DIRECTED BY: Leigh Janiak / CAST: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins

If there’s one thing a lot of ‘80s horror fails to execute well it’s the presentation of a story’s lore along with its action. This is why many sequels, which rely and build upon the lore established in the first film— relieved of that onus themselves— fare much better at freely telling their stories (if the right directors are involved) since they no longer have to find ways to dole out exposition and backstory. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is a perfect example of this benefit, which happens to be shared by several of the best installments of the most famous horror franchises ever.

The story of 17th century witch, Sarah Fier, and how she continues to haunt the town of Shadyside was explained in thorough detail in Part One: 1994, often at the expense of that movie’s momentum. But the sequel mostly uses the details of this backstory as context rather than relying on it as a tool for revelation.

The film opens up still in 1994, with Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) visiting Christine Berman (Gillian Jacobs), a survivor of the 1978 massacre at Camp Nightwing where a man with a machete hacked up several counselors and campers.

Deena and Josh bring a possessed Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) to Christine’s house and tie her up as they listen to the woman’s story from 16 years prior. In an ongoing flashback, we see her and her sister during their days at Camp Nightwing. Director and co-writer Leigh Janiak makes sure not to tell us which of the two girls is Christine until the very end.

Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink) is a hipster camper tormented by bullies who claim that she’s a witch, while her goody-two-shoes counselor sister, Cindy (Emily Rudd), tries to reel in everyone around her, including Ziggy, who nearly gets kicked out of camp. However, when the camp nurse goes crazy and hits Cindy’s boyfriend Tommy (McCabe Slye) on the head, he soon gets possessed by the spirit of Sarah Fier and starts murdering people at camp.

Neither Cindy nor Ziggy become empowered by their vices, but pitied because of them. Whereas our hero from the first film is made to be so unapologetic with her flaws that we find no need to sympathize with her.

Following the release of 1980’s iconic slasher Friday the 13th, the next few years were filled with its fair share of copycats. However, rarely did we see the kind of campwide panic that we experience in Fear Street Part Two—and that includes Friday the 13th itself (1983’s Sleepaway Camp comes to mind as one that successfully brings the chaos to a widespread level).

But here, the focus is less on the episodic kills than it is on uniting that panic and lore simultaneously, which it does very well. Taking more style notes from Wet Hot American Summer than Friday the 13th, Janiak makes sure to focus on this summer camp atmosphere, especially early on when we actually step foot in the mess hall and learn about the camp dynamic.

With no time to relax, Janiak, who directs all three Fear Street installments, is actually forced to blend her drama much better with her terror this time around, rather than simply alternating between the two. Characters still have plenty of time to chitchat, but not usually at implausible moments. Both of the emotionally troubled protagonists in this sequel are much more likable than the ones in Part One. Neither Cindy nor Ziggy become empowered by their vices, but pitied because of them. Whereas our hero from the first film is made to be so unapologetic with her flaws that we find no need to sympathize with her.

Sink and Rudd find the pocket for their dual final girl roles, despite their discordant characters never getting fleshed out any further than predictable archetypes. Yet, unlike 1994, these are still personalities unpinned to modern sociabilities and casual flippancy. Everyone in 1978 is very obviously going through something traumatizing, with the proper emotional responses that follow— nothing like the lightheartedness during the denouement of 1994 when our protagonists find time to crack jokes after witnessing the absolute slaughtering of their friends. Onlookers may note that Part Two rarely adds to the

story of Sarah Fier. However, it simply serves to expand the world of Shadyside and offers a fun story within that world that’s totally adjacent from that of the first. Taking place years before the events of Part One, featuring basically none of the characters, the sequel keeps itself relatively detached from its predecessor. However, there is one character in both films (along with the third) that ends up getting more nuance added to his story.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 doesn’t have the same gruesome detail as Part One, but is a much better movie thanks to likable characters and a smoother narrative. Not quite separating itself from the films that inspired it, this summer camp slasher carries the torch well enough that it increases even more our expectations for Part Three.

About the Author: Ethan Brehm

Ethan Brehm

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