If you thought Fear Street Part 1: 1994 couldn’t have been more clear in its admiration for Wes Craven’s horror classic Scream, well, prepare yourselves. Fear Street Part 2: 1978 is even more direct in its remix approach to Sean S. Cunningham’s classic Friday the 13th.
Spoilers below for Fear Street Part 2: 1978:
I’ll be honest: I’m not a reader of the Fear Street books, but, are these movies recognizable spins on the R.L. Stine properties at this point? I know thoughts in the comments varied. Our very own Kristy Puchko spoke to the trilogy’s director, Leigh Janiak, about this for RogerEbert.com. There, Janiak described the “spirit” of the Fear Street books, and the combination of fear and joy within that universe, as being her guiding force for these films. And I suppose if we’re purely talking about that vibe, then Part 2: 1978 fits that bill.
I enjoyed Part 2 more than I did Part 1, not just because there were slightly fewer on-the-nose needle drops (although the dual uses of Nirvana’s cover and David Bowie’s original “The Man Who Sold the World” was excellent). (Check out the soundtrack on Spotify.) These kills were more shocking, the atmosphere more tense, the characters more believable and well-rounded, and the world-building about Sarah Fier’s legacy more thoughtful. Sure, there was nothing as spectacularly gross as someone’s head being fed through a bread slicer. But that Guillermo del Toro-like flesh monster in the center of the witch’s mark caves, the omnipresent blood-red moss, and the coalescence of all Fier’s possessed killers upon her hanging tree were all effectively creepy. Plus, Sadie Sink is a solid young actress (free the cast of Stranger Things already, dammit!). I appreciate how her rebellious energy is a callback to Deena’s in Part 1. The commonality so far in these two films is rebellious young women disinterested in conforming to how mainstream society says they should behave, and given that framework, of course Part 3: 1666 is going to be a spin on Robert Eggers’s The Witch. Of course!
Before we get there, though, let’s talk about the aftermath of the Skull Mask Killer’s mall massacre in 1994. The recently slain Simon and Kate have been blamed for the bloodshed. Sam has been homicidally possessed by Fier. So, Deena and Josh visit the mysterious C. Berman to find out how they can get Sam back to normal, and potentially break Fier’s curse on Shadyside. Since C. Berman was narrowly survived the 1978 Camp Nightwing massacre—which claimed her sister’s life—Deena and Josh need answers. Sam died, just like C. Berman did. So why did Fier’s gaze upon C. Berman break, but not upon Sam?
To get some answers, C. Berman cracks open a scrapbook, delivers the foreboding line “In Shadyside, the past is never past,” and tells the teens what happened back in July 1978—transporting us back.
5,937 days ago, on July 19, 1978, Shadysider Ziggy Berman (Sink) is bullied by the Sunnyvale kids at camp in an elaborate recreation of Fier’s hanging and burning. While bully Sheila (Chiara Aurelia) and Sunnyvaler Will Goode (Brandon Spink, playing the younger version of Matthew Zuk’s future mayor character) act like assholes, Will’s brother Nick Goode (Ted Sutherland, playing the younger version of Ashley Zukerman’s sheriff character) comes to Ziggy’s rescue. Camp counselor Nick is the son of the recently deceased town sheriff, and part of his protection of Ziggy is clearly inspired by a sense of familial responsibility regarding law and order. The other part of it, though? This kid reads Stephen King books, likes horror, and is fascinated by spiders has a crush on weirdo Ziggy. Even if she flips him off rather than thanking him for his help, his affection won’t quit.
Ziggy’s mischievousness, and how relentlessly Sunnyvalers pick on her in return, is already a problem for older sister Cindy Berman (Emily Rudd). She’s a chipper camp counselor alongside her respectful, kind, supportive boyfriend Tommy (McCabe Slye, who looks a bit like Robert Pattinson if you squint the right way). Ziggy and Cindy haven’t gotten along for years because of Ziggy’s cynicism and belief that Shadyside is cursed vs. Cindy’s increasing preppiness, optimism, and ambition to leave town. When the camp nurse, who happens to be the mother of 1960s Shadyside murderer Ruby Lane, attacks Tommy and tries to kill him, Cindy feels even more alone.
