The Director of Netflix's 'Fear Street' Trilogy Wanted as Much Blood as Possible
The time-hopping teen slasher movies adapted from R.L. Stine's book series drop the first three weekends of July.
Halfway between a movie trilogy and a television miniseries, geared towards young teens but with all the gory accoutrement of adult slasher movies from decades past, with a cast made up of character types who don't tend to survive very long in horror movies, Netflix's Fear Street trilogy is tough to pin down. That's a feature, not a bug, as the series' director Leigh Janiak tells it.
Having grown up reading the creepy, subversive book series from young adult horror auteur R.L. Stine—on which the three movies, Fear Street Part 1: 1994, Fear Street Part 2: 1978, and Fear Street Part 3: 1666, are based—Janiak knew exactly the tone she wanted to strike for these movies, the balance beam she wanted to tread. Set in the small all-American town of Shadyside, populated by dumb jocks, cruel cheerleaders, and outcasts of all stripes, the Fear Street movies weave a tale of black magic, original sin, and violence handed down through generation after generation: In other words, a sneakily savvy throwback to the best eras of horror film.
Ahead of the first movie's premiere (all three drop on Netflix on the first three Fridays of July) Janiak talked to Thrillist about adapting the classic book series, directing three movies all at once, and having, quite literally, a bloody good time doing it.
Thrillist: Are you a big R.L. Stine fan? Do you have any favorites off the top of your head?
Leigh Janiak: It was actually Fear Street! Goosebumps was a little younger, because I was a teenager right in the middle of the '90s. I just recently started rereading The Wrong Number, which is one of the most popular ones. But there's crazy ones. There's one that just has a cat on the cover and it says Cat. All I really remember, being quite honest, is just the feeling of reading those books. That's what I was trying to capture. They were fun, but they were also weirdly subversive and edgy, at least for a 14- or 15-year-old, and so that to me was really the heart of what we wanted to capture with the movies: There's this insane genre universe happening, and what could happen next?
I definitely remember the covers of the books more than I remember what they were about. I still have mental images of them in my mind.
Yes, I remember this particular cover, it was like a Christmas one. I remember a camp one… When I did my lookbook and my pitch for this project, I went back and I grabbed a lot of the old covers to help make my lookbook, and it was just so fun looking back. The covers are amazing.
What struck me while I was watching these was that they're geared towards teens or even younger, but there's a pretty high body count and it gets very bloody and gross. Was it important to keep it pretty scary even though these were made for younger audiences?
For me, they were always going to be R-rated. They're slasher movies. There's a lot of very successful, amazing PG-13 horror movies, but to have a slasher live in that world felt not right to me. I was thinking about being 10 or 11 and sneaking to the video store to rent, you know, Child's Play or Nightmare on Elm Street. Movies that I wasn't supposed to see. But that was kind of the pleasure of sneaking these slashers. So yeah, we want to keep this fun spirit of the books and everything, but there's gotta be blood. There's gotta be blood and real death happening.
Kids aren't necessarily these innocent little things, they curse and they watch stuff they're not supposed to on TV and in movies.
The authenticity of what it actually means to be young was important to me to try to hit.
You're working with three different eras, the '90s and the '70s, and then all the way back to the 1600s. What was it like to get into the mind of a young person back then?
Well, the '90s was easy, obviously, because I was a teenager [then]. My knowledge of the late '70s comes from movies and TV, so it was a lot of looking back on those horror films that I love from that era like Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare, Friday, the 13th. I wanted to be paying homage to those different eras of horror film. With the '70s, those characters generally live in a more stylized world. So I was keeping the characters in the '90s as grounded as possible amidst the insanity that's happening, but with the '70s, I was able to let them live a little in this little more elevated world. And then with 1666, that one was actually really important to me to try to keep the most grounded to the experience of what it meant to be young. I obviously have no idea of what it was actually like to be a teenager in the 17th century. But I think that the emotions that those characters are going through are relatable.
I really liked how, in the third one, without spoiling anything, the witchcraft was more a product of this very harsh, Puritanical society forcing these kids to act out and get in trouble.
