I’ve been to one summer camp in my life. I was 13. It was a Christian retreat called New Beginnings and it was
a near death the worst experience of my life. My cousins and I were due for confirmation – the next step above being baptized. We had two choices: attend church classes in the Fall during school or go to summer camp. We went to summer camp.
It was Jesus-themed everything. We sang songs during every meal (there was always a motherfucker with an acoustic guitar), chaperones routinely gave sermons about our lord and savior, and every night we joined hands and praised to the Almighty for another day on this blessed Earth. I promise I will write this horror movie one day.
I guess in the end I’ve got nothing to complain about because at least I survived.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is the nightmare summer retreat to kill the very concept of summer camps. Part One: 1994 was the 90s slasher resurgent. Part Two is Friday the 13th meets Wet Hot American Summer. It’s both funny and gruesome, sunny yet grim. Part One is my favorite of the Fear Street movies so far, but Part Two is its own replayable horror gem, rough edges and all.
As the middle chapter of the Fear Street trilogy, Part Two is free from the burden of intros and table-setting and gets to dig deeper with the Sarah Fier mythology. Already it boasts an interesting setup – Part Two has to carry the momentum forward while going backward in time. This extended flashback should feel like a buzzkill because it halts Deena’s and Josh’s journey as Gillian Jacobs’ “C. Berman” takes point. But it doesn’t.
Director Leigh Janiak has boatloads of fun with a new time period and setting. If Scream was the guiding influence for Part One then Friday the 13th is the obvious beacon for Part Two all the way down to its relentless antagonist. Janiak carves out her own raunchy teen comedy along the way. She nails the summer vibe, a time when kids are up to no good, when crushes and/or grudges feel more potent, when teens are fornicating as much as their loins can handle.
But it’s Janiak’s further illustration of the class divide between Shadyside and uppity Sunnyvale that sticks. In Part One, this was distilled down to two schools and rival football teams. At Camp Nightwing, we get a sense of how that bad blood is inherited across generations—how kids playing a team game is like a small-scale representation of A Tale of Two Cities. Capture the Flag may as well be War of the Roses. I myself never cared about school rivalries outside of a stadium, but Shadysiders and Sunnyvalers take their centuries-long grievances to the next level.
This is all at a summer camp with teens and pre-teens, making the kills that much darker, grislier. The victims aren’t killed for any perceived transgressions. They’re only killed because of how young they are and what side of the map they’re on. Janiak doesn’t indulge in too much gory details here, though, if you’re not used to slashers then this stuff will make you squirm. The implication is more than enough. This way, Janiak is able to keep things breezy and moving even when the material ought to make you stop for a breather.
What I love about Fear Street so far is how well-acted it is. Often as I revisit the Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, the acting leaves a lot to be desired—so much so that you kinda root for Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger. (Or maybe I’m just sick.) So something like Deena and Sam’s love story in Part One should not be as endearing as it is; it should be insufferable as high school relationships often are. Instead, there’s genuine weight and charm to their forbidden love. You wish nothing but the best for them, and actors Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch are easy to root for in this regard.
In Part Two, either characters Cindy or Alice should fulfill the annoying friend role whom you can’t wait to see get hacked to bits, played by Emily Rudd and Ryan Simpkins, respectively. One takes her job too seriously, the other not at all. In another slasher movie, they’d be the first ones to go. Their conflict turns out to be the beating heart of the movie alongside Cindy and her sister Ziggy, played by Sadie Sink, another Stranger Things alum. It’s a trio of characters and arcs that we’ve seen plenty of in the genre, but thanks to the cast’s winning chemistry, we care about every step made to repair their estrangement. Emily Rudd gives THE standout performance of the movie.
Even minor characters like Jeremy and Joan, who only have a pair of scenes each, are quietly endearing. Jeremy is just a camper trying to make friends, but is shirked off by dipshit Sunnyvalers. And Joan, the hippie chick with no other ambition beyond smoking and praising dope, is living her best life, truly. That is, until the script says otherwise.
The overriding appeal of the slasher genre through the years was watching hapless teens get obliterated to hell. A third of the way through Part Two, Fear Street effectively masters the subtle art of making you care about each character before they get got.
Part Two unearths more of the Sarah Fier mythology and only occasionally stumbles in its own maze. Cindy and Alice navigate us through the cursed backstory beneath Shadyside and we’re dropped with knowledge on the settlement that once stood long before Camp Nightwing broke ground. (Threading some plot points for Part Three: 1666.) It’s not as dizzying as, say, running through the entire rogues’ gallery like Part One did. But halfway through the movie, every other line of dialogue bears mention of “the witch.” It starts to seem less character-driven and more like the writers trying to make sure we get how interconnected this saga is. It’s a lot of hand-holding as we trace through Shadyside’s history. Personally, I would’ve loved to piece this thing together on my own.
There’s an ever-present danger in its axe-wielding baddie terrorizing each cabin. THAT’S where the horror is. Fier is the arbiter, the purveyor behind the creepy curtain, but we’re almost made to think that she’s right around the corner churning a big ass stew with her vials of potions or something.
Despite this, the mentions of Sarah Fier give us a sense of how deep her influence runs in the fabric of two towns. They may be separated by class, by privilege, and geography, but Shadysiders and Sunnyvalers are beholden to the same bedtime story. They share the same nightmares and nursery rhymes whether they believe in the legend or not.
Part One introduced us to the rival town dynamic, and Part Two shows how that dynamic might’ve settled in for good—that any potential for goodwill between Shadyside and Sunnyvale perhaps died at Camp Nightwing. In the aftermath, when a cop groans to a camp counselor, “Fucking Shadysiders,” he says it like a party just ended, not like a tragedy unfolded which resulted in dead kids.
Deena might’ve waxed frequently and poetically about how she’s doomed, but Part Two shows how inescapable that doom is, how it pervades across households and generations. The only way to leave Shadyside, it seems, is in a body bag. And those who do leave for greener pastures only make it as far as Sunnyvale. This fuels Ziggy’s whole deal that she has no future. It drives Cindy’s resolve that she has to make it out of here. It feeds into harmless games between kids at camp—a proverbial middle ground that’s supposed to be good clean fun, but extends an ongoing feud between two towns that not even its inhabitants fully understand. The killer may resemble Jason Voorhees, but Sarah Fier is Shadyside’s Candyman. Younger generations are left to violently suffer the sins of the past, forever played on a loop.
Middle chapters of any trilogy bear the expectation of being bigger than its predecessor. Fear Street Part Two: 1978 succeeds by going deeper and darker without losing what makes these movies so much fun as a horror experience. It threads the needle of Part One – that of a small-town ghost story, a seething possession story, and an undead movie, this time remixed as a summer camp slasher. Nothing so far beats Part One’s supermarket finale, but Part Two’s climax is particularly gutting and bleak.
The scariest thing I endured at camp was stammer through prayers on a podium in front of 50 people. I’d happily swap memories for a night at Camp Nightwing.
Bring on Part Three.