Fear Street director previews her trilogy of terror and how it 'reinvents' the slasher movie
It's been 25 years since Scream revived and parodied the slasher movie, but Leigh Janiak has still found a new way to slice it. The director's Fear Street trilogy, which will arrive on Netflix over three weeks in July, is both a throwback and a step forward for the genre, telling an interconnected story across three time periods.
"I love the slasher movie, but we've done that, right?" Janiak tells EW. "We've done slasher movies in various ways, and I was interested in how we could reinvent the genre a little bit. Part of that came from this opportunity to tell a different kind of story that had a bigger narrative, connected over all three, that you need to watch in a short amount of time to get the full experience. It's not a traditional sequel model."
Nor was it a traditional production model: the trilogy's three entries were shot back-to-back-to-back over 106 days, with Janiak jumping straight from one film to the next. It's not an unprecedented approach, of course, but it's one usually reserved for big-budget franchises like The Lord of the Rings and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"It was so many night shoots," the director says, laughing, of Fear Street's production. "Luckily, I am a night person and not a morning person. Otherwise, I think I would have died."
Inspired by, but much gnarlier than, R.L. Stine's book series ("We've gone into a full R," Janiak says), the films follow misfit characters from the town of Shadyside across the years. The trilogy begins in 1994, as a group of teenagers discovers the terrifying connection — involving an ancient witch's curse — between the gruesome tragedies that have plagued their town for decades. The second film rewinds to 1978, while the third goes all the way back to 1666 to detail the origins of the town's troubles.
"The core of the movie started from this idea that in Shadyside, you're other," Janiak explains. "You feel like the world is against you, and no matter kind of what you do, things aren't going to change. That kind of necessitated that our characters weren't the football player or the cheerleader. They don't fit that mold."
Or, to put it another way: "Our protagonists usually would be dead very quickly in a normal slasher movie." (The trilogy's cast includes Gillian Jacobs, Trinkets' Kiana Madeira, Stranger Things' Sadie Sink, and Ashley Zukerman.)
The three-part story also presented an opportunity to play with different subgenres, which was "a dream" for horror-movie aficionado Janiak. The 1994-set first entry is a teen slasher flick with, as the filmmaker puts it, "a bigger element of fun," and nods to '90s touchstones such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, and particularly Scream. (Let's just say there's a reason you don't see much of Maya Hawke in the trailer above.)
The second film, meanwhile, is a summer camp horror film in the vein of Friday the 13th, while stylistically drawing on classics like the original Halloween. "The way that the actors and I worked in that movie was different than in the '90s," Janiak notes. "They live in a slightly more stylized world, they fit more traditional archetypes versus the '90s characters."
Obviously, there weren't any period-appropriate horror films to draw on for the third entry, which is set in the seventeenth century. So Janiak turned to an unexpected influence: Terrence Malick's Pocahontas story The New World. "It's got this gorgeous world that's just spoiled and turns rotten," she says. "That was the big inspiration for us."
Not that that means Fear Street is another of the art-house horror films that have recently swept the multiplex — quite the opposite, in fact.
"The movies are fun, and they're supposed to be, like, 'It's a Friday night, I just want to eat some popcorn and decompress and step into these other worlds,'" Janiak says. "I'm excited for people to do that, and I'm excited for them to meet these characters and live in this weird, crazy, insane world for a little bit with us."
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 arrives on Netflix July 2, followed by Part 2: 1978 on July 9 and Part 3: 1666 on July 16.
A version of this story appears in the July issue of Entertainment Weekly. Order the July issue now or find it on newsstands beginning June 18. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.