‘Fear Street Part 2: 1978’ Takes a Stab at Stephen King Horror – Review
By Angel Amaral
I would like to personally thank Stephen King, a master of horror, on record for his contribution to the genre I love immensely. To this day, his written works continue to influence our cultural landscape from books, to movies and shows. His stories, like It and The Shining, forever hold a grip on our minds due to their ability to instill true fear. Fear Street Part 2: 1978, at times, embodies the best aspects of why viewers love the kind of terror that King serves on a platter. If Fear Street Part One: 1994 is a love letter to Wes Craven’s Scream, as I mentioned in my previous review, then Fear Street’s middle chapter takes an effective stab at Stephen King horror and Friday the 13th.
The general perception of horror sequels is that they are cursed as most of them diminish in quality compared to their predecessors. Those who were entertained by 1994, should not be disappointed with Fear Street’s sequel as it is just as sufficient as part one. This time, with an emphasis on the unbreakable bond between sisters, more gore, and a wicked summer camp story spooky enough to tell around the campfire. Fear Street Part 2, directed by Leigh Janiak, sends the audience back to Camp Nightwing in 1978. The survivors of the first movie seek help from a woman who survived the camp massacre in her youth. The ’70s is the perfect setting and time to capture the zeitgeist of Stephen King horror. All the more exciting, it allows room to play with the famous tropes of the slasher movie rooted in that decade.
In King’s stories, there is always a clear sense of good and evil, fear of the unknown, and strong characters yearning to belong. For example, his novel, It, focuses on a group of kids, The Losers Club, fighting an evil entity that preys on children every 28 years. By conquering their fears together and understanding the significance in saving their town, they manage to defeat the demonic force. The same narrative structure is applied in Fear Street Part 2: 1978 in a serviceable way. The atmosphere and killer of 1978 eerily reflect camp Crystal Lake and serial killer Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th franchise. If you merge elements from both King and Friday the 13th, surely it makes for an enthralling ride, but we all know meta references cannot be the best part about a movie. Every movie should be judged on its own merits as it should have something unique to offer.
It is important to understand that our fears, whether they are psychological or press on our phobic pressure points, must present themselves in a way that exists in our own reality. Otherwise, I feel a horror movie can fail at inciting true terror. Stephen King once said, “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” I completely agree with this statement as evil has been prevalent throughout time in many forms. If we analyze Stephen King’s Carrie, which was released in 1974, its plot is about a bullied teenager with telekinetic powers. However, it’s really about a mother suppressing the sexuality of her own daughter. Although presented through a fictional lens, Carrie is scary because the danger is very real in relation to our reality. As a result, simple narrative and objects of fear, like annihilation of female sexuality, become the key ingredients for King’s unforgettable horror classics.
Similarly, Fear Street Part 2 focuses on a fractured relationship between two sisters, played by Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd, along with a teenager that goes on a rampage slaying the other kids at camp. Once again, my favorite aspect about this Fear Street story is how they express the emotional power of relationships, even when the characters are distraught. There’s strong tension between the sisters due to their unfortunate backstory regarding their parents. The older sister, Cindy, refers to her younger sister, Ziggy, as a monster, which is what all the other girls call her as well. Ziggy and Carrie can relate to each other as they are both victims of emotional and physical abuse. Additionally, Cindy hides behind a mask of perfection to evade the Shadyside curse; resulting in her leaving everything behind. This character journey adds a new layer to the rivalry between the Shadyside kids and the Sunnyvale kids introduced in the first movie. Not only does Cindy forget about her old life and friends, but most tragically, her sister.
Naturally, as friends and happy campers begin to get picked off one by one in this horror camp story, the reality of what’s truly important to the main characters becomes more apparent. The sisters grasp that life, relationships, and time are all finite in their dreadful battle for survival. No doubt about it, the disturbing imagery and level of gore is amplified in comparison to the first movie. A man wielding an axe (like Jack Torrence from The Shining) is making heads fly! It’s an intense sight, but not as effective as it could be due to the use of digital effects. Practical effects, when done masterfully, can elevate shock value. Great CGI can have the same effect on a person as practical effects when it is inconspicuous. An example of exceptional practical effects can be seen in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Furthermore, David Fincher’s The Social Network contains a mastery use of CGI. In my honest opinion, although it’s brutal to see someone get chopped up on screen digitally, it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief to continue participating in that realm. If it doesn’t look realistic, I’ll know I’m watching a movie, which eradicates all feelings of tension.
Another key point in maintaining the intensity is the mechanics of cinematic suspense. Alfred Hitchcock states that suspense is the most “powerful means of holding on to the viewer’s attention.” I agree with this. The best horror movies I’ve seen have viewers on edge thinking about when the dangers will occur, more so than the ambiguity of the threat itself. When we see the maskless axe murderer in the movie kill, I never felt scared because there wasn’t any suspense built up. Also, the songs they used for this movie made me think about the other contemporary media that used them so perfectly. For example, several songs from the volume one playlist of Guardians of the Galaxy were utilized, which severed the overall fear for me personally. I would describe fear as uncontrollable, whereas shock is a sudden impact that affects us momentarily. Once a viewer builds up enough durability to that shock factor, there’s no more room to be scared. That’s why after the first few kills, it becomes less horrifying. We also know the fate of the main girl since she’s telling the story, so we aren’t ever really worried for her in hindsight.
Besides the main protagonists, I didn’t get attached to the other supporting characters. Unlike Stephen King stories, the majority of the characters in Fear Street Part 2 are too cliché without any complexity. The movie prevents the characters from flourishing because they are horror tropes and nothing more. For instance, beyond the weird girl and the virgin, there’s the bullies, non-believers, sexual couples, and the love interest. In order to create an experience of heightened fear, a story must have engaging characters that feel real and not like archetypes of the genre we’ve seen before. I did appreciate the backstory of officer Nick Goode of Sunnyvale, who is also a fan of Stephen King. Not only is he interested in Stephen King, but he’s also a fan of spiders and the weird girl (Ziggy) from Shadyside.
Through Nick, we learn the context behind the, “It’s happening again.” message he sent to older Ziggy in the first movie. The conflict he has within himself in regards to carrying his father’s legacy and who he really wants to be is interesting. It also motivates him to be skeptical about the supernatural events that occur in Shadyside, which is another great foil for the protagonist as it can be extremely frightening when someone doesn’t believe you. Another recent film that explores the terror of gaslighting creatively is The Invisible Man, starring Elizabeth Moss. Once we get back to the main story where they left off in Part One, the characters I was invested in take an intriguing turn, which definitely piqued my interest moving forward. I love how this movie ended and if my prediction is correct, the finale will hopefully feel as disturbing as Robert Eggers’ The Witch. All of the set up for the overarching villain, Sarah Fier the Witch, is an exciting component to this horror trilogy that I am excited to see pan out. As a fan of movies and horror in general, I won’t miss the conclusive chapter.
As expressed above, the strained connection between the sisters and the horror of them being pulled further apart was the hook in Fear Street Part 2 for me. The feeling of losing a part of who you are due to traumatic circumstances is all too familiar. As an older brother of six, I’ve learned that the only way to push forward is to surround yourself with those who love you unconditionally with wholehearted support. Never let the fear of being yourself and embracing the things you love prevent you from living your life authentically. It may be scary to ask for help or be vulnerable at times. However, the only way to assure that nothing, even something as far fetched as an axe murderer possessed by a witch, will ever pull you apart from the people you love is taking that risk.
Additional lessons I learned from Fear Street: 1978 – Some people want to do something good with their lives. We all have our ways to deal with trauma.