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 story of the Camp Nightwing massacre, as relayed by C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the only survivor of the slayings. Loosely supported the books by R.L. Stine but leaning into a tough 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 child.
Playing with the 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 almost like Jason Voorhees. But a bit like Fear Street Part 1: 1994, the sequel takes pleasure in subverting those tropes and also expanding out the broader mythology of its universe. It’s clever, it’s playful, it’s extremely gory and it’s like a more innocent time for the genre. If you purchased into Fear Street ‘94, you won’t be disappointed.
Leaning further into the bitter rivalry between neighboring towns, the right, and privileged Sunnyvale and therefore 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 abreast of, 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 within of her arm with a lighter during a little bit of foreshadowing we are sure to see come full circle within the final installment.
like ’94, this is often a tale of scrappy outsiders pitted against the rich 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 electrical, which is crucial since, staying faithful tropes of the first 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 that the preppy, polo-shirted, virginal archetype of the ultimate girl. Other secondary characters who would definitely be destined for the chop within the bog-standard slashers (Fear Street has some punches to tug – don’t assume you recognize where this is often going) are preoccupied with sex and medicines.
There’s more happening here though. happening over one night, also because of the threat of the madman with the axe indiscriminately hacking to pieces campers and counselors alike, a secondary plot sees Cindy and therefore 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 suffering from the curse. Underground tunnels, buried bones, and glimpses of a dark past set up what we’d see in part three, while dual narratives keep things snappy and filled with peril – nobody is safe.
The three films were shot back to back with a 1978 shot last of all, and director Leigh Janiak, who clearly features a genuine love for horror, has packed the film with references and easter eggs for ’94. It’s one more reason why releasing all three weekly on Netflix may be a smart move. Audiences can enjoy learning the nods – we’ve met Nurse Lane before! Oh, that’s why Nick features a limp! Etc., etc. – and when all three are available we will watch back in reverse order.
Which is best – ’94 or ’78? It’s a moot point and can almost certainly depend upon whether you favor ’90s horror or ’70s/’80s horror. Both films, however, maintain a uniform tone, sympathetic performances from the young cast, an absolutely banging soundtrack, and a component of surprise. As a standalone, it’s a quick, fun watch with many nods to classic films and an honest sense of humor, but as a part of an entire, Fear Street is building to become something genuinely unique and special of its own.