[This review contains spoilers for Fear Street Part 1: 1994]
The Fear Street Netflix trilogy continues with its middle entry, 1978. While this one is obviously a sequel to the first installment, most of it is a prequel following the character of Christine “Ziggy” Berman (Sadie Sink for the majority, Gillian Jacobs in the 1994 bits) at a summer camp in 1978 and her encounter with the witch’s haunting of the town when a Shadyside camper becomes possessed. We begin with Deena and Josh tracking down Berman with a now possessed Sam in tow. Once they find Berman, she tells them how she survived her own encounter with the witch. While I expected the film to bounce back and forth between the two points in the town’s history, it’s only bookended by where the story left off in 1994 and the rest takes place in the past. While this approach allows director Leigh Janiak to pay tribute to a different era of the slasher genre, the results aren’t always successful individually or beneficial to the larger story.
I mentioned in my previous review how I found the conflict between Shadyside and Sunnyvale an interesting point of worldbuilding, and this film does double down on that. From the get go, students in different colored shirts are preparing for a “Color War” that sees campers from the two towns going head to head. The history of the curse also hangs over this point in time, as the camp nurse is the mother of one of the previous Shadyside killers. Much of it feels like a true tribute to summer slashers, with the occult flavor of the witch thrown in for good measure. You’ve got all the classic character archetypes: virgin final girl and a skeevy couple dedicated to sex, drugs and obnoxious needle drops. I’ll give this part credit for one thing: it’s not holding back like the first film was. It doesn’t take long for weapons to come out and bodies to start dropping. Though the kill count isn’t very high, most of them are decent hits. A lot of the runtime is spent with the characters, as with the first film. This one keeps a healthy balance between protagonists we’re meant to care for and annoying side characters we can’t wait to see bite it, as any good slasher should have. Cutting the cast down to one killer with a face and a name also makes this one much more formidable, as the emotionless ferocity of the performance carries a weight that even three killers in part one couldn’t.
The film has a big problem with exposition. As our possessed victim is terrorizing the camp, we also have other characters doing some digging into the presence of the witch in the camp. As it turns out, the camp is right on top of where Sarah Fier was killed. Ziggy, her sister and a few of their friends are out to put an end to the witch’s curse… if they can survive the night. The only problem is, most of the exposition is spent introducing us to younger versions of characters from part one, and very little attention is given to a sudden development in the curse that comes hard out of left field. Maybe we’ll get an explanation for why a certain thing happens in part three, but who knows? It also commits a cardinal prequel sin of telling us what’s going to happen to one character, only for that thing to take the whole movie to happen.
I feel disappointed in this follow up to an already uneven movie, because I felt attached to the characters from the first movie that get altogether ignored in this one! It’s quite the conundrum, because in theory I like what the trilogy is going for in terms of a story that spans generations and even centuries of the town, but at the same time the characters that they sold the story on get left on the sidelines. I also don’t find either film so far a particularly clever pastiche. 90s slashers were meta and clever, 70s slashers were sleazy and dumb, and neither of these films really lean in to what made either era of the genre special apart from aesthetics. At least the first film had characters that the audience could latch onto, but the only character work here is a retread of stuff we already saw in part one. Like I said, maybe the final chapter will make it all come together, but this one loses the plot in trying to be a continuation separate from the main plot and not its own story like you would get from just picking up a different Fear Street book after finishing the last one. The idea that these films could flow like a miniseries only really manifests in the Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter style recap of the first chapter. The big problem is, you could have explained Ziggy Berman’s backstory without a feature length film… I should know, since they explain her backstory in the first movie. Going all the way back to 1666 for the conclusion is a promising idea, so tune in again next week, I suppose.