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Non-Review Review: Fear Street Part Two – 1978

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 sets itself a more modest goal than Fear Street Part One: 1994.

Part of that is simply the luxury of being the second part of a larger series. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 has appreciably less table-setting to do than Fear Street Part One: 1994, as the earlier film did a lot of the hard work in terms of establishing rules and building a framework for the trilogy’s internal mythology. While Fear Street Part Two: 1978 obviously builds on the foundations established by Fear Street Part One: 1994, it also has the luxury of working within an established template that saves it the bother of having to unload a lot of exposition very quickly while also serving as a self-contained slasher tribute.

Camp Fear.

Part of it is also because Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is referencing a much less ambitious and self-aware set of movies. Fear Street Part One: 1994 was drawing from a pool of self-aware nineties horror movies like Scream, Urban Legends and I Know What You Did Last Summer, movies made by filmmakers who had grown up watching classic slasher movies on video cassettes and wanted to put their own self-aware spin on the genre and its conventions. So Fear Street Part One: 1994 was a self-aware riff on self-aware riffs on the genre. In contrast, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 draws from a purer sort of slasher movie.

These two factors mean that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 feels a lot less busy and cluttered than Fear Street Part One: 1994, if appreciably less ambitious. More than that, with a lot of the mythology building out of the way, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is able to use its own narrative real estate to deepen and develop the core themes of the trilogy, foregrounding its big ideas with a little more finesse than the previous entry. The result is a movie that is perhaps less energised and less dynamic than its predecessor, but also a lot more comfortable and assured in what it is doing.

Sister, sister.

It is immediately clear that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is driven by a different sort of nostalgia than Fear Street Part One: 1994. To be fair, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 employs a lot of the same tricks as Fear Street Part One: 1994 in attempting to establish a sense of time and place. The soundtrack features an impressive array of needle-drops from a wide range of artists that seek to evoke something of the popular memory the late seventies: Don’t Fear the Reaper, Moonage Daydream, Carry On My Wayward Son, Don’t Leave Me This Way, even The Man Who Sold the World.

Characters bond over their shared affection for the emerging American writer Stephen King and casually throw around words like “shagadelic.” The decision to set the film in a remote summer camp is not only an obvious nostalgic homage to the first two Friday the 13th movies, it is also a very smart way to do period filmmaking on a reasonable budget. Production designer Scott Kuzio and costume designer Amanda Ford, along with Ellen Arden’s makeup department and John Tarro’s hair department, deserve a considerable praise for so effectively invoking the popular memory of the era.

Crouch time.

However, the period nostalgia isn’t quite as oppressive and heavy in Fear Street Part Two: 1978 as it was Fear Street Part One: 1994. There’s nothing in the film quite as evocative as arguments over the price of AOL or a murder in a video store. This is mostly likely because the actual lived memory of the late seventies is much further removed than that of the mid-nineties, and so the period setting feels more abstract and less tangible. While Fear Street Part One: 1994 is inseparable from its period setting, it feels like Fear Street Part Two: 1978 could easily be transposed to the sixties or eighties.

This lack of specificity isn’t a bad thing. One of the big issues with the nostalgia of Fear Street Part One: 1994 was that it was so intensely fixated on recreating the mood of these classic horrors, down to essentially restaging the opening sequence of Scream, that its failure to capture the particulars of the era in which it was set or the movies that it was emulating actually ending up undermining it slightly. Fear Street Part One: 1994 aimed higher and came up a little short. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 aims lower and lands something that feels like a slam dunk.

Can our heroes hack it?

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is very clearly channelling the original wave of slasher movies. The film’s choice of year feels very deliberate and pointed. While it’s possible to argue that the slasher movie can trace its roots back to the release of Psycho in 1960, most genre fans would place the emergence of the slasher as a mainstream subgenre later. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas was released in 1974. John Carpenter’s Halloween was released in October 1978. That seems to be the marker that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is using, positioning itself as a loving ode to those earlier slasher movies.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is drawing from that first wave of slasher movies, films like Halloween and Friday the 13th. The film is saturated with references and allusions to those earlier cinematic landmarks, with Fear Street Part One: 1994 already having revealed that the killer at one point wears a back over his head like Jason in Friday the 13th, Part II. However, this initial wave of slasher films was a lot less self-aware and reflexive than the one that would follow in the nineties.

When this is over, somebody is going to need some camp counseling.

