Well, I was not…entirely wrong.
In my review for the first part of the Fear Street trilogy, I said that I thought that the series would improve as we got a little further back in the timeline; less reliance on the overdone eighties/nineties trends in the genre, more space to build a bigger world with a more expansive backstory.
First things first, I do actually think that this is a better movie that 1994. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 just has a bit more of that sparkle and snap that I was missing the first part of this story; it’s more inventive with its lore, funnier with its dialogue, broader with its cast, all that good stuff. Well, when it gets going, at least.
I am a huge apologist for the summer-camp-slasher-movie; Friday the 13th was the first of the great classic slashers that I ever saw, and I guess it just ki-ki-kimprinted on me from there. But let’s be honest: this kind of film has been done to absolute death, and the only way to make a new version of it that isn’t painfully boring is to add a hefty old twist to spice things up (The Final Girls is a great example of this, for my money). For the first half-hour or so, 1978 just spends time trudging between tropes, slotting characters into their appropriate archetypes, and relying on the relative charm of its cast (including Stranger Thingses Sadie Sink, because of course, and Gillian Jacobs doing her best paranoid curtain-twitcher) to get us over the hump and into the good stuff. I was hoping to see less of a reliance on obvious horror tropes this time around, more of a subversion to keep it fresh. There’s a throwback and there’s a throwback, and the first act here is just too much of a retread to make it interesting.
There are passing references to other serial killings that have happened over the course of this legend’s existence, and honestly, every one that’s come up so far seems more interesting and less tropey than the ones we’ve had, which is something of a let-down.
But, to be fair, when it actually starts moving into the real plot, the one that ties back to the first part and into the third, it’s pretty damn solid. I’m a huge fan of horror movies with needlessly deep lore (see also: the Saw franchise), and I love the set-up that Leigh Janiak has given us for this town as a whole. The thought of a poisoned Earth literally infecting the people unlucky enough to be born there isn’t a new one, but it’s still pretty cool. The mystery elements of 1978, much like 1994, help keeps things moving in the second and third act, with real Scooby-Doo energy (and I mean that only as a compliment) as the plucky kids head out into the woods to try and make things right, and the flashback structure built around the protagonists from 1994 trying to save their possessed best gal puts an appropriately urgent new layer on proceedings.
So, yeah, I was right, ish. I think that Fear Street benefits from growing its lore, but I would also love to see it push out of the regular horror tropes it’s been relying on so far and into something that feels at least a little more fresh. Is 1666 going to be a high note or a bum one to go out on? Come back this time next week and ask me again.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Variety)