'Fear Street' Director Leigh Janiak Reveals R.L. Stine's Reaction to the Gory Film Trilogy
"It was this big fangirl moment for me. I remember I was just so sweaty and gross. I was like, 'Oh no! This is moment when I'm meeting R.L. Stine!?'"
Published Jul 22, 2021This isn't the Fear Street you might remember from your childhood. Although R.L. Stine's series of horror novels contained some scary themes and violence, they were still young adult books targeted at teenage audiences.
Netflix's new Fear Street Trilogy of films, on the other hand, aren't for the faint of heart. Tweens get brutally murdered, there are numerous graphic stabbings, and one particularly memorable scene finds a disgusting new use for a bread slicer. The three slashers — Part 1: 1994, Part 2: 1978 and Part 3: 1666 — were released on consecutive Fridays in July, adding up to what's perhaps the most memorable film event since theatres closed last spring.
So what inspired this gruesome take on the Fear Street franchise, and how does author R.L. Stine feel about his books getting such a bloody makeover? We spoke with director/co-screenwriter Leigh Janiak about her teenage love of Fear Street, paying homage to slasher films of the '70s and '90s, and her embarrassing "fangirl moment" when she finally met R.L. Stine.
Please note that the interview below contains spoilers for all three films.
How familiar were you with R.L. Stine's writing before starting this project?
I had read the books when I was a teenager, kind of in the mid-'90s. I had read them, I had loved them, I was a big fan. And then they kind of sat in that memory of teenagedom. Then, when I was approached in 2017 by my producers at Chernin [Entertainment], I was of course very, very excited about the possibility. And then I was like, "Oh no, there's hundreds of these books! How do we how do we tackle this? What do we do?" We ended up coming to this place where we were creating a new narrative and a new mythology, but definitely living in the spirit of the books and where that memory lay.
Were you also a Goosebumps kid? Or was the wrong era?
That was too young for me. That was my brother. My younger brother was a Goosebumps kid. I was a little bit older.
Did you work with R.L. Stine in the process of making these films?
I had a few meetings with people who handle his estate when we were still in the script stages. Via them, he embraced the idea of adaptation — bringing a new kind of vibe and a new world to his work. The first time I actually met him was when we were filming the third movie, which was actually the second movie we shot. The 1666 part. We were at this village in the middle of nowhere in Georgia, and it was this big fangirl moment for me. I remember I was just so sweaty and gross. I was like, "Oh no! This is moment when I'm meeting R.L. Stine!?" But it was lovely. He was very nice, and since then I've interacted with him a few times and he's been very, very nice about the movies. It's a big relief.
Did he give any feedback about the films?
Just that he loved it and was so excited about it. I think there was a comment of it being a little more brutal than the books, but he was happy about it.
That was my reaction watching the films. I thought, "Damn, I don't remember Fear Street very well, but did anybody's head get stuffed through a bread slicer in the books?"
No, they certainly did not. I knew that these were going to be primarily slasher movies, and I felt that when you're making a slasher, you need to have the blood and the violent deaths and the unique kinds of ways of dying. So that was always important to me. And then the other thing was relying on my memory of the books, which was that they're pretty subversive. They felt very edgy to me. As a 14- or 15-year-old reading them, it felt more intense. I just re-read [Fear Street novel] The Wrong Number about a month ago now, and I was surprised that it wasn't as intense as my memory. So that was important too: preserving that feeling of reading the book for the first time.
Why the '90s and why the '70s?
The '90s felt right to me, because that's kind of when the books were written. It felt like having the present of the movies take place in the '90s made sense. Also, as a movie lover and as a filmmaker, being in the mid-'90s, I felt like we could pay homage and send a love letter to that new wave of slasher [films], which I think was really ushered in with Scream — where you have a tonal shift, versus the slasher movies from the '70s and '80s. I thought that would make sense to live in a very fun, bombastic, self-aware, sarcastic world. And then, because we were dealing with these ideas of generational trauma and history repeating itself — and we wanted to show a little bit of young Nick Goode's story in the '70s, and then also C. Berman's origin story — it was good timing to be able to do the late '70s, which was also the birth of the modern slasher.
What are your favourite slashers that you were looking to when you were making Fear Street?
Well, certainly Scream, as should be very clear. Shamelessly, shamelessly stealing from Scream every moment we can. Trying to twist it a little bit to be a new thing, but Scream for sure. Halloween. A Nightmare on Elm Street. Those are all my favourites. But we looked a lot to Friday the 13th also — the whole franchise — in doing the '70s. But Halloween and Scream are my favourites of all-time, I would say.
The '90s and the '70s have real slasher traditions. Where were you looking to for inspiration for 1666?
The 1666 part of that third movie is not really a slasher. The slasher elements of it are really, like, Solomon pursuing Sarah in the tunnel. That kind of classic chase. But he's a person, and he's not the person we've thought is our villain the whole time. So, tonally, that was a different place. The Village was a big one. The Witch. We watched The Crucible, of course. And then Terrence Malick's The New World was another one. And that was not, obviously, for the horror, but rather watching the decay of the place and figuring out how to keep some kind of modern energy in this period world.
Were there any any nostalgic details that you were particularly excited to include from the different time periods?
I was a teenager in the '90s, so all of the '90s stuff was super satisfying and exciting. I think I taught myself to type with AOL Instant Messenger chat, because I was on that computer night after night, chatting with my friends. So [including] that was a big deal to me. And "The Queen of Air and Darkness" — firstname.lastname@example.org was my first Hotmail address. And then some of the other names are friends of mine — their original Instant Messenger names. So that was really fun.
And then the mixtape. I think that's one of the things that we lost as we've advanced as a civilization. I really miss making the collage, putting it in the cassette tape container, and then making the whole tape. CDs were not the same. I've done it since then with flash drives. I actually did it for this movie — I made a flash drive playlist. But it's not the same. There's something that you're missing there.
What are your future plans with Fear Street?
The promise of Fear Street, to me, is just so exciting. If you read Goosebumps, you know there's an infinite world laying in front of you. And it's the same thing with Fear Street. I think that there's a lot of room for amazing standalone movies that maybe follow some of the killers that we've hinted at or didn't have time to explore. Or television, or whatever that may be. And then also, obviously, at the end of our trilogy, you see someone grab the book. There's definitely a bit of open-ended room for the next thing.
Is there a new Fear Street project in the works yet?
There are certainly whispers in the air, let me say that.