Fear Street Part Two: 1978 gets a tonal shift that deviates from the first film‘s somewhat meta-fun horror approach. Instead, director Leigh Janiak pays her sequel’s homage to the old-school summer-camp horror subgenre. The aforementioned genre is, of course, used to populate — for better or worse — the 80s horror films seen in the likes of Friday the 13th (1980) and its subsequent sequels, The Burning (1981) and Sleepaway Camp (1983).
Picking up where the first film left off, the sequel continues with the surviving siblings Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) as they locate C. Berman’s (Gillian Jacobs) home to seek her help. After all, C. Berman was a survivor who managed to escape the curse of Sarah Fier’s witchcraft and they need to know how she did it the first time around.
Told largely in flashback as the film takes us back to the summer of 1978 where it all began… the Camp Nightwing (a direct reference to R.L. Stine’s 12th novel Lights Out, which released back in 1991). Here, the film introduced two opposing sisters Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd) and her younger sibling, Ziggy (Sadie Sink of Netflix’s Stranger Things), with the latter particularly a rebellious type who has a hard time getting along with the others. While the girls from the camp love to bully Ziggy for being such an outcast, Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland), one of the camp counsellors before he becomes a town sheriff seen in the first film often help her whenever she’s in trouble.
But all the bullies and whatever abuses that Ziggy has to endure are the least of the problem here, particularly when one of the campers goes berserk after being possessed by Sarah Fier. From there, the killer starts hacking people from both Shadyside and Sunnyvale in the camp with an axe. With no outside help whatsoever, the rest of the campers including the Berman sisters are basically on their own to survive the killer’s brutal murdering spree.
While the first film opens with an attention-grabbing slashing moment, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 opts for a slow buildup. One that requires patience as Janiak, who again serves as a co-writer and this time with Zac Olkewicz (his prior credit include co-producing David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out in 2016) taking their time to tell the story. Genre fans who are eagerly waiting for the first kill have to tolerate until around 45 minutes.
But even before the first kill takes place, the otherwise deliberately paced storyline still benefits from a better-than-expected cast. Besides, most 80s summer-camp slashers often neglected the importance of establishing the characters other than casting them merely as who-get-to-die-first victims. And while Fear Street Part Two: 1978 does include such throwaway characters, the film at least made an extra effort of developing the main protagonists played by Emily Rudd and Sadie Sink. The latter’s scene-stealing performance as Ziggy is particularly one of the sequel’s MVPs here.
When the killing finally takes place, Janiak ramps up the tension by extending it with kills after kills. And while it tends to be repetitive in some scenes, she still does a good job emphasising the sheer brutality as well as gore and graphic violence with a subtle mix of practical and CG effects. It’s as mean as it goes that doesn’t let up until the end.
Credit also goes to the rest of the behind-the-scenes crew, beginning with Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts’ spot-on score while the excellent sound design deserves equal praise. Then, there are the well-selected needle drops consisting of ’70s songs ranging from Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” to David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”, Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb”.
While it’s far from a great 80s-style summer-camp slasher, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 remains an engaging, yet visceral horror sequel. The sequel is currently streaming on Netflix beginning July 9 while the third and concluding Fear Street trilogy a.k.a. Fear Street Part Three: 1666 will be out on July 16.