Only a week after Fear Street Part 1: 1994 capitalizes on pre-aughts horror nostalgia with a vengeance, Fear Street Part 2: 1978 brushes away modern trends for a sleepaway slasher reclamation of the unluckiest day variety. You can’t accuse Leigh Janiak’s Netflix trilogy (thus far) of not wearing its influences like badges of honor, right down to Harry Manfredini’s infamous Friday the 13th string squeals. Bed rockin’ moans, narcotics, and decapitations represent this ode to Jason Voorhees’s passion for campground executions as the curse of Sarah Fier boogies back a few decades yet still finds continuity reasons—some explored, others a bit lost in the woods. It’s more an excuse to please ’80s obsessors with older generational allegiances, but noticeably less adept than 1994. Not enough to ruin Janiak’s second successful R.L. Stine adaptation, just a step backward in terms of honoring horror’s classic iconography as an advantage, not a crutch.
At the end of last week’s chapter, Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) confront Camp Nightwing survivor C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs) in hopes of revealing a key to outlasting Sarah Fier’s malevolence. Thus begins a flashback to the ’70s Camp Nightwing massacre, where Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye) took an axe to innocent campers and staff. It’s the night “Ziggy” Berman (Sadie Sink) lost her sister Cindy (Emily Rudd), and officer Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland) got a taste for saving lives. We relive the merciless spree as Deena would hear each gory detail about dismembered victims, praying there could be information that protects the now-possessed Sam (Olivia Scott Welch)—not just death and more Shadyside hopelessness.
In continuing 1994’s division between Sunnyvale superiority and Shadyside imprisonment, 1978 stays heartfelt about its “lost youth” subplot. It’s the ultimate fascination of these Fear Street movies thus far. Where Simon (Fred Hechinger) and Kate (Julia Rehwald) died not as heroic supernatural fighters but deviant Shadyside scapegoats, Camp Nightwing emphasizes the playground cruelness of Shadysiders bullied by elitist Sunnyvale snobs. Once again, Janiak (plus co-storytellers Phil Graziadei and Zak Olkewicz) sustains adolescent trauma as sisters battle a paranormal overlord that milks terror from an inescapable hometown—common anxieties amongst unmatured dreamers. Again, there are slashings and crazed pursuers and Stephen King worship, but horror remains driven by forgotten children fighting this stranglehold fate unfairly marked by birth.
Fear Street is an open book regarding cinematic influences, and Janiak’s all about constructing her own Camp Crystal Lake for 1978. Even further, when you consider direct correlations to Carrie or other influential lakeside serial killers, as in Sleepaway Camp or The Burning, it’s all relative. Nightwing campers are gearing up for war—a “Color War” competition between Sunnyvale and Shadyside—which scatters flag capturers and hiders from seekers around Camp Nightwing’s wooded property with maximum distances. Enter the virgin McCabe Slye as Tommy Slater (Tommy Jarvis is a good guy against Jason, lol), who exudes a mix between Billy from Scream and baghead Jason Voorhees. He’s a menace with an axe who briskly speedwalks towards cowering targets and swings his steel weapon with mighty blows—but the experience never feels as revelrous as 1994.
Blissfully brutal? Not on 1994’s bread slicer level, but blood spews despite the hard-R slaughterhouse flick pulling camera focus away when underage kiddos are chopped to bits (marketable limitations). Gratuitous? Never really, pointing back to the natural coming-of-age flourishes whether that’s the Joan Jett-y Alice (Ryan Simpkins) choosing punk-rock sin or pipsqueak Ziggy’s pranks whether that’s suffered or inflicted (improvising with no pig’s blood). Janiak generates tons of Friday the 13th callbacks, whether that’s the aforementioned recreation of Jason’s distinct soundtrack accompaniment, physical similarities, or something as small as his brute distaste for wooden doors. It’s all applicably familiar and not without highlights—Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd shoot for their own “Bette Davis Eyes” heartbreaker moment à la The Final Girls—but the running time elongates a less organic reenactment that suffers from its stretched Netflix duration.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 fails to blend its Friday the 13th love into an original adaptation with the same balance or invigoration as 1994’s embracing of Scream, but I’m still invested in the Shadyside universe. Its puritanical past, its crimson fungus growing under outhouse caverns created by a witch, every last drop of deviousness. That counts for something—a suitable, if not splattery step-back continuation. Leigh Janiak’s crash course in horror replication is so far a winning endeavor, with this rather rudimentary campground stalker that exceeds its formulaic frenzy by strengthening Sarah Fier’s narrative clutches. We’re here for Fear Street, and that core recognition is still a draw—hopefully, that remains true after Fear Street Part 3: 1666 drops next week.