This means that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 can be more simplistic in its homage. There are fewer layers of self-awareness punctuating this slasher movie tribute. As with a lot of Fear Street Part Two: 1978, this is something of a double-edged sword. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 never feels quite as playful as Fear Street Part One: 1994, but it also feels more assured and more confident in what it is doing. Ironically, by being less specific in its nostalgic invocation of the era in question, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 ultimately feels more faithful.

It helps that Fear Street Part One: 1994 already did a lot of the groundwork in laying out the internal mythology of these three films. This means that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 has the luxury of developing existing themes and context, rather than having to establish it wholesale. There is something to be said for developing this trilogy in this format. The three installments feel very much of a piece with one another, each echoing and mirroring the others in ways that feel surprisingly enriching.

Cabin in the Woods.

Once again, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 returns to the theme of separation between Sunnyvale and Shadyside, to two communities divided and at odds with one another. As with Fear Street Part One: 1994, the central plot motivator is a divided family unit. Fear Street Part One: 1994 was about the strained relationship between Deena and Sam, which cracked when Sam moved to Sunnyvale leaving Deena behind in Shadyside. In Fear Street Part Two: 1978, the central dynamic is between estranged sisters Cindy and Christine who are divided in a similar fashion.

Fear Street Part One: 1994 wasn’t subtle in its central metaphor, treating Shadyside as a rundown community exploited by its more privileged and powerful neighbours. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 builds on that, exploring the extent to which this dynamic has been codified through decades and generations. “Bad things always happen to Shadysiders,” Christine tells her sister. “Deep down, you feel it, don’t you? Shadeside, there’s something here. Something holding us down, cursing us.” Sunnyvale is an embodiment of the American Dream, but Shadyside is trapped in a waking nightmare.

Chris’ teen drama.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 deepens this metaphor by extending it beyond simple wealth and privilege. Fear Street Part One: 1994 presented Sunnyvale as a community that was simply richer, that had more amenities and more access, more money and more political power. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 extends this metaphor to one of culture and worldview. The central plot of Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is driven by a game of “capture the flag” between Sunnyvale and Shadyside teens, with future Sunnyside Sheriff Nick Goode serving as a senior camp counselor.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 literalises the subtext of Fear Street Part One: 1994 by suggesting that the real horror is a system that divides communities and groups into neat categories of “winners” and “losers”, where somebody’s prosperity must be built on another’s suffering. This is a common horror theme, dating back to The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas and beyond, but it has become increasingly prevalent in recent years in horrors like Us. As such, Fear Street Part Two: 1978 shrewdly reduces generations of violence and exploitation to a symbolic game of “capture the flag.”

A Sunnyvale Disposition.

It feels especially pointed that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 casts its rival teams in the colours blue and red. The vicious and hyper-competitive Sunnyvale kids dress in red. They talk about violence and domination, about annihilating and wiping out their opponents. In contrast, Shadyside offers a less competitive and more humanist appeal, “Even if we’re losers, we’re still winners in our hearts.” It’s a sweet sentiment, even if it perhaps demonstrates how Sunnyvale has been able to so thoroughly exploit its neighbour for centuries.

It is not an especially subtle metaphor for the current divides in contemporary American society, where one side of the political spectrum (dressed in red) reacts to political defeat by threatening to overthrow democratic norms while the other (dressed in blue) hand-wrings about the importance of “bipartisanship” with a rival that refuses to even acknowledge their legitimacy. It’s hardly the most subtle or nuanced piece of political commentary, but it’s telling that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 reduces this political strife to a bunch of horny stupid teenagers playing games that don’t matter as a very real danger lurks in the darkness.

A bloody mess.

At this point, it is a cliché to acknowledge that American society is highly polarised and divided – whether in terms of income equality or even just political belief. It’s interesting that a significant amount of modern pop culture, from Trolls World Tour to Wonder Woman 1984 to Raya and the Last Dragon is essentially an optimistic call for reconciliation and understanding in the middle of this divide. It’s refreshing to see Fear Street Part Two: 1978 cast this sort of heightened division as exactly what it is: a horror story.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 suggests that these horrors keep perpetuating themselves because of these divisions. It is revealed that Shadyside and Sunnyvale were once a single community known as “Union”, with the camp currently staging the “capture the flag” tournament “built in the same place as the settlement.” The body of the witch Sarah Fier is itself an expression of this theme, with her hand separated from her remains. The characters are warned that the only way to stop the violence is to bring these divided parts together, that “the curse will last until body and hand unite.”

Final girl?

It’s not subtle, but there’s a lot to be said for simplicity in terms of theme and storytelling. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is appreciably less ambitious and showy than Fear Street Part One: 1994, but also much clearer in its storytelling and its execution. It’s an interesting trade-off.

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