Rated R. The first one was rated R for violence, gore, and sexuality. The immediate follow-up ramps all of that up. Instead of just being teenagers who died, there are a bunch of campers who die. I didn't know there could be more gore, but it feels like there is with the giant beating heart in the cave. The sexuality was there in the first one, but never with nudity. This one feels far more graphic, with nudity and actually watching the sex act happen. The camp massacre genre has always been pretty brutal and nothing has changed. R.
DIRECTOR: Leigh Janiak
These movies are going to be difficult to write about. One of the best elements about this Netflix trilogy is how interwoven they all are. The bad news for me is that I'm borderline just writing about the middle part of a giant sprawling film. It's my Two Towers problem all over again. Add to the fact that I just finished watching Fear Street: 1666, which reveals the big bad of the whole thing, so I'm forced to try to write from a perspective of ignorance despite the fact that I want to talk about everything. Oh, the problems I have!
I really want to know everything about Leigh Janiak. All three movies are absolutely from the same voice because of the consistency of all three entries. But Janiak has somehow managed to cover two separate subgenres of horror films so perfectly that I just want to stand up and applaud. With 1994, she covered the Dimension Films era of horror. Maybe there's a little less Nine Inch Nails with 1994, but it still hit that slasher film era really really nicely. But there's something even more pure about Janiak's sendup of '70s sleepaway camp massacre films. I've always been partial to the sleepaway serial killer stories. Maybe it was because I was a summer camp kid and that one of the only really redeeming elements about sleepaway camp was the scary concept that something was out there in the woods, about to get us. That fake confidence that I put on when these stories were shared on walks and around the campfire hit a lot of the same buttons that horror films would do later on. But Janiak nailed the vibe of Sleepaway Camp and Friday the 13th just perfectly. Not only did she nail the vibe of these films, but did it without being as gross and dated as something like Sleepaway Camp. (I'm now uncomfortable with revisiting this box set the more I think about it.)
But out of all three films, 1978 might be the most focused film of the three. Like with the previous entry, 1978 still keeps playing with the legend of Sarah Fier and the notion that witches are responsible for good people going bad. But if I had to watch only one of these movies again, it might be 1978 because it just reads as a single killer story. Tommy Slater gets so much attention as the killer in this one that it feels less distilled. Sure, we had the skull-faced guy in the first one, but we never really got to know him outside of what little prologue we had at the beginning of the previous film. But Tommy Slater was kind of a developed character at the beginning of this one. While Sam is the one who is growing into a killer in 1994, Tommy's story mirrors the problem that Deena is facing. Tommy is a good person. (I find it weird that he's Mad Thomas in 1666, but I'm not going to talk about that yet.) So when Cindy has to find the courage to fight Tommy, it's the opposite choice than Deena makes. Yet Cindy seems so much more clearheaded than Deena. Cindy makes this choice and it is a choice that is sacrificial. She sees that her boyfriend is willing to murder everyone there and makes the right choice: I choose others versus my selfishness. Yet, it is Cindy who dies in this situation. It feels like she made the right decision, but she is still punished for it.
I can't be the only person who figured out the twist of the surviving Berman girl, right? I kind of blame Netflix subtitles for this, but referring to a character as C. Berman the entire first movie means that there is significance to the letter "C". So when the movie comes out and has Cindy and Ziggy, it seems like the obvious misdirect. There's that moment when Josh says, "Wait, you're Ziggy" and I feel like everyone knew that Ziggy was C. Besides, everyone wanted Ziggy to survive. Besides the fact that she was played by Sadie Sink, the girl from Stranger Things, Ziggy was far more compelling than Cindy. But Janiak definitely made us feel like Cindy was the protagonist of the piece. I kind of dug that about both the first and second films, the idea that the protagonist wasn't necessarily going to survive. It's fun knowing that no one was safe in these movies...
...even the campers! I have this board game, called Camp Grizzly. It was a Kickstarter thing that no one else really has. The story of the game is that you are running from a bear-masked killer at a camp (I told you! I really like this subgenre!). One of the ways to escape is to offer the killer one of the campers, a kid named Lunchbox. I always thought it was a hilarious option, but most movies don't really kill off the kids. The counsellors are killer fodder. But the kids? Man, kids are always off limits. I don't know if I want to be the one who is putting into writing that I'm impressed that this series decides to bump off kids in the horror genre, but there it is. Sure, to give them their credit, those kids die with the camera facing away from them. But it still happens and that's pretty darned messed up.
The second time that the movie played "Carry On (My Wayward Son)" by Kansas, in the midst of the supernatural slaughter, did...did anyone else think that Sam and Dean were going to make a cameo? Just me? Okay.
But I'm going to revisit the idea that I brought up with my 1994 blog: I hardcore applaud the fact that the Fear Street movies are full-on embracing political and social commentary. 1994 teased the idea of a school color war. But then straight up making the Sunnyvalers the red team and the Shadysiders the blue team was so on the nose and I didn't even care a little bit. The privilege metaphor runs so thoroughly through this story. I know that it probably turned a lot of people off. You know, Sunnyvalers. But film like this needs to keep doing this. The horror genre can be extremely toxic for the well-being. As much as I enjoy horror (I would like to point out that I love a lot of genres, so don't peg me for a horror fan necessarily), I don't love that it desensitizes people towards violence and has us rooting for grizzly deaths. But the gruesomeness that these movies embrace almost get a bit of a pass knowing that there's a lesson there. I can't necessarily get my students to watch the cinematic canon and derive moral lessons from them, but I bet that they're watching Fear Street on their own and getting something out of it.
I really dug 1978. Heck, I'll spoil the next entry in the Fear Street series: I dug the whole thing. These aren't perfect movies, but they are exactly what they need to be. They're well-told scary stories that both pay homage to the films of yesteryear without being so sycophantic about them all. They push the boundaries of social commentary and should get more credit than simply being a direct-to-Netflix horror trilogy. They might be some of my favorite horror movies of the past couple of years.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.