Fear Street Part Two: 1978 review – There’s not enough camp in this camp!

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 review – There’s not enough camp in this camp!

As an expansion of the mythology put forth in the first entry, Fear Street: 1978 does a great job keeping things interesting. As a summer camp slasher throwback, it leaves a fair amount to be desired. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t feature some super grisly pleasures, as well as a mean streak often absent from teen horror, but the trailer tacked onto the end of the first film promised a lot more (and even showed some footage that appears to have been cut).

The film opens right where the previous entry left off. Our oddly violent (and violently entitled) heroine Deena and her ageless brother Josh have located the one person (Gillian Jacobs) who has fallen victim to the curse of the Fier Witch and survived. This is our wraparound story for the meat of the film: a trip down memory lane to 1978, as told by our mysterious survivor. I won’t say which character in this feature length flashback is supposed to represent our narrator as a youth, because the writers are clearly trying to have a little fun by keeping it vague, but I can say that she’s one of two sisters (Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd) spending their summer at Camp Nightwing. The campers are, for some fucking reason, divided into two factions: those from Sunnyvale and those from Shadyside. As indicated by the first film, the former are the privileged kids, and the latter are of the latch-key variety. It’s across these lines that the yearly color war is fought as well. And the war is about to begin.

Once again there are no adults anywhere.

It’s the perfect set up for a Jason Voorhees-esque killer to pop out of the lake and start chopping up teenagers, and that’s essentially what happens here, only instead of an axe-wielding, undead maniac, we have an axe-wielding, witch-possessed teenager. I won’t get into the full details of the Fier Witch mythology (they are needlessly complex), but the basic gist is that way back in 1666, the witch was hanged from a tree that is now situated at the center of Camp Nightwing, and as such, her curse dictates much of what happens on the land, including, presumably, potato sack races, food fights, and talent shows.

While the convoluted mythology is remarkably inventive, it also takes up nearly the entire first half of the film. It’s not until almost 45 minutes into things that anyone meets the wrong end of an sharp weapon. This would be much more forgivable in a film with compelling characters. One of the reasons why Friday the 13th flicks can get away with having thin, tropey characters is that the carnage starts immediately. The players aren’t around long enough to even warrant caring about, so why write them any deeper than jock, slut, nerd, and virgin? Fear Street admirably attempts to give us deeper characterizations than is expected of a slasher, with the inclination to make the inevitable death sequences hurt that much more. But in delaying the violence until much, much later in the film, the first act feels like a lot of perfunctory box-ticking. If the teens of the first film can be criticized for being too colorful (seriously, Deena is UNHINGED), those of the second film are bland by comparison. A wealth of the runtime is spent giving them backstories, but all are half-baked. Add to that the fact that the nature of an anthology such as this one means that most of these characters are disposable, it’s time not very well spent. And some of it is spent in a cave. A very dark, poorly lit cave. Blech.

Once the film gets past its considerable stumble-start it turns into a pretty solid slasher. A handful of shocking kills as well as a few cleverly designed set-pieces are exactly the type of thing horrorhounds will go apeshit for. And the film ain’t precious about who it kills off either. A handful of adolescents die, and violently so. You love to see it (even though we don’t literally see it). The kills we do see are pretty hardcore, and always quite shocking. One moment of visceral sound design really made me squirm — always a good thing.

While it’s a pale imitation of the summer camp slashers it apes, Fear Street: 1978 is a pretty sturdy piece of horror fun once it hits the home stretch, standard middle-chapter-in-a-planned-trilogy blues be damned. The expansion of the mythology, however, is much more compelling than any of its splattery aspirations, which has me very excited to see how it all comes together in part three.

Directed by Leigh Janiak

Written by Zak Olkewicz, Leigh Janiak, Phil Graziadei, R.L. Stine

Starring Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, McCabe Slye

Rated R, 109 minutes

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