Fear Street Part 2 improves on Part 1 in nearly every way, a slick slasher of high energy, genre play, and legitimate pathos.
The second film in Leigh Janiak’s R.L. Stine-based trilogy, Fear Street Part 2: 1978 picks up right where the first film left off. Deena and Josh, reeling from the loss of their friends and seeking a cure for the curse afflicting Deena’s girlfriend Sam, have sought out the lone survivor of Shadyside’s infamous summer camp massacre, C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs). This movie’s subtitle is 1978, however, so the continuation of 1994’s plot is limited largely to a frame story, as Berman’s recollections send us into a movie-length flashback to the summer of ‘78, just a moment before things went south.
Troublemaker Ziggy, a camper at Camp Nightwing, and her counselor sister, morally upright Cindy Berman, have drifted apart. Years of family drama, personality issues, and, of course, Cindy’s desire to leave cursed Shadyside — and, it follows, her sister — behind, have put the two at odds. On the night of the camp’s Color War, which splits the camp along residential lines (unlucky Shadysiders in blue, cool-kid Sunnyvalers in red), and after the Berman sisters’ conflict comes to a head, one of the counselors goes mad — witch’s curse, naturally — and begins burying an axe into everyone in his path, counselor and camper alike. As you’d expect, the trauma of being chased by a slasher villain pushes the nearly estranged sisters back together, only for you to watch them torn asunder once again since, after all, we know from the start one of the two will be dead by dawn. In that, the trilogy’s televisual weekly release structure begins to pay dividends with knowledge garnered from the first film coloring the scenes between Ziggy and Cindy with an air of deep sadness, all roads pointing to certain death.
While 1994 was frustratingly slow to get going, taking over an hour to stop being derivative and start being fun, 1978 hits the ground running and rarely slows down, making good on the pop promises of its predecessor throughout. Janiak still makes time to reference horror classics, swapping out Scream for Friday the 13th Part 2, but this film is markedly better at approximating the thrills of its reference point. Maybe an ‘80s slasher sequel is a lower bar than the film that revitalized the genre, but the slasher chops Janiak failed to demonstrate throughout 1994 are present here in a movie whose kills alternate between explicitly, gleefully gory and hauntingly suggestive with ease and purpose. A broken pair of glasses in a pool of blood inspires dread in the same way a headless body flung down a deep latrine elicits the sick laughs only a slasher can provide. That there is a chasm of difference between the solemnity of one death and the frivolity of another is a feature, not a bug; like the best movies it aspires to, Fear Street 1978 has its cake and eats it.
Performances are, by and large, better than the last film as well, with Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd doing a bang-up job turning Ziggy and Cindy into believable siblings at a crossroads, keeping the quiet moments as watchable as the loud. And the shift to a 1970s summer camp proves beneficial to the film’s look, stepping away from the first film’s overdone neon aesthetic and moving toward a more natural look, though the digital gore remains shaky. For her part, Janiak creates a handful of memorable images and manages tension in a way far beyond what the previous film accomplished, with a few crosscut sequences as the scary standouts. If there’s anything about 1978 that could be considered a step back, it’s the film’s apparent uncritical embrace of its genre’s tropes. 1994 centered on a queer character of color, but 1978’s cast is almost entirely white, save for a quickly dispatched side character or two, and the subgenre’s prevailing attitudes towards sex and drug use are preserved without comment: the dope-smoking teens that spend their time railing one another all die. But if it doesn’t flip the genre on its head or add much new to the canon, Fear Street Part 2 can settle for being a solidly-crafted, legitimately fun slasher and a strong counterpoint to films like its predecessor that aim for more but settle for less.
You can stream Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street Part 2: 1978 on Netflix beginning on July 9.