Sitting somewhere between a TV event and a ready made film franchise, the second part of Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy transports us back to the late ’70s and into the heyday of the slasher movie. Bookended with our core ’90s-set story, this segment recounts the tale of the Camp Nightwing massacre, as relayed by C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the sole survivor of the slayings. Loosely based on the books by R.L. Stine but leaning into a hard R-rating Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is teen-centric but is about as suitable for teenage viewers as its influences–i.e. it depends on the kid.
Playing with late ‘70s and early ‘80s stalk and slash traditions, the movie is most clearly influenced by Friday the 13th and provides an origin story for a masked killer similar to Jason Voorhees. But just like Fear Street Part 1: 1994, the sequel takes pleasure in subverting those tropes and also expanding out the wider mythology of its universe. It’s clever, it’s playful, it’s extremely gory and it’s reminiscent of a more innocent time for the genre. If you bought into Fear Street ‘94, you won’t be disappointed.
Leaning further into the bitter rivalry between neighboring towns, the perfect and privileged Sunnyvale and the seemingly cursed Shadyside, Fear Street ’78 kicks off with rebellious youngster Ziggy (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink) being tortured by awful Sunnyvalers who think she has stolen money from them. Ganged up on, wrists bound above her head, and strung up from the very tree where the legendary Sarah Fier was supposedly hanged as a witch, the Sunnvalers taunt her then burn the inside of her arm with a lighter in a bit of foreshadowing we are bound to see come full circle in the final installment. As with ’94, this is a tale of scrappy outsiders pitted against the wealthy but cruel Sunnyvale crowd, and here the rivalry is even more on the nose – the night of the massacre coincides with the annual camp ‘color war’ – a playful Shadyside vs Sunnydale nighttime game.
Sink as Ziggy is electric, which is crucial since, staying true to tropes of the original slashers, quite a few of the secondary characters in Fear Street ’78 are initially very annoying. She’s fierce, furious, and self possessed while her sanctimonious sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) is the preppy, polo-shirted, virginal archetype of the final girl. Other secondary characters who would definitely be destined for the chop in the bog standard slashers (Fear Street has some punches to pull – don’t assume you know where this is going) are preoccupied with sex and drugs. There’s more going on here though.
Taking place over one night, as well as the threat of the madman with the axe indiscriminately hacking to pieces campers and counsellors alike, a secondary plot sees Cindy and the rebellious Alice (Ryan Simpkins) delving further into the history of Sarah Fier via the notebook of Mary Lane (Jordana Spiro), whose daughter Ruby was also affected by the curse. Underground tunnels, buried bones, and glimpses of a dark past set-up what we might see in part three, while dual narratives keep things snappy and full of peril – no one is safe.
The three films were shot back to back with 1978 shot last of all, and director Leigh Janiak, who clearly has a genuine love for horror, has packed the film with references and easter eggs for ’94. It’s another reason why releasing all three weekly on Netflix is a smart move. Audiences can enjoy picking up the nods – we’ve met Nurse Lane before! Oh, that’s why Nick has a limp! Etc., etc. – and when all three are available we can watch back in reverse order.
Which is better – ’94 or ’78? It’s a moot point and will almost certainly depend on whether you prefer ’90s horror or ’70s/’80s horror. Both films, however, maintain a consistent tone, sympathetic performances from the young cast, an absolutely banging soundtrack, and an element of surprise. As a standalone it’s a fast, fun watch with lots of nods to classic films and a good sense of humor, but as part of a whole, Fear Street is building to become something genuinely unique and special of its own.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 and Fear Street Part 1: 1994 are available to stream now on Netflix. Fear Street Part 3: 1666 will be released on July 16.