I really liked the first Fear Street movie, which was released all the way back last Friday, because of how it took the audience expectations set up by the horror genre and played against them. This one does something slightly different. It still riffs on a classic era for slasher pics and the tropes that go with it, this time the late seventies and summer camp killings rather than the nineties and suburban murder, but here they set up their own expectations only to try and subvert them later. This is a psycho movie that essentially gives you list of which of the main characters will die and which will survive right at the start and that is pretty bold.
In my opinion, this film isn’t as good as its predecessor but that’s a high bar. This is good but it isn’t quite as smart. For a film that gives some of its upcoming plot away yet still aims to surprise, there is very little here that you won’t have seen coming. (To be fair though even the majority of Fear Street Part One: 1994 wasn’t quite as smart as its opening eight minutes.) Also, the closing moments of the initial movie promised that this follow up would cleverly be both a prequel and a sequel which was properly intriguing but it isn’t very much of the latter. It does move the ongoing narrative forward but only a minuscule amount.
The aspect that Fear Street Part Two: 1978 manages just as well as Part One is its characterisation. Once again we are presented with likeable protagonists who have more going on in their lives than just being killed. The star here is definitely Sadie Sink (the series continuing to borrow cast members from Stranger Things) who anchors everything with a hugely engaging performance as the firebrand kid that everyone stabs in the back even before the blades come out. She alone keeps you interested but there are some interesting other players around her.
In terms of the violence the way this is presented is curiously and consciously inconsistent. Often you don’t see the axe land which you’d expect of a movie angling for a lower certification but at other times it is quite graphic and the rating here is an 18. There is one particular scene where someone’s chest is repeatedly hacked at in a way that is properly discomforting even if not overly gory. You just don’t see movie killers taking multiple swings very often and the context here adds to the power of the moment. It does seem that the younger and more innocent the victim, the more dignity they are given as they die but the fact that early teens are getting carved up at all is pretty shocking. Normally in these films you need to be sexually active or demonstrably not so to be under threat. Where’s the morality metaphor in killing fourteen year olds?
Speaking of which, the film has a similar approach to nudity, making careful decisions about what to show even though the rating it is happily going for would allow more. This feels like a win for those concerned about the way women are presented and objectified on screen because there is a definite respectful no female nipple rule being enacted. This is a step forward for films and this genre in particular, and there’s a lesson here for HBO.
For me, this series launched really strong and even if this one wasn’t quite as good, the trilogy hasn’t lost anything. I’m definitely still on board for the conclusion. What we still have here is a gripping and entertaining tale that has quickly managed to build a mythology around a brand new supernatural monster. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger certainly made an instant impact but their legend grew over years. In only two films and in a matter of mere days, Sarah Fier the witch at the heart of these films, has already become a fully fledged modern horror icon. The fact that they can put the words ‘Witness the Origin of Fier’ over the trailer for Part Three that runs precredits and it prompts proper goosebumps is impressive when we hadn’t even heard of the woman a week or so ago.
There is still very little fear for viewers visiting Fear Street but decent ghost stories do more than make you jump. You’ll never feel your heart in your throat but actually that’s kind of the point because these films have theirs in the right place.