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Exclusive Interview: Director Leigh Janiak on her long trip down “FEAR STREET,” Part Two

Wednesday, July 21, 2021 | Interviews

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

With the three-part FEAR STREET saga now playing on Netflix (which took the project over from 20th Century Fox), director Leigh Janiak is thrilled that the four-year project has seen successful fruition. Tapping into the same kind of genre nostalgia mined by Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS (whose co-creator Ross Duffer is Janiak’s husband), the trilogy is also very up-to-the-minute in its themes, particularly the relationship between heroines Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) in FEAR STREET: 1994–which is reflected in the doomed romance of the girls also played by Madeira and Welch in FEAR STREET: 1666. Continuing the interview that began here, Janiak (who was once attached to an update of another youth-horror favorite, THE CRAFT) discusses that angle, and other personal concerns reflected in her approach to adapting the popular R.L. Stine book series.

What made it crucial to have the lesbian romance not only in 1994, but as part of 1666 as well?

That was one of the central things that made me feel like now was a good time to do FEAR STREET, and also revisit the slasher genre, because it felt like we could build in this idea of Shadyside being a town of people who had been ostracized and scapegoated and told that they were other, throughout time. In doing that, we could show characters who weren’t represented in the slasher genre in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Being able to have that queer love story as the central relationship driving the movies was super-important and super-exciting, and being able to show Sarah and Hannah in the 1600s, and how things that may have not worked exactly right for them can maybe get righted a little bit with Deena and Sam, was appealing to me as someone who likes love stories as much as I like bloody horror stories.

Did you go to summer camp as a teenager, and if so, did that experience filter into creating FEAR STREET: 1978?

I didn’t go to summer camp, and that is still a sore subject between me and my parents! I was obsessed with the first PARENT TRAP, the Hayley Mills one. I used to watch that over and over again on VHS; I think I wore a hole through our tape, and I begged my parents to go to camp. I think they just didn’t want to send me because they were in the educational system–my dad’s a teacher and my mom worked for the school district–so they had summers off, so they didn’t need me to be at camp. And my mom told me that at camp, you only get fed casseroles. At the time, I don’t think I knew what a casserole was, it just sounded disgusting, and she was like, “You’ll never eat if you go to camp.” So making 1978 a summer camp movie was like a dream. I went swimming in the lake during our lunch breaks and things like that; it was great.

You’ve been married to Ross Duffer since before STRANGER THINGS, and now you’ve done your own nostalgic horror series. Beyond the casting of THINGS’ Maya Hawke and Sadie Sink in FEAR STREET, how did the two projects inform each other, if at all?

Well, it’s great to be partnered with someone who understands the challenges of what it means to be helming a giant production. We’ve been supporting each other a long time; we’ve been together since 2009 and were married in 2015, and it’s been very much a good, creative partnership. We give very honest feedback on one another’s stuff, maybe sometimes to the point of detriment [laughs]. But I know that if I write something and he likes it, I’ve earned it, and vice versa.

Are we going to see any FEAR STREET people in the fourth season of STRANGER THINGS?

No. There were a few people I read for FEAR STREET who weren’t quite right for my roles and ended up getting parts in the next season of STRANGER THINGS, but nobody who’s one of our stars.

Will there be more FEAR STREET movies, and if so, are you interested in adapting any particular favorite books or characters?

All of my fingers are crossed that we continue to build out the FEAR STREET universe. That was one of the things I thought was cool about the project in the first place: that there was this world we could build. The possibilities are endless as far as another trilogy, with standalone films that follow killers we’ve introduced or hinted at, as well as specific books we could delve into. There are actually books that I think would make good movies that aren’t necessarily my favorite ones to read, personally. I will say that my favorite of them, which I just started rereading for the first time in years–because I wasn’t really reading them when we were in production–is THE WRONG NUMBER, which is also the one we show the cover of at the beginning. I love Deena and Jade and Deena’s weird stepbrother, and the idea of prank calling gone bad. I just loved prank calling, and I’m so mad that we can’t really do it anymore with our cell phones [laughs]!

What happened to the remake of THE CRAFT that you were working on several years ago?

I was on that project for a while. My writing partner Phil Graziadei and I wrote a few drafts of it, and I was very excited, and it just didn’t end up coming together at Sony at the time. It was a more expensive movie than the one that ultimately got made [last year’s THE CRAFT: LEGACY]; they did a different version, and I love it and I’m very happy that Zoe [Lister-Jones] got to do it, because I’m such a fan of the original. But they made it for a much smaller budget than the world that we were writing for.

What do you have in the works right now?

There are a lot of different things happening. There’s one that hopefully I’ll be able to talk about soon, which I’m excited about just as far as getting back on set, and then I’m thinking about the FEAR STREET universe, obviously, and then other ideas that I’ve been working on for a while. There’s a lot that I’m excited about.

Do you feel that Netflix is a more open field for genre filmmaking than the studio landscape is these days?

I don’t think it’s necessarily a direct comparison of, oh, Netflix is better for genre or whatever, but there is something thrilling about working in a place where the old rules of what a story must be just don’t exist. It doesn’t come down to, is it a movie, is it a series, how long is it, what is the structure? Those things don’t apply at Netflix, and that’s super-exciting, because you can let the characters and the story and the horror dictate what it’s going to look like, which is awesome for a filmmaker. And as a fan, as someone who likes to watch these things, it’s great to be able to experience those stories in a new way.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.