Director Leigh Janiak talks to EW about her terrifying Netflix trilogy and killing people with bread slicers.

By Tyler Aquilina
July 16, 2021 at 01:57 PM EDT
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Warning: This article contains spoilers for all three Fear Street movies.

After a very bloody journey through the past, Fear Street ultimately winds its way back to 1994, where it began, for a surprisingly triumphant conclusion to its journey. Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her ragtag band of fellow survivors defeat Sheriff Nick Goode (Ashley Zukerman), whose family has been behind the curse afflicting the town of Shadyside from the beginning.

The trilogy's final entry, partially set in 1666, also reveals the true nature of supposed witch Sarah Fier: she fell in love with the town pastor's daughter Hannah, and the Puritan townspeople condemned her to die. (In a neat casting trick, Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch, who play girlfriends Deena and Sam in 1994, also play Sarah and Hannah, respectively.) It's the culmination of director and co-writer Leigh Janiak's subversion of slasher-movie tropes throughout the trilogy, which builds to a group of outsiders taking down someone who, historically, would be the protagonist of a horror film.

"We were letting the protagonists of our movies be the [characters] that would be the kind of body-count fodder in traditional slasher movies," Janiak tells EW. "And further than that, we're not just making them the protagonists; we're saying that they are actually winning. These are slasher movies, but they're also kind of this epic adventure mystery thing, and so we could change the rules there a little bit."

With the Fear Street trilogy now streaming in full on Netflix, Janiak spoke to EW about crafting the films' overarching narrative, why she loved giving the trilogy a happy ending, and what goes into killing people with axes and bread slicers.

Fear Street
Kiana Madeira in 'Fear Street Part 3: 1666'
| Credit: Netflix

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The tone of the movies really shifts as the trilogy goes on; it gets more and more serious and almost traumatic, in a way. How did you figure out how to make that evolution work across the three movies?

LEIGH JANIAK: I think that was one of the cool things about the experiment, that we could evolve the tone a little bit as the story continued to be peeled back. Movie one is definitely, I think, super fun, and the characters are having fun even when bad s--- is happening to them. And then in movie two, there's still that element of fun in the world, but it's a lot more brutal, and it becomes a lot more violent and is very emotionally dark with the sisters. And by the time we get into movie three, we've really evolved to a very serious tone shift, I think. The scare is different, the suspense is different, there's stakes that have shifted from the fun of the supernatural. You have a town and people that are turning on these girls for being different, and we really get to see that those are the monsters, before we even get to the big reveal of who it was that actually made the deal with the Devil. I think it was cool to be able to be like, there's something bigger happening here that we're commenting on in the world of Shadyside and Sunnyvale, and what it means to be an outsider.

That idea of the town's favorite sons being the ultimate villains plays into that theme really well.

When me and my fellow writers were figuring out what big evil is driving everything in this town, we agreed that one of the scariest things for all of us is a human that feels entitled and driven to give themself a world that they believe they deserve. I think that that, obviously, is something that we feel in our everyday life. That this man could be driven to go to the ultimate extreme of saying, "Yeah, okay, I'm going to sacrifice a person every year to you, Devil, and then I will get what I think I deserve" — to me, that made sense. And, you know, the first version of this is Solomon Goode. He believes that he should have prosperity in this new world that he's not getting. He kind of has a crush on Sarah Fier, and Sarah Fier's not interested in him. That was a really important thing to explore, I think.

And then ultimately, I think the really interesting thing about the Goode family is that every generation, son to son, has to make a decision to continue this. That was a lot of the discussion that I had with Ted [Sutherland], who played young Nick Goode in 1978. Because young Nick has just made this decision to carry the family mantle, and he's not sure if it's the right thing to do, but at the end of the day, he did it and he sticks with it. And that is kind of insidious on a whole new level, because he's having these feelings of questioning, but at the end of the day he chose the family. He chose history, I guess.

Fear Street
Ted Sutherland and Sadie Sink in 'Fear Street Part 2: 1978'
| Credit: Netflix

You touched on that idea of Shadysiders as the other the last time we talked, and that's a theme that obviously comes to full fruition by Part 3. Can you expand on your thinking there and how that idea developed?

