays homage to camp slashers with winks and nods to favorite franchises, as well as fun references to Carrie, The Exorcist, and a whole lot of Stephen King talk, but it eschews the stalk and slash atmospherics entirely. From moment one to the gut-wrenching conclusion, Fear Street 1978 is more like a fear highway, soaring like a bat out of hell with a brisk pace that barely allows any time to breathe. This is a slasher on speed, consistently getting right to the blood-smeared point and avoiding traditional suspense building involving a killer that takes their time to toy with victims. There’s none of that here. Regardless, two hours go by as smoothly as the killer severs heads from bodies, with plenty of scares to keep the audience on their toes.
For all of its flaws, Fear Street 1978 is still an entertaining slasher that once again puts strong women at the forefront, directed with a deft hand behind the camera. Janiak creates a rich aesthetic, perfectly capturing the period and transporting us to another time with another banger of a soundtrack and all the needle drops you can handle. This is a hardcore teen slasher that chokes the audience with terror. It does feel a little too much like a cross street between destinations without resolving much on its own, but, like Part One, 1978 leaves us with a cliffhanger that will have you dying to see Part Three and should still satisfy anyone who enjoyed the first entry.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 arrives on Netflix on July 9th.
By Matt Konopka