3.5 out of 5 stars

The second part of Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy, based on the R.L Stine books, is a more successful and entertaining instalment compared to Fear Street Part One: 1994 (2021). And that’s unusual for second parts of any trilogy, as they’re often more of a bridge between the story’s beginning and end—so can embody a screenplay’s ‘Act Two’ problem writ large.

It helps that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 (hereafter FS:78) is an altogether easier sell, as it’s effectively a retro summer camp slasher with the same supernatural overtones established in FS:94. That movie’s mid-’90s setting wasn’t as involving or atmospheric, as the truth is that decade wasn’t awash with slashers and only eventually started to explore a post-modern reaction to them after Scream (1996) became a big hit, whereas a film taking place in the late-1970s is on more fertile ground.

The opening scene picks up from FS:94‘s climax, with Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Josh (Benjamin Fores Jr.) heading to middle-aged Cindy Berman’s (Gillian Jacobs) house for help with Deena’s possessed girlfriend Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). Only it turns out Cindy’s already well aware of what’s going on, as she had her own dealings with the town’s infamous witch 16 years earlier, at Camp Nightwing…

The majority of FS:78 is essentially a prolonged flashback to Cindy’s teenage years, when she was known as—spoiler alert!?—Ziggy Berman (Sadie Sink) and endured a terrible summer camp experience with her older sister Cindy (Emily Rudd). Ziggy’s accused of stealing and bullied by some of the Sunnyvale campers, before she’s embroiled in an incident where Nurse Lane (Jordana Spiro) uncharacteristically attacks her sister’s boyfriend Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye). The camp’s kids blame it on the legendary witch Sarah Fier, whom its claimed possesses people in order to keep killing, and Ziggy teams up with her sister Cindy, counsellor Alice (Ryan Simpkins), and her boyfriend Arnie (Sam Brooks) to investigate what happened.

FS:78 can be enjoyed more as a straightforward slasher flick, riffing on the likes of Friday the 13th (1980) and all the other knock-offs. It’s nothing new to make a throwback period horror, but it helps ensure the story has a greater sense of identity and propulsion than its shakier predecessor. The only downside is that it takes a long time for the movie to settle into its groove, with a killer stalking the camp grounds with an axe (and eventually a sack cloth mask), in-between some Scooby-Doo-style sleuthing. The heavy-lifting with the lore was dealt with during FS:94, too, which means there’s less to explain about Sarah Fier and the witchcraft angle. Director Leigh Janiak can instead focus on building these characters, then putting through a fight for survival once they’re being killed off one by one.

The ensemble cast are about as strong as FS:94′s group, but Sadie Sink (Stranger Things) and Emily Rudd make a better duo and the fact they’re siblings works well. Their strength alone makes this sequel feel more engaging, especially as we know one of the sisters isn’t going to make it out alive and will grow up to become ‘Cindy Berman’ (but is that Cindy herself, or Ziggy?) Yeah, I spoiled that in my review, sorry, but I don’t feel bad about it because it was immediately obvious Ziggy is the younger version of Gillian Jacobs. It’s a shame they didn’t cast a Young Cindy who resembled Jacobs more, as it could have been a decent twist to realise we’ve been expecting the wrong sister to die all along.

Seeing as FS:94 had to setup this entire universe and explain the Sarah Fier ghost story, and Fear Street Part Three: 1666 will go back further in time to cover the witch’s origin story, that leaves FS:78 plenty of room to have fun without being burdened with other things. There’s a rudimentary version of the same story from last time happening, with the teens trying to fix everything by reuniting Sarah Fier’s skeletal hand with her corpse, but a lot more entertainment value in the summer camp setting and surprisingly brutal moments of violence. I was surprised by shots where axes were being slammed into people’s faces and chest without any editing around the impacts, as it doesn’t leave much to the imagination!

That said, I enjoyed how FS:94 felt like a gateway for 12-year-olds to get into slasher movies, whereas FS:78 is a tougher watch aimed at 15-year-olds. It may be a bit too much for some, if you’re a worried parent and assuming anything related to ‘R.L Stine’ is going to be Goosebumps-level scary.

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USA | 2021 | 107 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Leigh Janiak.
writer: Zak Olkewicz (story by Zak Olkewicz, Phil Graziadei & Leigh Janiak; based on the book by R.L Stine).
starring: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Gillian Jacobs, Ryan Simpkins, Ashley Zuckerman, Jordana Spiro & Benjamin Flores Jr.