Screenwriter Victor Miller has long admitted that his screenplay for 1980’s Friday the 13th is basically a knockoff of 1978’s Halloween, simply transposing the slasher scares from suburbia to summer camp. With Fear Street Part 2: 1978, co-writer / director Leigh Janiak makes a meta move within her own trilogy, mirroring Miller by taking viewers from the blood-stained streets of Shadyside to the haunted woods of Camp Nightwing.
Fortunately, the film isn’t just a Jason Voorhees-esque slasher-fest. It captures the pros and cons of a camp run by kids as well as the adolescent fears and desires burning in the summer heat. Like the first part of Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy, it understands that the best teen horror films are ultimately about vulnerability. Unlike Fear Street Part 1: 1994, however, it doesn’t explore any underrepresented people or stories from its era. But it always places more importance on characters rather than scares.
This chapter follows the Berman sisters, Cindy (Emily Rudd) and Ziggy (Sadie Sink). At Camp Nightwing, Cindy is a conscientious counselor while Ziggy is a cantankerous camper. Fellow campers call Ziggy a witch and a monster for her brash behavior. We soon learn that it stems from anger over her father’s abandonment and her mother’s descent into drinking. Although Cindy seems estranged from Ziggy, we can see she acts like a goody-two-shoes partly to serve as a stable role model for her sister.
Rudd and Sink evoke palpable tension, making you feel their characters’ longing to reconnect beneath their resentment toward each other. They criticize each other harshly about the kind of young women they’ve become and how their relationship keeps growing more distant. Because of this, the film passes the Bechdel test by featuring two female characters engaging in a conflict unrelated to a man. But, of course, it’s not long before an axe-wielding madman starts terrorizing the campgrounds.
The kills are glorious. Blood splatters, heads pop off, bodies hit the floor. Unlike its predecessors in this genre, 1978 steps back and calls attention to the absurdity of what’s happening. “That psycho split my boyfriend’s head in half,” a character reminds her friend, resensitizing us in turn.
By commenting on the shocking bleakness of the proceedings, the film does a slightly better job than 1994 in terms of balancing tender coming-of-age drama with hardcore horror. However, 1978 ultimately feels like a step back from the inclusive efforts of the first chapter. Props to it focusing largely on female characters, but the campgrounds here are quite white and straight. It would’ve been nice to see some characters and stories that weren’t represented among those in Friday the 13th and countless other summer camp slasher flicks.
The film’s biggest strength lies in how it paints Camp Nightwing as a place for teens to experience catharsis, not just through sex and drugs but through honest interactions free of hindrance from adults. 1978 takes quite a few breaks from its bogeyman’s evil deeds to allow for even more brutal conversations between its characters. This trilogy is admirable for taking teens seriously and giving them a voice. Let’s just hope the third part, 1666, pushes progressive themes forward even as it travels back in time.