On July 4th weekend Netflix began an epic trilogy of horror films called “Fear Street” with plans to release all three parts of the franchise, based on “Goosebumps” writer R.L. Stine’s novels, in back-to-back weeks. “Fear Street Part Two: 1978” continues the story introduced in “Fear Street Part One: 1994” revealing the terror that took place years earlier at Camp Nightwing where the axe murderer featured in “1994” attacked campers as well as C. Bermin who we met at the end of the previous film. It also continues the legend of Sarah Fier, the overarching evil responsible for the disparity between glorious Sunnyvale and depressing Shadyside. Serving as a tribute to slashers of the 70s and 80s, “1978” is more patient and bloodier than its predecessor making for yet another awesome entry in a promising trilogy even if it doesn’t exactly truly improve on “1994”.
“Fear Street Part Two: 1978” flashes back to the events of its titular year at Camp Nightwing, a camp between the franchise’s two main towns of Sunnyvale and Shadyside built on the site of the village of Union, the predecessor of both communities. The main focus is put on sisters Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink) and Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd) who, along with a young Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland) and other friends try to survive a murder spree when a camp counselor becomes the latest in a long line of killers possessed by the witch Sarah Fier. Like “1994”, “1978” is rooted in inspiration from horror films of years past, specifically iconic slashers of the 70s and 80s. Camp Nightwing and its bag-headed killer are clearly most heavily inspired by “Friday the 13th”. As with the first movie, the homages placed throughout this film are delightful and “1978” rarely feels held back by its longing to emulate its predecessors. Rather it feels genuinely inspired by those films, often taking things much farther than those movies were willing or able to go in their time even to the point where adolescent campers aren’t safe from the killer’s wrath. The kills in this movie are the kind you can feel as a viewer. Every time the axe made contact I couldn’t help but wince at how that must’ve felt and imagine the immediate shock of the moment that went through each young victim’s mind in their final seconds. The sadistic side of me that loves these movies for the violence certainly felt satisfied. While “1994” had plenty of fun and brutal kills, I found “1978” to feel more shocking and entertaining in how far it was willing to go even with all of the deaths being caused by a single axe feeling a bit more realistic in terms of the pure terror it inspires. The kills in “1994” were fun but this film provides a nice change of pace.
However, “1978” isn’t all about the kills. As with the first film all the terror takes place while a larger series-wide mystery behind the curse of Sarah Fier also unfolds. In this film the campers stumble on the witch’s old stomping ground realizing one of their own is Fier’s latest victim slowly expanding on Fier’s curse adding elements and details to her overarching legacy and larger connection to both towns which is to be explored more fully in the third and final movie set in 1666. “1978” does a pretty good job at juggling its two narratives with neither feeling like they are overshadowing the other. It’s also a compliment to the film’s young cast, especially front-and-center on-screen sisters Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd who carry this movie at its core and add the same level of heart and humanity that helped balance the first film as well. Like with “1994” the completely on-board supporting cast help build on the growing list of characters who all seem to have a deeper connection to the overarching legacy of two towns destined to be at odds with each other. I wouldn’t call the characters in this film as memorable as the first, but I still cared about them and their wellbeing enough to not want them dead save for a few choice ones who, honestly, never actually die. As I noted in my “1994” review, having genuine concern for the characters I’ll see taken out over tome is an important part of making a slasher film work.
But while I very much enjoyed “1978” I wouldn’t call it a step up from its predecessor. That’s not really a bad thing. In a lot of ways “1978” does stand out as its own thing when compared to the first movie because of how it tries to emulate classic slashers opposed to the more chaotic slashers of the 90s. Where “1994” started things off with a brutal kill like many 90s horrors, “1978” takes its time building up to its events, around 45-minutes in fact, like a lot of slashers did back in the day. Sure, we’d still get early kills but then the buildup would lead to what’s next. The tone and aesthetic though feel pretty much the same allowing for some consistency if you plan to watch these films back to back as one continuous experience. I think “1978” continues a lot of the good things director and co-writer Leigh Janiak brought to the first film which is more than enough to make it just as, if not slightly more enjoyable as a horror experience depending on what kind of horror film you like to embrace. This movie is more for the hybrid horror lovers, those with an appreciation for both slow burns that evolve into insane bloodbaths. Still “1978” doesn’t up the ante enough to be considered and unequivocally better film which I guess isn’t its goal. Really the goal is to pay homage to classic slashers while building on the ideas and narrative established in the original movie. It didn’t need to be better it just needed to live up to the expectations set by the first film and, to me at least, it accomplishes that goal while also giving fans a unique enough experience where it’s not merely a repeat. It feels like the second film in a horror tribute anthology which is kind of what this trilogy seems to be adding up to in its own special way.
“Fear Street Part 2: 1978” is a fun and bloody tribute to what we love about slasher movies, but it’s also slightly held back mostly on purpose to stay in line with and not overshadow its predecessor or its upcoming successor. It does however do what few middle movies succeed at in a trilogy. It never feels like a bridge film which is a welcome breath of fresh in a day and age where franchises spend more time getting from point A to point B while forgetting to give each individual movie their own special purpose. So far, the “Fear Street” trilogy has accomplished this with its first two entries which makes the potential for the third film even more exciting. Plain and simple, if you liked the first movie you’ll more than likely enjoy this one, but whether your enjoy it more or less all has to do with how patient you are for the buildup or what kind of horror flick you prefer. At the end of the day I find it hard to call this a better movie than “1994” but I can safely call it a genuinely enjoyable continuation to a three-part series that has definitely captured my attention and left me anxiously waiting for how it will all pan out this weekend.