She can’t talk to Ziggy about it. She can’t talk to her former best friend Alice (Ryan Simpkins), who now does a lot of drugs with boyfriend Arnie (Sam Brooks). Cindy is under a lot of pressure, and she refuses to believe the Fier legend. Although Nurse Mary Lane (Jordana Spiro) had a book in her cabin about Fier, and although she maintained for years that Ruby Lane wasn’t herself when she killed seven classmates then herself, Cindy just can’t believe it. Maybe Nurse Mary Lane was on drugs? Maybe her book, with a map in it of Shadyside, Sunnyvale, and locations where Fier lived, cut off her own hand as an offering to the Devil, and was killed, is just … a hoax?
Ziggy’s frustrations and Cindy’s skepticism split Part 2 into two storylines. While campers from the opposing towns face off against each other in a Color War (“Let’s go out like our ancestors before us and murder those Shadyside witches!” yells a Sunnyvale counselor), Cindy, Tommy, Alice, and Arnie follow the map into the woods. In the remains of Fier’s house (which, why is this thing still standing?!), they discover that the witch’s mark from the nurse’s book is carved as a kind of sacrificial altar into the home’s foundation. Also carved in rock are the names of the killers Fier has possessed, and Tommy’s is among them. At that point, Tommy, now buzzing with flies and increasingly laconic, shifts from the boy Cindy loved into a slasher. He grabs an axe, chops Arnie in the face, tries to pursue Alice and Cindy before being turned away by a rockfall, and then returns to Camp Nightwing to kill anyone he comes across.
Back at camp, Nick and Ziggy—who had kissed after very amusingly pranking Sheila by locking her in an outhouse full of bugs—spring into action. They gather as many as they can in the mess hall. Counselor Nick’s relationship with camper Ziggy draws some raised eyebrows, but then Tommy starts chopping up and decapitating kids, so the dalliance takes the back burner.
Part 2 did well with Tommy, I think, from Slye’s rigid posture to us following Tommy’s perspective outside of the buildings where the kids are hiding to what we don’t see when he goes after the kids. Avoiding showing any of their deaths, and instead giving us glimpses of the smeared blood and scattered body parts afterward, was far more effective. In fact, it made me very upset for Jeremy, who was played by Dylan Gage, a true delight on PEN15!
For whatever reason, Tommy wants Ziggy. Meanwhile, in those caves, Alice and Cindy realize that Fier’s hand-chopping created a witch’s mark underground. The design is a kind of map, and while following it, they have to pass alongside a gross, pulsing, fleshy mass surrounded by flies and black slime. (“The cave was alive, Alice!”). Then, they end up underneath one of the camp’s outhouses (where Alice finds Fier’s hand), and finally come up through a grate in the mess hall, where Cindy initially saves Ziggy by stabbing Tommy. But then Ziggy gets blood on Fier’s hand (WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO SEE A SKELETON HAND MORE CLOSELY??), and that activates all of the possessed killers to materialize and go after the Berman sisters. Tommy kills Alice, only to be beheaded by Cindy. But he comes right back to life. At the tree where Fier hanged, the child killer, the milkman, Tommy, and Ruby Lane all come together, with Tommy axing into Cindy over and over and Ziggy suffering numerous stab wounds from the milkman. The shot of the two sisters reaching for each other, their still fingers—and their entire bodies—covered in blood, was very sad and spooky!
But one of these girls lived. And although Part 2 plays coy by making you think “C. Berman” is “Cindy Berman,” in fact, C. is short for Christine, which is Ziggy’s real name. And although Nick gave Ziggy CPR and helped bring her back to life after she died at the milkman’s hand, he didn’t (publicly, at least) believe her story about Fier and the Shadyside curse. Instead, he grew up to be sheriff, and she grew up to be a recluse who lives her life with padlocks and alarm clocks. “It’s happening again,” Nick had written Christine/Ziggy/C. Berman in that Part 1 note, and now she isn’t sure whether the curse can ever be broken.
During the last 15 or so minutes of Part 2, Deena and Josh try. Believing that the curse will end when Fier’s body and hand unite, they retrieve the bones they had wrapped in Justin’s Sunnyvale letterman jacket. They take it to Shadyside Mall, which has been built over where Camp Nightwing once stood. And they dig into the red moss surrounding the hanging tree’s mid-mall display to recover the hand that had been buried decades before. “I got you, you witch,” Deena says when she joins the two together, but suddenly we’re in 1666, and Deena is Sarah Fier. … Seems bad! See you next week for Fear Street Part 3: 1666.
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 is streaming on Netflix as of July 9, 2021.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix Media Center, Netflix Media Center