REVIEW: Fear Street Part 2 – 1978 (2021)

dir. Leigh Janiak.

It’s the summer of ’78 and Camp Nightwing is in full swing, teens from the rival towns of Sunnyvale and Shadyside ramping up for their annual Color War games, whilst counsellors have sex and smoke pot. But the legend of Sarah Fier still haunts the edges of their collective consciousness, with dark prophetic warnings indicating that the witch may be about to strike again.

Following the cliff-hanger ending of Part 1 this second instalment of Janiak’s Netflix trilogy – loosely inspired by R. L. Stine’s YA series – turns the clock back from the 90s (aka Scream-era) to ’78 (the actual year when John Carpenter’s Halloween was released, a film that effectively fired the starting pistol on the 80s slasher boom). However although the context has changed, the beat remains the same: where Part 1 traded in pop-culture fizz and loving homages to Craven-esque cool, here the tone continues to be very meta: Nightwing is an archetypal location, a clear riff on Friday the 13th’s Camp Crystal Lake (and its imitators, from The Burning through to Sleepaway Camp). The needle-drops too – as in Part 1 – are constant and heavy-handed, including Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, a song which originally appeared in Halloween before being covered in Scream. Whether this all sounds like loving nostalgia or an exhausting post-modern melange will probably be a good barometer as to how much you enjoy what follows, though for many horror-hounds it will be a warm and welcoming hug.

The upshot of this is that it’s not particularly original. As with the first film it becomes clear that the spirit of Sarah Fier – a centuries-old witch killed by local townsfolk in 1666 (watch out for Part 3) – is possessing Shadysiders, turning them into maniacal serial killers. This time round the key threat takes the form of a hulking, axe-wielding muscle-man who – at one point – takes to wearing a sack on his head. It’s iconography lifted straight from Friday the 13th: Part 2 – and already seen in the preceding film – that again, though perhaps fun, indicates that the series is pretty thin on originality.

One exception to this – though not in a welcome way – is an recurrent seam of nastiness. Clearly slasher films are predicated on the premise of the kills: but where Jason, Michael and Freddy by and large executed some kind of parabolic, conservative morality on the sins of wayward teens, here the killer merrily strikes down young children, innocent of any misdeed (other than imputed crime of coming from the wrong town). There might be some who thrill to such a transgressive take, but when so much else is frothy it creates an unpleasant tonal dissonance that sours the comfort food even as one takes a bite.

So too some of the violence against women feels misjudged. Again this might be brushed off as a common trapping of the sub-genre – or mitigated by Janiak’s own gender – but one protracted and lingering murder in the finale feels tasteless, again suffering from a disconnect between the tone being reached for and the implicit misogyny in seeing a man kill a woman slowly (something already done, with similar problems, in the previous film’s now infamous “bread-slicer” kill).

Despite all this there is fun to be had. It may not be subtle – not even close: the dual monikers of “Sunnyvale” vs “Shadyside”, and the characters of Fier vs Goode, being as blunt as they come – but those looking for a remix of slasher classics will still find much to enjoy, albeit in the most unchallenging of ways.

⭐⭐⭐

Tim Coleman

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