Fear Street: 1978, the second in a trilogy of horror pastiches for Netflix, is a Friday the 13th riff. Following the events of the first film in 1994, the survivors seek the aid of the survivor of a similar incident, C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs). The connective tissue between 1978 and 1994: the legacy of an accused witch by the name of Sarah Fier.
Flashback to a late-’70s summer camp, where Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink) is being pursued through the woods. She is caught and strung up by her pursuers, bullies who accuse her of embodying the spirit of Fier and causing havoc in the camp. In truth, someone else at the camp is interested in the history of the alleged witch, someone who believes Fier will bring death to the campers that very night.
Leigh Janiak directs the Fear Street trilogy, and she does a good job replicating the wooded 1970s aesthetic. Hazy sunlight peeks through windows in the height of the afternoon. Later, moonlight paints the trees a suffocating blue. Action jumps from cabin to cabin, and with it Janiak accomplishes the difficult task of horror in this milieu: making the open space of a campground feel inescapable.
Unlike Fear Street: 1994, this second film suffers from the absence of the first’s ensemble. Perhaps if 1994 didn’t have a cast of characters with engaging relationship dynamics, accompanied by strong performances across the board, then 1978 would look less lacking in comparison. The characters here are flatter, their relationships less fleshed out.
The film’s central pairings don’t progress toward the meaningful climactic moments that the script anticipates. The emergence of the killer should impact Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd) and her beau Tommy (McCabe Slye) (named after Tommy Jarvis of the Friday the 13th franchise, one would suspect) in some regard, but it doesn’t seem to. Cindy and her sister Ziggy, meanwhile, are framed in the film’s prologue as the driving coupling of the narrative, but the two characters spend most of the film apart. Aside from an early scene which introduces conflict between the two, the script doesn’t develop the meaningful bond necessary for the climax of the film to work effectively.
At the same time, the violent horror set pieces are not as well-crafted as the first film. They read boilerplate 1980s slasher, but they even lack the inventiveness of the franchise they are emulating. The Friday series is, on the whole, pretty schlocky horror. But most of the films devise at least one clever way to spin the usual hack-and-slash set piece. In most instances, Fear Street: 1978 comes off as a hollow interpretation of the idea of a Friday kill—bludgeon, splatter, repeat.
As a piece in an over-arching narrative, this second installment is mildly intriguing as a mythology-enhancer. The film expands on the general ideas planted in the first film regarding the central witchcraft that gives the trilogy its villains.
Even so, the additional exposition here doesn’t appear to warrant the nearly two-hour runtime. Just as in the first film, the second act feels bogged down by the slow establishment of character dynamics and plot-driving mechanisms. Given that these character relationships do not germinate as confidently and substantially in this second film, the whole thing drags all the more as a result. And the 1978 segment of the story ends in a twist that feels generally unimportant, a plot beat to surprise toward no real end.
Fear Street: 1978 still takes a vaguely interesting approach to the overdone concept of the genre pastiche. The attempt at an over-arching narrative that spans hundreds of years is, on its face, ambitious. But this second installment shows the pitfalls of the trilogy’s story structure. The feature-length diversion into the past reads as an extended tangent, far too long to be a compelling addition to the larger story.
(Also—and I complain about this far too often so I’ll keep it to a brief final word—the period needle drops littered throughout this are too obvious and on the nose to do a proper job of establishing the mood of the ’70s).
Fear Street Part Two: 1978: C+
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)