Fear Street: Part Two – 1978, in keeping with its predecessor, kicks off with yet another obnoxious needle drop. This one, “The Man Who Sold the World,” from Nirvana’s beloved MTV Unplugged appearance, at least ties back in later when David Bowie’s version appears. Likewise, the release dates of both line up much better than, say, Rob Zombie’s “More Human Than Human” and “Only Happy When It Rains” by Garbage, neither of which came out until 1995. Considering this installment is set at the tail end of the seventies, there’s more room to experiment. However, that initial introduction highlights how a lot of the issues with Part 1 have been carried over here and are still plaguing what had the potential to be an inventive, gnarly little slasher franchise.
We pick up right where we left off, with Final Girl Deena (Kiana Madeira) and brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) desperate to save her girlfriend, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), from local witch Sarah Fier. The trio descends on the house of a mysterious woman played by Community star Gillian Jacobs, who is stupefyingly miscast, consistently mistaking looking mean for emotional intensity. It’s she who received the mysterious “it’s happening again” note in the first movie, and who warned the kids there’s no escaping the witch’s clutches when they called for help. After tying Sam to a radiator, Deena and Josh settle down to hear the story of Camp Nightwing and thus learn how this spooky stranger came to be so knowledgeable.
Once Part Two actually heads back to the seventies, the story takes off running and doesn’t let up until we’re plonked back in front of Jacobs’ harbinger of doom once more, the reveal of whose identity is treated like a massive twist but definitely isn’t for anybody paying attention even a little bit. Back in the past, we meet warring sisters Ziggy (Sadie Sink) and Cindy (Emily Rudd). The black sheep and goody-two-shoes of their family respectively, Ziggy is a reluctant camper at Nightwing while Cindy is working there as a counsellor to save up for college. The other campers have decided Ziggy is a witch and she’s picked on mercilessly, with an attempted hanging making a particularly horrifying impression.
Although Ziggy is clearly being singled out for no real reason, nobody seems to be on her side apart from a kindly nurse who, it’s later revealed, has a deep connection to Shadyside’s dark, murder-filled past, and counsellor Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland) who we know from the 1994-set events ends up running the town. But, when Sarah Fier chooses someone to possess, it’s not Ziggy but rather Cindy’s sweet-natured boyfriend, Tommy (McCabe Slye), whom we vaguely met in Part 1 as an axe-wielding maniac with a bag over his head (the bag doesn’t come until much later, Jason style). Ziggy and Cindy are left fighting for their lives against someone who up until that point they thought was safe.
Suffice to say, the hook for Part Two is much cleaner and, crucially, more cohesive than the first installment, which threw everything at the wall even before we knew who any of the featured killers were. Focusing on one killer, and one location, significantly elevates what is otherwise a thin, by-the-numbers slasher tale. The film’s lengthy running time is an issue once again, especially considering the slashing doesn’t begin for a good 30 or 40 minutes. The first kill looks terrible, thanks to some dreadful CGI, and unfortunately this is an issue across the board – the use of CG, rather than practical FX, is unforgivable in a slasher movie, particularly one with Netflix money behind it.
Several of the murders also take place offscreen, a baffling choice in a slasher, while the roughest and most brutal stabbings are saved for the very end – they’re also the most physical and tactile, which sadly hints at what might have been. Knowing the killer’s identity, again, takes much of the crucial fun out of it too, while the possession angle still feels too neat and annoyingly safe. It would’ve been smarter to suggest the town itself is rotten to the core and turning good people into hopeless, desperate psychos rather than having this all-powerful witch who we still have yet to meet (her story comes next, in Part Three) pulling the strings. There’s no real danger to the equation otherwise.
Still, Part Two is a considerable step up from Part 1. Stranger Things star Sadie Sink makes for a far more compelling lead than Madeira’s grumpy Deena, with the actress demonstrating how to be cynical and tortured without being completely unlikable. Sink and Berman have a lovely rapport, too; they feel like real sisters whether they’re fighting or reluctantly professing their love. Neither is painted as the villain either, with both sides represented. Ziggy’s tentative dalliance with Nick is delicately handled too, although there’s a little bit too much foreshadowing with his character – Nick is quite literally told at one point, “Sheriff Nick Goode’s got a nice ring to it” like, okay, WE GET IT.
However, in other instances, returning director and co-writer Leigh Janiak plays with our expectations in fun ways, such as when a flashlight is creepily shone into various rooms in an empty house early on, or when an open drawer full of knives is glimpsed in passing with slight changes each time it’s revisited. The creation of a tourniquet out of a comb and a sanitary pad is genius, while a grand set connecting an underground cave system and some toilets is brilliantly done, the walls oozing with hideous bodily fluids and strange red moss. Part Two is more tactile overall, even if the CG lets it down and the setting never truly feels like 1978. Still, the performances totally sell it.
There’s way too much music once again, though the choices are less egregious this time around, with The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” standing out as this installment’s “More Human Than Human” (it, too, plays over the closing credits). But yes, Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” does indeed show up because really, how could it not? At the very least, there are plenty of moments when characters are simply listening to cassette tapes, so the needle drops don’t chafe as much this time around. In fact, it’s only when the action returns to 1994 that Part Two unfortunately resembles its older, less sophisticated forebear.
The relationships still feel super hollow, even when Deena is confessing her love for Sam. After witnessing Ziggy and Cindy battling a ruthless killer, alongside a whole gaggle of fun side characters including Halloween 2018’s Drew Scheid and Ryan Simpkins’ lovable troublemaker Alice, it’s a bummer to end up back with these utterly one-dimensional people. Deena doesn’t even seem that broken up about her supposed BFFs’ deaths in the previous film! The question also remains, why weren’t these damn movies released in chronological order? Maybe then the 1994 installment might have made more sense, or at the very least hit harder. Part Two does feature another monster team-up, but it’s less jarring than the first time around partly because we’re expecting it, but also because it doesn’t take up an entire act of the movie.
Part Two is flawed in many of the same ways Part 1 was, but the performances and set-pieces are considerably stronger, with Sink really showing off what she can do in a slightly more adult environment than Stranger Things (but only slightly, since the Fear Street movies are still playing things weirdly safe and PG for some unknown reason). The real test will come with the next installment of course, which, aside from being set in the olden days (so, no needle-drops then?), must tie everything together in a satisfying manner while also making a case for Sarah Fier as the all-powerful source of evil we’ve come to expect after two movies’ worth of build-up. However, if they fumble the ball again, at least Part Two exists as a decent slasher flick in its own right.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Leigh Janiak
Writer(s): R.L. Stine (books), Zak Olkewicz, Leigh Janiak, Phil Graziadei
Stars: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, McCabe Slye, Ryan Simpkins, Gillian Jacobs, Ted Sutherland
Release date: July 9, 2021
Studio/Production Company: Netflix
Run Time: 109 minutes