James Jay Edwards reviews Fear Street Part 2: 1978, a teen horror film series inspired by the R.L. Stine Fear Street books and directed by Leigh Janiak. (Netflix)
Last week, R.L. Stine’s Fear Street trilogy kicked off on Netflix with Fear Street Part 1: 1994, an enjoyable little nineties homage slasher. The fun continues this week with Fear Street Part 2: 1978.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 takes place in, you guessed it, the year of 1978. At least the bulk of it does. It begins with the surviving kids from Fear Street Part 1: 1994 tracking down the survivor from a 1978 camp massacre and getting the story of her ordeal. Her story is similar to theirs, and as she tells them of the possessed killer who stalked and slaughtered her friends at Camp Nightwing, the resourceful kids hunt for clues that might help them break the curse and save their town.
(Fear Street Part 2: 1978, theatrical release poster, courtesy Netflix)
Once again, director Leigh Janiak wrote the screenplay for Fear Street Part 2: 1978 with her writing partner Phil Graziadei, this time with help from Lights Out producer Zak Olkewicz. Also again, the movie doesn’t really follow any specific one of the books in writer R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series so much as it captures its overall spirit. It’s very much reminiscent of the gateway horror movies of the early eighties. Only with more blood and sex. It is, after all, rated R.
Since the possession element is known from the beginning, Fear Street Part 2: 1978 isn’t as much as a straight slasher as one might expect from watching Fear Street Part 1: 1994. Although it does lean heavily on its late-seventies/early-eighties influences, it avoids becoming a complete tribute like its predecessor. Of course, the camp setting draws obvious comparisons to the Friday the 13th movies, but there’s also just as much Carrie and The Shining in there as well. It’s more supernatural in style. And the story of the witch is a campfire tale around the compound, so there’s a bit of an urban-legend-come-to-life vibe to it, too.
(Fear Street Part 2: 1978, courtesy Netflix)
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 also has just as much, if not more, of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew-type of mystery-solving stuff as Part 1. The clue hunting gives way to a series of strangely placed and extraneous heart talks between characters, all of which leads to pacing that is unusual for a horror movie. It seems as if every time the tension really gets boiling, there’s a slowdown where a character confesses something sentimental to another character. Sure, this helps the audience understand motivations and provides a little backstory, but these conversations take place at the most inopportune times. Just let them either escape or fall victim to the killer!
When Fear Street Part 2: 1978 is being brutal, however, it’s really being brutal. It’s packed with horrifying imagery of witch persecution and camp bullying. There are scenes of people getting lost in claustrophobic caves and being slaughtered by an axe murderer. And, unlike in the Friday the 13th movies, Fear Street Part 2: 1978 does not just let counselors feel the wrath of the killer. It breaks one of the biggest taboos of moviemaking: it kills kids. A bunch of them. [You’ve been warned.]
(Fear Street Part 2: 1978, courtesy Netflix)
Although the musical needle drops aren’t quite as prominent in Fear Street Part 2: 1978 as they are in Part 1, they are more fun. The soundtrack contains period music from seventies greats like Neil Diamond, Captain & Tennille, The Runaways, Thelma Houston, and, in a clever nod to the Supernatural TV series, Kansas. But the real fun is when the music helps tell the story. During one of the first killings, Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut is the Deepest” softly plays in the background. When the camp first starts realizing that something wicked is happening, the eerie strains of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” ring out (an obvious choice, but still an effective one). It’s the closest one can get to characters breaking into song without them actually doing it. The movie even draws a great parallel between its nineties and seventies settings by bookending everything with both the Nirvana and David Bowie versions of “The Man Who Sold the World.”
So, we’ve gotten through the nineties and the seventies, and each part of the story has revealed important clues to help solve the mystery. It all wraps up next week with Fear Street Part 3: 1666, which one presumes will be the story of the witch herself. After the clear Scream homage of Part 1 and the generic horror camp setting of Part 2, it will be interesting to see how Janiak handles the last chapter. Will it be influenced by artsy period movies like The Witch? Or more exploitive flicks like Witchfinder General? Or will it be something else entirely? We’ll find out next week.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 is now streaming on Netflix, along with Fear Street Part 1: 1994.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.