We wanted to reveal that they weren't doing anything intrinsically evil, that there was this other person that was doing it, and they were just trying to live their lives.
It did not make me want to live in the 1600s, that's for sure.
[Laughs] So dirty, so dirty. And it was so hot.
Was being in charge of the whole trilogy easier in the long run, tone-wise, or was it way more complicated?
I think that it was easier. I mean, "easy" is a weird way to describe making three movies at once, which is crazy. But I think having one person that could guide the narrative and understand all of the nooks and crannies of everything was important to creating a cohesive, whole piece. So even though we have different looks, we have different stylistic approaches, all of that, I hope that there's a unified vision to that. It's obviously very challenging. It's crazy to make three movies at once, but it was lovely. I had a great crew. My cast was so engaged and passionate. So you know, they made my job as easy as it can be.
In my experience just with talking to people who make them, it seems like horror movies are the most fun to make because you get to do all the crazy stuff that you wouldn't normally have the chance to do.
That's one of the things that keeps me coming back to genre, because, first of all, it's just super fun. Even when it gets very violent and dark. I mean, it's funny, but the end part of 1978, which is extremely bloody, every time I watch it I'm just so happy. It's very emotional when you're watching it, but the shooting of it was just so great. It was great to cover characters in blood and destroy things. It's a nightmare for wardrobe, because they need a million multiples. But it's fun for everyone else.
All three of the movies are of a piece with each other, but is there one of these that you're most excited for people to see?
I don't know, because it's like, which child do you love the best? I think for me, 1994 is super exciting, because you're introduced to this world, which feels familiar, but I hope also feels new, because we have characters and protagonists that wouldn't usually live very long in a traditional horror movie.
And 1978 is just next-level as far as the joy of the '70s camp horror movie experience. And like I said, it gets so bloody and so violent. But I think ultimately, I hope getting to the end and getting to that third movie, where all of the pieces come together and you get to see the end of this epic arc that these characters have been on, I'm really excited for that. I'm really, really excited for people to get to the end. I think I didn't really answer your question. I was just like, "all of it!"
There's tons of music in these movies, and especially in the first two. Did you know going in that you would be able to get all of that?
I did not know that I would be able to get all of that. Music is one of those things that is super important to all movies, I think. But for these movies to capture the period and the feel of their eras immediately, it was so, so important. When I was pitching the movies, I made a little mixtape that I gave to the executives and everything. And then I continued to add to the playlists and refine them, and I shared them with the actors before we were shooting or when we were shooting. Some of the songs were scripted, so we knew that those were ones that I was going to go to battle for. I feel so grateful and appreciative and happy that Netflix understood that and they wanted to support the movies in the same way. You hear Radiohead and you're immediately back there, you know what I mean? You hear Kansas play and you're like, yes!
There's a really, really good love story that goes through all of these movies. And it's, which at first is sort of a surprise, a love story between two women.
The idea that was behind everything is that Shadyside is a town full of outsiders, full of people that have been marginalized in some way by society, and told that they are other and that's built into what the history of Shadyside is, and what is causing all of this happened with Sarah Fier and with the witch and all of the things. And so it made sense to be able to have our central relationship be one that at that time was very much still considered outside of the boundaries of the norm. It was important to me to keep that love feeling grounded and real and flawed and not perfect. They're still both figuring out themselves and what they need and want. And my writing partner, who is gay, was really good about keeping us true to the experience of what it would be to be queer in the '90s, which is a very different experience than what it is today. It was great to have that balance and to be able to tell what is, I think, a universal love story, but then also still being very true to the unique experience of what that might be.
I know it's been a while since you were filming, but do you have a favorite moment or scene from the whole thing that you just really, really liked or were really excited to do?
There's two. Shooting all the mall stuff was incredible and so fun. It was just really satisfying to take over a mall and be like, "We're destroying this place." And then the other thing was shooting the end of the camp movie. I was so tired, it was the very end of our 106-day shoot, and I was just like, "fuck it, more blood." This is a reflection of what's happening inside of me right now. More blood!
I love that. "Fuck it, more blood." I feel like that's sort of a throughline here.
[Laughs] It was!