Among the many excitements and unexpected joys of Leigh Janiak’s bloody and fiendish “Fear Street” trilogy of films, which debuts with “Part One: 1994” on Friday, is a lesbian romance that runs through the center of all the movies.
Though the three “Fear Street” movies jump backward in time and operate as standalone stories, starting with 1994, then 1978 and finally 1666, one of the connecting threads of the films is the relationship between the two young female leads Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Samantha (Olivia Scott Welch).
The films are all set in the cursed town of Shadyside, dubbed “Murder Capital U.S.A.,” and in “Part One,” we learn that Deena and Samantha have broken up and are on the rocks after Samantha crossed to the other side of the tracks in the neighboring, rival town of Sunnyvale. Shadysiders are consistently belittled and looked down at by their wealthier and better-off neighbors, so “Fear Street” director Leigh Janiak explained that the LGBTQ story line could be directly built into the narrative.
“We basically created a mythology around this idea that everyone in Shadyside feels other for some reason. And because of that, we were able to give our characters a personality an arc and backstory that usually isn’t given to protagonists in horror movies,” Janiak told TheWrap. “Everyone in our movies, whether it’s sexuality or race or gender or socioeconomic status, has something that’s making them feel like they can’t get out of Shadyside. This is all that there is.”
Janiak’s writing partner Phil Graziadei is gay, and their writers’ room on “Fear Street” was acutely aware of the history of how queer characters are generally portrayed in horror films.
“It was like, we have an opportunity to do something here that doesn’t get to be done very often, and it makes sense in our narrative, so that was exciting too, and also interesting,” Janiak said. “These girls, it’s a love story, and more than anything else, that’s what’s driving these three movies forward, the love between these two girls. That feels very true to me, queer, straight, whatever else you might identify with, these two teenage girls who are trying to figure it out and trying to stay alive.”
Janiak’s “Fear Street” films are all based on “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine’s book series of the same name. But with dozens of books of source material without any real connective tissue between them beyond the town of Shadyside, the “Fear Street” movies have a narrative universe largely created from scratch, all while paying homage to the history and characters Stine created in the books.
Janiak also says that part of her early fascination with horror as a genre was watching films like “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” as a kid that could have popcorn fun and excitement while also slipping in emotion and substance into the story, and Janiak wanted to do the same with her take on “Fear Street.”
“I think one of the things I like about genre and horror is you’re able to make movies that are that. You’re pushing the audience to these extreme emotions of death and crazy violence, but they can also sneak a little bit of being about something in there. That’s when horror becomes great,” she said.
Read more from TheWrap’s interview with “Fear Street” director Leigh Janiak here.