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Exclusive Interview: Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez on the scariest part of “THE STRANGERS–CHAPTER 1” and more

Monday, May 13, 2024 | Exclusives, Interviews


With THE STRANGERS–CHAPTER 1 launching a three-film reboot of the home-invasion-horror favorite, there’s a new couple being terrorized by three masked, mysterious fiends. RUE MORGUE got a little time with stars Madelaine Petsch and Froy Gutierrez to discuss the update.

Opening in theaters nationwide this Friday, May 17, THE STRANGERS–CHAPTER 1 casts Petsch (RIVERDALE) and Gutierrez (TEEN WOLF) as Maya and Ryan, a road-tripping young couple whose car breaks down in a remote part of Oregon. With no choice but to stick around overnight, they wind up in what at first appears to be a homey cabin in the woods. Then the loud knocks and strange voices at the door begin, and the duo are pitted against the trio of ruthless, heavily armed attackers. Directed by Renny Harlin and scripted by Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland, with genre veteran Courtney Solomon as one of the producers, CHAPTER 1 is both a reintroduction to the modern-classic scenario and a launching point to more fully explore the Strangers and their story in the next two films.

What was the scariest part of making THE STRANGERS–CHAPTER 1?

MADELAINE PETSCH: Honestly, for me, it was the intimidation of the shoes that needed to be filled of the lovers in the original film. That was probably the scariest part for me personally.

FROY GUTIERREZ: Working with Renny [both laugh]. I was definitely very intimidated to work with him. That was part of it. But I think the scariest part was, you’re on this high of being on adrenaline and running and shooting all these scenes, and then you get to your hotel, and you’re just buzzing and you can’t sleep. That was probably the spookiest part for me, the lack of sleep.

Were you both fans of the original film before you were cast in this one?

PETSCH: Yes. I watched the 2008 original when I was 14 years old, at home alone. My parents were on a date, and my dad asked me, “What do you want from Blockbuster?” I was like, “That!” and he was like, “No!” And I was like, “Please?” and he said, “OK.” So I watched it all alone, and it really stuck with me to my core.

GUTIERREZ: I’d heard about it–I knew the imprint that it had culturally–but I hadn’t actually seen the 2008 version. I had seen the 2018 [sequel], PREY AT NIGHT, because my friend Bailee Madison was in it, and she brought me to it when it first came out. And I enjoyed it so much that I actually got back into horror through that movie. Then after I booked this role, I went over to a friend’s house and we watched the original STRANGERS, and I instantly understood why it’s such a classic. Since then, I’ve watched it so many times, and it’s a terrifying, dreadful movie, in the best way.

Madelaine, Renny Harlin and Courtney Solomon have said that when you came on board, you brought a lot to the character and contributed to the screenplay. Can you elaborate on that?

PETSCH: I was sent a 290-page script in July, while I was shooting a Christmas film [HOTEL FOR THE HOLIDAYS], and I was like, this could not be more different from what I’m doing right now. And I read it, and I had lots of notes; it was great, but I was like, “I think we can make it even better.” I came into the Zoom meeting really hot, like, “These are some of the things that I think we can work on.” It was about 30 minutes while I was on my lunch break, and they were all for it. So I went to Slovakia for preproduction, and rewrote all three movies with Renny and Courtney, which was the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve gotten to be part of the editing and the sound mix on the movies and be so heavily involved in the overall production. I feel very lucky to be learning from two incredible talents.

GUTIERREZ: She really was in a leadership position the whole way through. She was great, and was managing the writing, her performance, the editing, the sound on three different movies, and even the marketing and publicity afterward. She has had a hand in every step of the process, and has done excellently at every single part, the whole way through. It’s been incredible to watch.

How was your offscreen relationship with the actors playing the Strangers? Did you separate from them to keep that tension, or were you friendly with them when the cameras weren’t rolling?

PETSCH: I didn’t have a relationship with them when we weren’t rolling. I intentionally stayed away from them and they intentionally stayed away from me. I had to make it through three movies, having such a fraught relationship with those characters that I almost never saw the actors without their masks on. [To Gutierrez] How about you? I don’t actually know your answer.

GUTIERREZ: I didn’t have that experience at all! I was very friendly with them [laughs]. We’d have lunch in each other’s trailers and stuff.

PETSCH: I didn’t have time for lunch!

GUTIERREZ: But you know, once they put the masks on, it was a whole different thing, because that human connection was suddenly severed. So even though I knew who it was, it could be anyone behind the mask. And that’s part of what’s so terrifying about it, you know?

Madelaine, can you give us any hints on where your character goes in the second and third films?

PETSCH: Well, the way I’m describing the first film is that it’s a retelling of the original. And then once you’ve seen that movie, it’s a launchpad into a much larger story of the Strangers that you’ve never, ever seen before. I can guarantee that. It’s also, to me, a character study of Maya. Once she’s pushed so far beyond her breaking point, what is she left with? That is kind of the arc of CHAPTERs 1, 2 and 3.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).