After a strong, but not mind-blowing first installment with Fear Street Part 1: 1994 last week, Leigh Janiak and Netflix’s unique approach to a horror trilogy based on R.L. Stine’s young adult novels adapted as hard-R slashers had decent-sized shoes to fill as it continued its narrative of exploring the iceberg that is the violent history of Shadyside and Sunnyvale, Ohio. Jumping 16 years in the past to 1978, Fear Street Part 2: 1978 opens up an entirely new can of worms when it comes to its references and wears them as proudly on their sleeve as the first installment did, as I had hoped.
So why didn’t I like it as much?
After the cliffhanger ending of Fear Street Part 1: 1994, Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her brother, Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), seek out the sole survivor (Gillian Jacobs) of Shadyside’s last massacre at a summer camp in 1978 to help them figure out how to save Deena’s girlfriend, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), from being possessed entirely by the spirit of Sarah Fier, the witch who started the curse befalling the towns. We are then transported back to 1978 to follow Ziggy (Sadie Sink) and Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd) as they navigate summer camp as two very different types of campers. Ziggy, rebellious and outcast, and Cindy, straightlaced and a bit uptight, must then work together as Cindy’s boyfriend, following an attack, is possessed and begins massacring the campers. They, too, must uncover the secrets of Sarah Fier’s curse to find how to beat it.
My main issue with 1978 is that while its references have shifted away from Scream and Urban Legend (among others) to those of Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp, there isn’t anything particularly more unique or as charming as the first installment. The characters aren’t as relatable, the story holds far fewer stakes, there isn’t much atmosphere amongst its sequences of intense gore, and it all just feels like a filler chapter leading into something where new material will actually be revealed.
Now, there is one thing 1978 definitely has over 1994, and that’s the kills. If you are a pure gorehound and don’t require your horror films to have many scares, 1978 definitely has a much better gallons-of-blood-per-minute ratio than 1994, albeit with a much emptier gut punch around many of the character deaths. We have axes to faces, decapitations, stabbings, broken bones, among so much more, but I wasn’t as jarred by them as I was by the more comparatively tame kills of the first film (despite those two near the end of 1994 that were horrendously gnarly). It’s rough, but it’s also nothing I haven’t seen in every other film it references, and, often, the originals did it better.
There definitely is a sanitized feeling to these films, despite their hard R-ratings, that does sort of take you out of the immersion, but I never really had as much of a problem with that as other people have. I understand it’s made for a new generation who have certain styles of horror they’re attracted to and by merging it with references, it bridges that gap between age groups, even if I feel like a summer camp slasher film should be a bit seedier, I understand why it’s a bit more clean-cut, and I can respect it for that.
An issue I had with the first film was that, for a slasher, it felt pretty long at 107 minutes, but I figured that it needed that length to establish this universe. At 110 minutes, 1978 feels like a slog, leading to a big “Wait, we still have 40 minutes left of this?” moment near the end of the second act. And while, admittedly, its third act really does come through with the goods enough to undo a few of its earlier sins, there was a feeling of it being just a smidge too little too late in its runtime to finally kick its ass into gear. I think there’s a solid, if still a bit inconsistent, 95-minute slasher at the center of this, but the building of so many disposable characters and their “storylines” really drags down what could be a lean, mean gore machine.
And I think that’s what mostly left me cold here is that it takes the time to try to build the characters, but focuses on so many that it’s hard for me to connect to everyone in a way that makes the stakes feel more high-strung in the way 1994 did with its admittedly small circle of characters. It does treat itself like a gore-fest, but it also blows hot air in trying to add depth that simply never comes, and, at that point, I’d rather you just get to the point and start killing these bad ass kids quickly.
Despite this, I can’t lie and say I’m not the most excited about Fear Street Part 3: 1666, particularly after the teaser showcased at the end of this installment. I’m sure it’ll feel like a diet version of The Witch in its style, but I really identify with that type of horror more than any other kind Fear Street is working off of. While 1978 did leave me cold, particularly in comparison to the strong start that was 1994, it hasn’t turned me off to this series as a whole, and I still find it to be one of the more fascinating horror projects of the last few years, simply from a production standpoint. If it can swing two out of three with 1666 being good, then I would call that a good day.
However, if it doesn’t, the wasted potential will make me sad. The fate of the world lies in your hands, 1666.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 available for streaming on Netflix July 2nd, 2021.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 available for streaming on Netflix July 9th, 2021.
Fear Street Part 3: 1666 available for streaming on Netflix July 16th, 2021.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.