If people weren’t aware of Leigh Janiak before in the horror realm, they most certainly do now that the FEAR STREET TRILOGY is all available on Netflix. Showing promise in her feature directorial debut, Honeymoon, which stars Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie, Janiak had worked her way through the horror genre Television path. Directing episodes from Scream: the TV Series and the more recently released series, Panic, it is all too easy to see how that experience easily translated over into this ambitious horror trilogy. The trilogy has won the hearts of many, and injected further love and obsession into fans – both old and new – of the slasher genre.
For the release of the FEAR STREET TRILOGY, Nightmarish Conjurings got the chance to chat with writer/director Leigh Janiak, where we discussed the arduous process of filming the films back-to-back, how important the R-Rating was to her, and which of the Shadyside Killers were her favorite.
Hi Leigh, it’s such a pleasure to speak with you today! Congratulations on all the success of FEAR STREET! What was the experience like filming these three movies back to back to back?
Leigh Janiak: It was very tiring [Laughs]. It was actually incredible. It was crazy. It was like all of the crazy adjectives that you can imagine. [We filmed] for 106 days and it was mostly nights which was good for me cause I’m a night person, I’m not a morning person [Laughs]. We filmed all of the 1994 parts of the trilogy first – so if it was from movie one or from movie two or maybe three, that all kind of came first. Then we did 1666 and then we did 1978 last. It was crazy to be prepping the 17th century when you’re living in this kind of ’90s world, but I had an amazing team of people behind me. The cast was amazing, everyone was locked in and excited, so it was really, really fun even when it was very challenging.
Being a child of the 90s, I was obsessed with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark but, as I got older, Fear Street ushered me into more adult content. When translating these books for the screen, I like how you went with an R-rating. Was that something you always knew you wanted to do from the beginning or was it decided over the course of filming?
Leigh Janiak: [The R-rating] was part of it from the beginning and that was actually really important to me for two reasons. One, I was a teenager reading Fear Street, and before that Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. So, two things happened when I started developing the movies, and one was it felt like these needed to live primarily in the slasher genre and a slasher needs to be R-rated. You need to have blood and crazy deaths and it’s all about those kills. And that feels like you need to be, like I said, in that kind of R-rated universe. So, that was important. And then the other part of it was that my memory of reading the books was that they were edgy, subversive. If it felt like there were hints of sex, I felt like I was reading something I shouldn’t be reading [Laughs]. It wasn’t quite as aggressively edgy as VC Andrews but like somewhere between that and The Thorn Birds, which was also really racy. So, I felt like what the experience of reading those books when I was a kid was, and I wanted to preserve that in the movie.
Not only were you filming these movies back to back, but you also had to make sure there was a consistent through-line to tie the three films together. How challenging was it to achieve that?
Leigh Janiak: That was challenging also because I think we felt like okay, if we’re going to say that we’re going to release three movies in a short amount of time, we didn’t want it to feel like an anthology. That shouldn’t feel like the right idea of these because it felt like we wanted to do something new. We ended up coming up with this idea that’s kind of the hybrid of movies and television and kind of making each movie feel like maybe a season of television, and we’re ending on a season finale. But to do that it was this two-tiered approach of like, we were always thinking about the genre elements, the horror, the scares, the kills, like all of that, but then also the characters. And while figuring out how to kind of straddle this, like one movie versus three structure, it was always going back to the characters. So, we would have our character thing that we needed to resolve in each movie, and then we’d also have the bigger character thing driving us forward. And it was really just kind of crossing our fingers that we would be emotionally invested enough that we’d want to keep pushing forward and kind of peeling back the layers of the onion and the mystery.
I liked how in the movie the curse focused on the descendants of the town as opposed to the curse being on just the Fear Family. Why focus more on the town instead of a singular family?
Leigh Janiak: It felt like that kind of you’re digging at the idea of why should we make FEAR STREET now and there’s amazing… the history of the slasher subgenre is so rich, and there’s been so many amazing things. And one of the things that was appealing to me about doing FEAR STREET now was that we created this kind of mythology, and this narrative allowed us to focus on characters that weren’t really represented in traditional slasher films in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. So, because of that, it made sense to kind of open up the world and not just have the Fear Family. Everyone that lives in Shadyside has been told that they’re “other” or have been marginalized. Whether or not they experienced a killer, which we kind of like talked about as being representative of systemic rot and oppression, it affects everything in Shadyside. Like, feeling at any moment you could be the next to die or the next to snap. So, that was just really important to kind of open up the world and show different versions of how these people were felt like “other” and let them live a little bit longer. And then sometimes it still doesn’t work out. Like it was sad to say bye to Kate and Simon, but it felt like we were in the first act of our trilogy and we needed real stakes. Even though these movies should be fun, there’s bad stuff happening in them so we wanted it to feel when people died.
Lastly, out of all the killers we are introduced to throughout the film, do you have a favorite creature?
Leigh Janiak: So, I really like Skull Mask because he is inspired by Ghostface and this idea of the character that is a little bumbling and you are able to get his outfit in any Halloween store, like that kind of thing. It’s hard for me to choose cause I really was actually not comfortable with the character of the Milkman who you see at the end of movie two, the one that goes after Ziggy, and his face is burnt. The stunt actor that plays that guy is this very sweet man named Kevin, but like when he would come up to me in his makeup, I had a hard time [Laughs]. I was like, you are so creepy, so awful. I don’t know if I was feeling Robert Englund vibes from A Nightmare on Elm Street because his face was all burned, and that really fucked me up when I was a kid. So he is the one that I’m actually viscerally scared of.
The FEAR STREET TRILOGY is now available exclusively on Netflix.
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