A Bloody Good Camping Trip

Fear Street, Part 2: 1978

It's been a week and here we are with the second film in the Fear Street trilogy, Part 2: 1978. Of course, thinking of these movies are, well, movies honestly belays the setup. It's probably better to think of these as a mini-series event, a set of three long episodes that tell a larger arc for the story. That's especially true as we branch out past the first movie with this "sequel" as this movie, despite it's new set of characters (to be killed) and different time period, is very focused on fleshing out the story of the trilogy's villain and setting up the end game for the final film of the set.

It's honestly an interesting experiment for NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it).; each film does feature a largely different cast of characters meaning they can feel like independent films (to an extent). Had they been released one years at a time, instead of week to week, they'd feel like a long, slow progression of a story related over years. Instead, the quick succession of "episodes" keeps viewers engaged week to week, but it does also mean that flaws in the setup of one film are going to continue on to the next and the next as all three "movies" were basically filmed at the same time. It'll be interesting to see where Netflix goes with this concept movie forward as, despite the flaws inherent in each film, there's some merit in the way Netflix has produced this trilogy.

Part 2: 1978 picks up more or less right where the first film, Fear Street, Part 1: 1994, left off: with heroes Deena and Josh rushing Sam to the house of C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs) to find out how she survived her own brush with the Witch's slayers back in 1978. This leads to C telling the story of her time at Camp Nightwing when she and her sister -- Cindy (Emily Rudd) and Ziggy (Sadie Sink) -- dealt with a killer, Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye) who fell under the curse of the Witch and started killing campers.

But it's more than just surviving, of course. As with the kids in 1994, the campers -- Ziggy, Cindy, sort-of-friend Alice (Ryan Simpkins), friendly camp counselor Nick (Ted Sutherland) -- stumble into the burying place of part of the Witch. They find her old den, find her sliced-of (and now mummified) hand, and realize that the only way to stop the Witch is to somehow break her curse. It's that or everyone they know will die at the hands of Tommy Slater while the Witch's curse lives on. How they try to stop the curse, and what prevents their success, is the real story of this camp carnage adventure.

In 1994 was set up as a kind of Scream riff, 1978 is certainly designed, at first blush, to play on the Camp Slasher sub-genre that was popular in the 1980s, such as Friday the 13thOne of the most famous Slasher film franchises, the Friday the 13th series saw multiple twists and turn before finally settling on the formula everyone knows and loves: Jason Voorhees killing campers 'round Camp Crystal Lake. and (ugh) Sleepaway Camp. The slasher killer, the "ragman" with the bag over his head as he charges around the camp with an axe, certainly feels like its a riff on Friday the 13th, and it makes you expect that the film will be gently parodying that film series. That's not really the case, though.

Part of that is, of course, because the motivations of the killers are different. Jason liked to kill teens who did drugs and screwed around, but he was mostly focused (especially in the early movies) on taking out Camp Counselors. Our ragman, though, will kill anyone and everyone he encounters. He's powered by the Witch, ruled by her mind and forced to kill simply because (so far as we know) she just wants everyone in Shadyside to suffer. This leads to a different dynamic in the cat-and-mouse game and while it does put everyone at camp on the table, it also means that the revenge scenario feels less personal, less focused on the killer. He's not killing because he needs to but simply because he's forced to.

The film is really a setup to the story about the Witch, and in that regard it does work; we get more detail about stopping her, about what how her powers work, why Shadyside is where these kinds of killings keep happening (at least, when it comes to function). What's missing, though, is making the Witch into an actual character. I know, that's reserved for next week, Part 3: 1666, but the fact is that this film uses the Witch as the villain, even if she doesn't actually show up in this film, and she still feels like a shadow, something we're supposed to fear without actually understanding her. There's a bit of a void at the center of the film that 1978 doesn't quite fill otherwise.

There is a lot that the film does get right. The 1978 period feels pretty solid, with good costuming alongside decent soundtrack choices. As with 1994 some of the music cues are too "on the nose" (the opening of the film set in 1994 caused me to cringe when "The Man Who Sold the World" from Nirvana came on as it plays without reason, it seems, for the scene) but there are some cues that work much better (a repeated riff on "Carry On My Wayward Son" from Kansas, for instance, or a reprise of "The Man Who Sold the World", this time the David Bowie version). The film probably could have done more with the setting -- the characters don't really use the slang of the era, and some of this 1970s motif feels more like set dressing than a real place -- but its decent for what the film wants to do.

Better still are the characters as this second film does get you to bond with motley assortment we're given at Camp Nightwing. It's an interesting feat the film pulls off as we should know that everyone here is going to die, save one person. Thing is, we don't know who that person is as there's no obvious stand-in for "C. Berman". Cindy is a likely choice, but the film also tells us, "one week later my sister was dead", so it's just as likely that Ziggy is our "C" character (since Ziggy is an obvious reference to "Ziggy Stardust" and likely not her real name). You end up caring about all the characters because you aren't really certain who will be the "Final Girl", and thus you do get into the film.

The young cast does really well with their roles. About the only actor I really recognized was Sadie Sink as she appeared in another Netflix work, Stranger Things, but the whole cast is overwhelmingly great. This is one thing these films have improved upon over their Slasher predecessors: good actors working hard to sell the story of the film. Not enough can be said about how much good acting improves a Slasher flick, but this film once again illustrates it as a necessity.

About the only other flaw of this film is that, like with 1994, the film feels like it's holding back just a little from its R rating. It has plenty of blood, and a fair bit of nudity (mostly dude butts, but nudity is nudity when it comes to an R rating), but so often the film feels like it's trying to hide, to play down its "adult" bits so it can duck into a PG-13 rating if need be. Kills very often happen off screen, and even the ones that are shown don't really "show" the carnage, using cut-aways to downplay. The climax belies this, and its great, but I could have done with more gore and better kills to really make this Slasher sing.

Of course, the flaws of this film are consistent with the previous movie in the trilogy, and what works here worked in the previous film. They very much are "of-a-piece", which is to be expected considering they were all made together. It does indicate to me that the final part of this series, 1666, will likely feature the same quality (and the same flaws). I liked these films for what they were and I am looking forward to the next, and final, entry in the Fear Street trilogy. That said, if last week didn't thrill you then you're not going to find anything to like here in Fear Street, Part 2: 1978; the two films are two-of-a-kind.