Fear Street Part 2: 1978 improves upon several elements from the first installment, but still struggles in creating original and interesting characterization.
I think summer camps have excellent potential as settings for horror movies: an isolated and enclosed space far away from society, lots of small and vulnerable people around, opportunities to juxtapose the camp’s perceived safety and innocence with horrible carnage; there’s a lot to explore here. And indeed, the summer camp slasher has been seen with titles like The Burning, Sleepaway Camp, and most famously, the Friday The 13th franchise. All of these films serve as clear influences in the second of the Fear Street anthology, Fear Street Part 2: 1978.
Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off: Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr) track down the only known survivor of Shadyside’s 1978 massacre, C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs). Berman then tells the siblings of that day, and the film flashes back to Camp Nighthawk on that fateful day, and the events are told from the perspectives of the two Berman sisters, Cindy (Emily Rudd) and Ziggy (Sadie Sink), one of whom will be dead before the night is over.
So let me start off by saying that Part 2 definitely addresses many of the critiques I had for Part 1: first, the dialogue is noticeably better, especially when it comes to the use of profanity. The usage of “f***” feels much more natural, especially considering the characters’ ages and the trauma they’re experiencing. Second, character deaths are actually treated with some gravity: while some are still played for shock, others actually explicitly affect characters and the plot, and aren’t shrugged off willy-nilly in frustrating non-character moments. I did notice that director and screenwriter Leigh Janiak had a new writing partner for this installment: Zak Olkewicz. I can’t help but wonder if having that other voice in the writing process helped fix those issues from Part 1.
A lot of other stuff that really worked from Part 1 also made it into Part 2: the blood and the makeup still look great, and Part 2 even makes great use of prosthetics without becoming tasteless: there are scenes of violence against children, but the carnage is always implied with bloody hints of what happened in the aftermath shots, keeping the scenes the correct amount of shocking and gruesome without going so overboard you feel gross and upset for seeing it.
To my chagrin, however, Part 1’s consistently good lighting did not seem to make its way into Part 2. While the lighting in this second installment certainly isn’t uniformly bad, the curse of the too-dark horror film rears its ugly head several times. Hell, there are even a couple of scenes where the lighting is too dark during the day time, which feels needlessly frustrating and could have easily been fixed.
The setting and set dressing aren’t as prominent in Part 2, but I suppose virtually every summer camp in the US still kind of reflects an aesthetic that existed in the very early 20th century, so I guess the movie can be forgiven for not having a cavalcade of bell-bottomed jeans, mustaches, mop tops, and just some of the ugliest fashions humanity has ever seen. The bit of 70s set dressing we do get comes from the film’s soundtrack, featuring songs from artists like David Bowie, Buzzcocks, The Runaways, Blue Oyster Cult, and Foghat. You still get the idea of the intended time period, but it’s not as immersive as Part 1.
While there have been some marked improvements to the dialogue in Part 2, there are still a few issues with the writing. First of all, there are once again a couple of plot points that just don’t really make sense. For example, I have a question for people who grew up near, or currently live close to, shopping malls (I grew up in the woods, so I don’t know these things): could a tree survive in a mall? Like, a big tree that is hundreds of years old. Could one of those survive if an entire massive shopping mall was built around it? I feel like it wouldn’t get the natural lighting, water, and nutrients it would need to survive for long. And the thing is, the tree in question absolutely did not need to be in a shopping mall: while the tree itself is crucial to the plot, its placement in the mall really isn’t, and it could have easily been placed somewhere else. Putting your film’s important tree in a shopping mall is just a very weird choice.
Now, while these gripes are nitpicks, there is one place where Part 2 really struggles, and that’s its characterization. The movie delves into a lot of familiar horror tropes, but doesn’t do anything new or interesting with them: you’ve got the stoners, the horny couple(s), the clique of girls who are mean to the protagonist, the boring-yet-nice boyfriend, the comic relief, the cryptic adult who has seen too much, camp counselors who are terrible at their jobs; all character types with which you should be pretty familiar by now. And Part 2 really doesn’t do anything original with them: the kids who have premarital sex and smoke pot are all punished by the killer, the comic relief characters eventually outlive their usefulness, the camp counselors leave children unattended to go do naughty things. Like, these tropes are almost fifty years old, and we’ve definitely seen this movie before. I was really hoping Part 2 would include some clever twists or subversions or something, but these character archetypes are all played really straight, and without much depth behind them. Whatever characterization we do get tends to be delivered via monologue, which isn’t my preferred method of learning about a film character. At least there isn’t an uncomfortable representation of non-binary folks in Part 2, so that’s good.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 ends on a cliffhanger, and the teased finale honestly looks cool and ambitious, and gives me hope that my gripes and critiques could be addressed and fixed. Again, Part 2 does its job: it makes me curious to see the next installment, and if you’re new to horror and unfamiliar with the tropes, then you may be more receptive to them than slasher veterans. It also stays consistent in quality to Part 1, in that it’s an entertaining popcorn thriller aimed at teens. With Part 3 on the horizon, I can say with certainty that I’m looking forward to seeing how this anthology concludes: the final chapter is a series’ chance to either shine brightly, or utterly crash and burn, and I have confidence that Fear Street can stick the landing. Or maybe it will do what horror franchises do and spawn infinite sequels until the end of time. We’ll see.
WATCH FEAR STREET PART 2: 1978:
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