REVIEW: “Fear Street Part Two: 1978” (2021)

Part Two of Netflix’s ambitious “Fear Street” horror trilogy is set to premiere on the streaming giant’s platform this weekend, one short week after the release of the first film. This one, reasonably titled “Fear Street Part Two: 1978” fills in a lot of the holes from the first movie and does a better job blending nostalgia with storytelling. At the same time it still runs into some of the same issues that made the first installment feel more like a slasher movie knockoff than something with its own ideas and identity.

The movie begins with a ‘previously on Fear Street’ montage before moving right into direct sequel mode. Picking up where “1994” left off, Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her kid brother Josh (Benjamin Flores, Jr.) bring the tied-up and seemingly possessed Sam (Olivia Welch) to the home of a local hermit named Ziggy Berman played by Gillian Jacobs (If you need a refresher on the first movie check out my review HERE). The kids believe Ziggy has information that can help free Sam from what they think is a witch’s curse that has led to Shadyside’s long and gruesome history of murder.

An reluctant Ziggy sits the kids down, pulls out a tattered old book that looks centuries old, and begins telling Deena and Josh about the Summer of 1978 (because of course they have time for a 90-minute story). That’s when she went to Camp Nightwing, a place that was referenced several times in Part One. It’s essentially a Crystal Lake clone full of serial killer fodder masquerading as campers and counselors. Ziggy begins with a very movie-like disclaimer, “In Shadyside the past is never really past.” She then goes into the bloody events that left her in such a frightened and isolated state.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

From there returning director Leigh Janiak and new screenwriter Zak Olkewicz transport us back to July of 1978 which is where the bulk of the movie plays out. Sadie Sink plays teenaged Ziggy who would rather be anywhere than at Camp Nightwing. She’s basically an outsider with a knack for getting in trouble and whose only friend is the creepy camp nurse (Jordana Spiro). We learn pretty quick that she doesn’t get along with her big sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) who happens to be one of the counselors. Over time the movie unpacks some of their old family baggage revealing the reason for the tension between them. It’s not really relevant to the main story, but it’s there and it adds a little character depth.

Amusingly Cindy is portrayed as a stuffy, straight-laced, stick-in-the-mud when in reality she’s one of the few counselors with sense. That’s clearly evident when she’s put beside the cookie-cutter counselor types such as the obnoxious dopeheads Alice and Arnie (Ryan Simpkins and Sam Brooks), the dumb jock (Michael Provost), the sexpot (Jacqi Vene), and so on. Among the more tolerable camp heads is Cindy’s puppy dog boyfriend (McCabe Slye) fittingly named Tommy (one of several fun nods to “Friday the 13th”). And there’s the young Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland), the future sheriff of Shadyside who’s played by Ashley Zukerman in the first film.

Much like it’s predecessor, “1978” leans into the music of the time to constantly remind us we’re in the 1970s. Neil diamond, Captain and Tennille, The Runaways, Blue Oyster Cult, Kansas, and Foghat are just some of the artists on the film’s soundtrack. But the rock tunes eventually give way to the pounding score from Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts. The duo so accurately recaptures the music of the slasher movie era that it might sound a bit generic to those not in tune with what they’re going for.

Image Courtesy of Netflix

The opening 30 minutes or so does a good job of setting up its story and scratching that retro horror itch at the same time. There is a better balance in these scenes and I was onboard pretty early. As before, this movie shows the depths of the Shadyside and Sunnyvale rivalry while finally digging deeper into the origins of the witch Sarah Frier and the curse that hangs over Shadyside. But over time it slowly devolves into something less interesting. It gets bogged down in the second half as certain characters languish in a cave parsing through witch theories. And much like “1994”, when it comes to teen characters the filmmakers work from a bland and unflattering blueprint. Only a few are worth rooting for while others are annoying or completely disposable with no real resonance whatsoever.

One thing is for certain, the original novels might have been aimed towards kids in the PG crowd, but these first two films have made it clear that this series is far from it. “1978” is high on gore – not nearly as impressive or creative with it as “1994” but gory nonetheless. And then you have the host of potty-mouthed characters who are veritable assembly lines of F-bombs. It really dumbs down some of the dialogue and doesn’t help the characters either. The movie leans heavily into its “mature” elements so be warned.

To the trilogy’s credit it packs enough energy and setup into its middle movie to leave you curious for how everything is going to play out. The third and final film comes out next week and is set in “1666”. It could prove to be the most challenging of the three especially after seeing the weird teaser at the end of this film. As for “1978”, it manages to be both nostalgically transporting and needlessly irritating. Over time it begins to resemble “Stranger Things” but set in a slasher movie world with less personality and charm and minus the characters that make that series so great. As it is, “1978” is serviceable – not terrible but not nearly as good as it could’ve been. “Fear Street Part Two: 1978” premieres July 9th on Netflix.


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