Gillian Jacobs and Director Leigh Janiak Tell Us How They Tapped Into What Spooks Them to Make Netflix’s ‘Fear Street’ Trilogy

Netflix’s “Fear Street” film trilogy defines pure genre fun. Based on the books by R.L. Stine, they stick to the famous author’s style of easy scares and teenage humor. A major difference this time around is that the films could care less about being “family-friendly.” As directed by Leigh Janiak, the trilogy dares to be an R-rated scarefest where the teens cuss, have sex and are cornered into having to wage bloody combat against evil forces. Each film is set in a different era, first 1994, then 1978, and finally the year 1666. The setting is Shadyside, an imaginary town plagued by murders and crime, which sits next to the more suburban pleasant Sunnyvale. After a brutal mall murder, a Shadyside teen named Deena (Kiana Madeira) in 1994 is thrown into a plot involving an ancient curse, a legendary witch and other dangers facing her and younger brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.), as well as other friends and her ex, Sam (Olivia Welch), who has moved to Sunnyvale. Answers may lie in the secrets kept by another resident, C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), who has a longer history with the ghouls haunting the town. Jacobs, Janiak and Flores spoke with Entertainment Voice about the making of this fun batch of scares.

“I hope the audience is entertained and feel they experience a great story,” said Jacobs, who remains best known for roles in shows like “Community.” “I had read a lot of the ‘Fear Street’ books as a kid, so I was very familiar with the whole world and was so excited when I realized they were making movies out of it.” But jumping into the world of the books came with its own kind of intense fun. “The creature designs were incredible. I didn’t have to do a lot of imagining. The hair department, the wardrobe department, they all did the hard work. It was great just diving into what they created. It was thrilling that Lee wanted me to be in this.”

For Benjamin Flores, who steals much screen time as the brainy younger brother with a serious video game and chat room addiction, going back to a decade he wasn’t around for was quite the experience. “It was a lot of fun going back to the ‘90s,” said Flores, “I wasn’t around for the ‘90s obviously but I love the decade and the outfits, the music, the culture. Going to film in that era was amazing. I loved the jeans I got to wear (laughs). But as an actor it really challenges your creativity, especially when we travel back to the 1600s.” Flores also basked in the camaraderie of the crew. “I had so much fun with them. It’s the best experience I’ve had with a cast.” Like Jacobs, Flores had already been familiar with the world of R.L. Stine. “I had definitely read Goosebumps, so I knew about R.L. Stine. Everytime we had a book day at school I would look for the ‘Goosebumps’ books because they just looked the coolest. He actually came on set! He was super supportive and loved everything we were doing.” Something much grander than ghouls frightens Flores, however. “God,” he said, “God is what scares me.”

Director Leigh Janiak, who made her directorial debut with 2014’s “Honeymoon,” tackled her biggest project yet with “Fear Street,” while proving that directing horror is no longer just a man’s game. “The funny thing is when you’re shooting on a set it’s never scary,” said Janiak, “You have to cross your fingers and trust your gut and hope that all the things you’re picturing in your head come alive in post. It all has to come together, the script, the production, post. It’s like one big puzzle.” Janiak is also proud of the representation that takes place in the movie. “One of the great things about getting to do this is that we got to revisit the slasher genre. I grew up in the ‘90s and watched all those great ‘70s movies like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Halloween.’ Those were my favorite movies. But here we could correct representation that hadn’t existed previously. Getting to structure it around outsiders marginalized by society was exciting.” Naturally Janiak was able to meet Stine. “I met him when we shot the ‘1666’ part of the movies and I remember I was sweaty and gross, because we were shooting in the middle of nowhere Atlanta. But he was very kind, but I cannot remember what came out of my mouth (laughs).” 

One element in the “1994” segment that stands out is the soundtrack. Unlike other films set in the period, this one fully uses the sounds of the period, from Nine Inch Nails to Garbage and Nirvana. “The music was super important for me,” said Janiak. “I put together a playlist before we even wrote the scripts. That always grounds me and reminds me of the atmosphere, the tone. Playlists always help me and we passed along the playlist to the cast and crew. Ultimately it all went into the movie.” 

The “Fear Street” trilogy begins streaming July 2 with “Part 1: 1994,” and continues with “Part 2: 1978” on July 9, and “Part 3: 1666” on July 16.