Review: ‘Fear Street Part 2: 1978’ slashes more deeply than the first cut

Two scared kids sit on the floor in a scene from "Fear Street Part 2: 1978"
Kids at a ’70s summer camp built where a witch was hanged? What could go wrong? Ted Sutherland as Nick and Sadie Sink as Ziggy in the movie “Fear Street Part 2: 1978.”

That’s more like it.

With its second installment, “Fear Street Part 2: 1978,” Netflix’s R.L. Stine movie trilogy finds its cinematic footing. Though it still relies too much on jump scares and clunky dialogue, “1978” feels more assured, looser than the first installment, “Fear Street Part 1: 1994.” Where “1994” hearkened a bit to the meta horror of its story’s time (think “Scream”), “1978” feels right at home in the “Friday the 13th” universe, but with better production values and as part of a larger, more interesting story than a simple slasher flick.

“1978” picks up immediately after “1994,” with the first film’s survivors pressing reclusive C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs) for the lowdown on her teen encounter 16 years earlier with Sarah Fier, the Shadyside Witch of local legend who was hanged in the 1600s. The summer camp Berman and her sister attended in the 1970s was built over the settlement where Fier lived and was executed. Oh, and there’s a long history of mass murders in Shadyside. What could possibly go wrong?

C.’s tale made headlines in its day, spun as “just another Shadysider going crazy and killing people.” Amid the teen dramas of summer camp, she and her sister witnessed the horrific massacre up close. It’s no spoiler to say the inside details C. provides link those 1978 murders to the “1994” teens’ current witchy predicament.

Apart from the fun of seeing younger versions of some characters from the first film, “1978” simply seems to be enjoying itself more than “1994” did. For horror fans, the killings are more frequent and “Whoa”-inducing. The filmmakers, led by trilogy director and co-writer Leigh Janiak, cinematographer Caleb Heymann and Scott Kuzio‘s production design team, capture the late-’70s summer haze of the films to which they’re paying tribute, aided by music supervision that gleefully sinks its teeth into the era. Co-lead Sadie Sink notably crafts a rebellious girl with believable emotions, attractions and loyalties as one of the teen Berman sisters.


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More importantly, in this second film, the series’ themes are coming into focus. The Shadyside/Sunnyvale class divide introduced in the first installment takes on clearer contours, which will pay off in the third movie. The persistence of strong female leads and bonds of sisterhood (here, literally) also delineate the gendered commentary of the trilogy — something that will also be elevated in the final episode.

“Fear Street Part 2: 1978” is no classic, but it’s a clear improvement on “1994,” with more tension and excitement (and generous gore). Its thematic concerns and adding of dimension to the trilogy’s story lift it above average genre fare. In this case, the first cut was definitely not the deepest.

'Fear Street Part 2: 1978'

Rated: R for bloody horror violence, sexual content, nudity, drug use and language throughout

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Playing: Available July 9 on Netflix