Netflix’s latest hit is a brazenly bloody, progressive and cine-literate horror trilogy, loosely based on the book series by R L Stine. The first instalment (set in the early 90s) dropped last week. The second instalment (mainly set in the late 70s and stuffed with references to Stephen King) can be summed up by the words Carrie On Slashing. Clearly, buzzy Part 1 was no fluke. Director Leigh Janiak knows exactly what she’s doing, even if her smart and sassy protagonists, (for now at least), are up sh** creek.
As in the first movie, the action takes place in a polarised nook of Ohio. The rich, mainly white neighbourhood, Sunnyvale, sits next to poor, multi-racial Shadyside and at a summer camp, Nightwing, most of the Sunnyvale counsellors seem hell bent on persecuting the Shadyside kids, who include rebellious red-head Ziggy Berman (Stranger Things’ Sadie Sink; adequate). But a bigger problem looms. Ziggy’s “perfect” older sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) has a doofus boyfriend, Tommy (McCabe Slye). And Tommy’s about to get handy with an axe.
The talking, as much as the stalking, is zesty and most of it concerns what links Tommy and a 17th century witch, Sarah Fier.
The same witch, in Part 1, messed with the lives and heads of beleaguered lesbian teens Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Welch). Confused? All you need to know is that, taken together, Parts 1 & 2 resemble a crazed episode of Scooby Doo in which Velma and Daphne are hot for each other, Shaggy has a chance of getting shagged, golden boy Fred is a plonker and everyone has the potential to be a serial killer.
That last bit is really important. In chillers like Ring (1998) or The Woman In Black (2012) we’re encouraged to feel a kind of sympathy towards wild women from the past who’ve been wronged by ruthless patriarchs. Yet, even so, these crazy ladies remain Other. Janiak. possibly taking her cue from Robert Eggers’ 2015 masterpiece The Witch, takes a different path.
Janiak (one of many female directors embracing mainstream horror; Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is next in the pipeline) co-wrote the script and is partial to druggy in-jokes. As Shadysiders get stoned, on the sly, a Sunnyvale counsellor sniffs the air and says crossly, “That smell better be skunk!”
The soundtrack choices too seem anything but accidental. In Part 1, the Cowboy Junkies’ lush cover version of heroin-ode Sweet Jane accompanies a sequence that highlights the decency of Deena’s drug-dealing pals. In Part 2, the Velvet Underground original amps up a scene in which Cindy is exposed to the sensitive side of dopehead Alice (Ryan Simpkins). At every turn, in other words, the very notion of deviancy gets unpicked.
True, many elements of Fear Street Part 2: 1978 fall short of perfect. Sink is no Millie Bobby Brown; when it comes to intensity, she can’t dial it up to ten, let alone Eleven. Nor is Rudd’s Cindy the equal of Stranger Things’ stricken do-gooder, Nancy Wheeler.
Instead, it’s the bit-players who make you gasp, from Jordana Spiro as unstable camp nurse Mary Lane to Dylan Gage as earnest, bullied youngster Jeremy. Michael Provost (Insatiable’s pliant blonde cutie Brick Armstrong) is also nicely cast against type.
Usually with a film franchise, you have to wait at least a year between each fix. Obviously, Netflix are pioneering a different business model (Fear Street Part 3: 1666 drops next Friday).
Fingers crossed the relationship between Deena and Sam gets tied up in a way that feels fresh and that all the characters we’ve grown to adore get another chance to shine. Will I be skipping Part 3? No fier!
Fear Street Part 2: 1978 is on Netflix now. 110 mins, 18