The second chapter in the three-film series loosely adapted (by Zak Olkewicz and director Leigh Janiak) from the Fear Street books by R.L. Stine brings things back to the early days of slasher-heavy horror, the year 1978. But first, we must catch up with the three survivors from 1994, who finally get to have a face-to-face meeting with the one woman to have survived the particularly nasty camp massacre in 1978, C. Berman (played as an adult by Gillian Jacobs). The kids believe that the same witch possessed the person who carried out the killing at Camp Nightwing and killed several people at a shopping mall in 1994, and they want to know how Berman survived to this day, seeing as though the witch doesn’t like to leave things unfinished.
So Jacobs begins to tell her tale of Camp Nightwing, which includes an ongoing feud with her sister (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd play the Berman sisters, although it’s kept deliberately vague which sister grows up to be Jacobs for the purposes of a truly pointless twist); a wild girl named Alice (Ryan Simpkins), easily the most interesting character in the film; the younger version of town sheriff Will Goode (Brandon Spark), who has a major thing for Sink’s character; and a good kid named Tommy (McCabe Slye) who seems to have a thing for the other sister but turns into an axe-wielding murderer by a witch’s curse. We still have the town feud between Shadyside and Sunnyvale, which also seems pointless, especially since the killers always seem to come out of Shadyside, which means that town automatically wins.
Unlike the 1994 chapter of Fear Street, which basically aped self-aware horror films of that era (most notably Scream), 1978 seems to be trying to put a newer, more brutal spin on the slasher movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Whereas in those older films, the killings were often some sort of moralistic revenge for teenagers engaging in sex and drugs, the murders in Fear Street 1978 are of much younger kids. They aren’t especially graphic, but the fact that the deaths are of kids who barely know what sex and drugs are makes it all seem especially cruel and more real. As rough as it can be watching those scenes, I consider that turn of events a plus as far as the direction of the film is concerned. Filmmaker Janiak is actually trying something slightly different in her version of events. The killings are made all the more terrible because the murderer isn’t masked (at first); he’s known to these kids as a trustworthy camp member, and they practically walk headfirst into their own deaths.
The film also digs a bit deeper into the myth of the witch causing all of this havoc, and it appears the sisters also figure out what it is that has to happen in order to stop her reign of terror, which eventually includes raising the specters of all of the previous people she has possessed to do her bloody bidding over the centuries, going back to her death in 1666 (which just happens to be the year the third and final chapter of the Fear Street saga takes place).
Fear Street 1978 doesn’t give us much of a sense of what normal life at the camp is like, which would’ve given us a sense of how disruptive things eventually become. Regardless, I was far more involved and entertained by this film than the first, partly because the characters felt less like types and more like characters (with perhaps the exception of the girls that seemed to bully Sink’s character Ziggy relentlessly). And it appears that the actors from the first two films all play characters in the 1666 chapter, for what that’s worth. There are still mysteries left unsolved, and I truly hope Janiak and her team stick the landing on this ambitious project, if only because I want to know what the hell is going on with this impossible-to-kill witch. She’s so annoying.
The film is now streaming on Netflix.
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