I think that was the center of everything, this idea that there's a swath of people that have grown up in Shadyside generation after generation, thinking that there's no way out, and their fate has already been determined. To me, that's a very relatable feeling. And what we really wanted to do from the beginning was show characters that can win, and show that there's hope here, and that even though the story they've been told is one thing, there's a way to shift that narrative. For me, that was the big opportunity, because I think it's hard to do that when you just have one movie. But here we could go on this journey with them, and we could give them that hope.

And how did that tie into the way you wanted to reinvent or subvert the tropes of the slasher movie?

I think about traditional slasher movies, and while you occasionally will have a final girl that makes it to the end, you often kill her in the next one or something. It was just really important to me that, at the end of the day, the characters won, for lack of a better word. You know, I've had this conversation with Darrell [Britt-Gibson], who plays Martin. We introduce Martin in the first movie, and you're kind of like, "Why the hell is he here?" and you're surprised when he doesn't die. And then you meet him again in part two of movie three and you're like, "Okay, now they're going to kill him." And then he gets to live! We don't kill any of our major characters at the end, and that was something that I felt like we could only do because of this [three-part] structure.

Fear Street
Gillian Jacobs, Benjamin Flores Jr., and Darrell Britt-Gibson in 'Fear Street Part 3'
| Credit: Netflix

You do kill a lot of other characters, though. How did you conceive and execute all those wild deaths throughout the trilogy?

With movie one, it was actually a little easier than with movie two, because we used suburbia as our battleground in [Part 1]. With movie two, it was a little more difficult, because we really were bound towards Tommy as being our primary villain and [using] his axe. So it was kind of like, "How many ways can you destroy someone with an axe?" I feel like Gary's death is so incredible in that movie, and then obviously when we get to the end with the sisters, you're like, "Oh my God, how much is she getting hacked to pieces?" I think that the line for those kills, and throughout even the first movie, was, "Let's make this really brutal, but hopefully in service of the emotion of caring about these characters that are dying," and not just blood for the sake of blood.

When we get into movie three, we obviously kill all of those children. The pastor takes out their eyes, and I hope it's a very striking, weird, emotional place when you see all of these dead children. But for me, the most intense part of all three movies is honestly the hanging sequence with Sarah Fier. Feeling that brutality of the mob, and letting this happen, and kind of realizing that the story that's going to be told throughout history in Shadyside is that this girl who was just in love with the wrong person got destroyed.

The one that really stuck with me was in the first movie, when Kate (Julia Rehwald) goes through the bread slicer.

That's my favorite, I'm going to be honest. [Laughs] And Julia was just so convincing. She's an amazing actress, but the level of pain and pure desperation that she gave in that scene was so intense that it kind of made everyone uncomfortable while we were shooting. It was just so visceral. And we ended up using the on-set production sound and blaring it over speakers during other scenes while we were shooting, because it was so effective. I remember the first time that Kiana and Olivia heard it; we were filming the part at the lobster tank where Deena's trying to kill Sam, and we started playing Kate screaming. They were like, "Oh my God, what did you do to Julia?" [Laughs]

Fear Street
Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch in 'Fear Street Part 3: 1666'
| Credit: Netflix

To return to the theme of the outsider, the trilogy also ends up really centering this queer romance, which seems to be a make-good for the slasher genre in a way. Was that the intention there?

Absolutely. There's this abhorrent tradition of queer characters not ever having a happy ending, and part of that, I believe, is codified by the Hays Code, with this idea that if you're showing a character that is quote-unquote morally outside, something bad has to happen to them. That was a conversation that I had a lot with Phil [Graziadei], my writing partner, who grew up as a queer person in the '80s and '90s. He's talked to me a lot about what it meant to see how every time there was a representation of him or someone like him, it didn't feel like they were deserving of a happy ending. That was something that was very, very appealing to me about the trilogy, and specifically about the story that we tell in movie three. The unfortunately traditional ending to the relationship happens with Sarah and Hannah, but then to be able to come back to '94 and give Sam and Deena that great ending was really cool. I hope that people respond to it, because I think that that's something that certainly has not yet had the opportunity to happen within the slasher genre.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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