The summer camp horror movie has been alive and well since the early 1980s, when Sean S. Cunningham's 'Friday the 13th' spawned a dozen films in a franchise spanning three decades. There are plenty of other examples of the subgenre; its hard to go past the shocking ending of 'Sleepaway Camp' and the gory bedlam of Tony Maylam's 'The Burning'. Leigh Janiak crafts a homage to sun-kissed fun, childhood memories and unpleasant events with 'Fear Street Part Two: 1978'.
In 'Fear Street Part One: 1994', we were introduced to the twin towns of Sunnyvale and Shadyside. One seemed like a cool place to live. The other was the site of the lynching of witch named Sarah Fier several hundred years ago; it's been cursed ever since. Shadysiders are prone to inexplicable murderous sprees and the lives of those who survive spiral into wariness and misery.
Janiak's first film was about the impact of the curse on four friends in 1994 - Deena (Kiana Madeira), Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), Kathy and Simon - and Deena's younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr). Spoiler alert: By the end of the opening chapter, a lot of people have been killed before Deena and Josh make contact with a woman (Gillian Jacobs) - the lone survivor of a previous Shadyside massacre - for help. The second film is this woman's story.
'FEAR STREET PART TWO: 1978' TRAILER
In 1978, Shadysiders and rivalling Sunnyvalers are summering at Camp Nightwing. Rebellious Ziggy (Sadie Sink, Netflix's 'Stranger Things') is harassed by a gang of Sunnyvale teens who think she's an oddball and label her a witch. Her older sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) is taking care of her duties as camp counselor and hanging out with her boyfriend Tommy (McCabe Slye). Cindy's estranged friend Alice (Ryan Simpkins, 'Ladyworld', 'Brigsby Bear', the standout actor of the series so far) and Nick (Ted Sutherland), a Sunnyvaler from a prominent family who has a crush on Ziggy, are the other main characters.
Even as everyone prepares for the end of camp, an assault on Tommy by Nightwing's resident Nurse Lane puts Cindy and the others on edge. As they try to uncover the motivation behind the attack, they stumble upon a hidden cave and the secret of Sarah Fier's curse, which has its origins in the year 1666.
Janiak's second instalment begins with some degree of predictability: a bunch of teenagers trapped in a desolate place, a gore-drenched maniac on the loose. However, it's still surprisingly nerve-wracking. As the killer bumps off the kids, one by one, you're on edge, waiting for the next grisly blow of his axe. Gaggles of youngsters are horrifically murdered for getting naked, smoking weed and chugging beers.
While 'Fear Street Party One: 1994' had flashes of intense violence that felt as if someone covertly spliced one frame of 'Intruder' into 'Empire Records', the second part is far nastier. Think 'Cannibal Holocaust' meets 'The Goonies'.
This isn't a deconstruction or parody, like 'Final Girls' or 'The Babysitter'. While 'Fear Street Party One: 1994' had flashes of intense violence that felt as if someone covertly spliced one frame of 'Intruder' into 'Empire Records', the second part is far nastier. Think 'Cannibal Holocaust' meets 'The Goonies'. The camera lingers on the brutal attacks and the subsequent human wreckage of the young victims, and the direction by Leigh Janiak feels more confident, too. Maybe it's because she's less bogged down with setting up the mythology of the trilogy or just having more fun with this particular slasher subgenre and time period, as opposed to the 'Scream'-lite aesthetic of the 90s slasher boom.
Theme music along the lines of John Carpenter's 'Halloween' score would have added some extra atmosphere, but at least the chaotic soundtrack of the first film is less insistent in this second part. Here the diegetic use of songs, with the volume going up and down within the same setting to accompany the action (as if they were part of a soundtrack), only occasionally breaks the immersion of the movie.
Sink, Sutherland, Rudd and the rest of the cast turn in compelling performances, especially Ryan Simpkins, whose Alice has a particularly punk-ish, unsettling presence. The chemistry between the actors is very effective - you believe that these characters actually care for one another, instead of shrugging off their friends' deaths like the 90s teens in the previous film.
As we prepare for another time jump to witness the secret origin of Sarah Fier, 'Fear Street Part Two: 1978' does an effective job of building the tragic world of Shadyside. The first film barely held my interest but, surprisingly, I'm now looking forward to 'Fear Street Part Three: 1666' and the conclusion of this Netflix trilogy.