After a successful release of three R-rated Fear Street movies, Netflix has basically proven that R.L. Stine’s YA horror thrillers can indeed exist in a more mature environment. A trilogy soaked in gore and laced with profanity throughout, co-writer/director Leigh Janiak committed to a slasher horror environment, and did so with gleeful abandon. In fact, she was so all in on the R-rated approach that even after trimming a sizable number of F-bombs from Fear Street: Part 2 - 1978's script, she still had plenty left over to keep the film very firmly in the rating it was aiming for.
Through two separate interviews during the promotional rounds for Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy, I was interested in inquiring about whether or not the unapologetically R-rated nature of the films ever encountered any pushback. The main reason for this line of questioning was, of course, the fact that the Disney/Fox merger was completed during the shooting of Fear Street, which may have had some wondering if such an approach was ever questioned. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, as Leigh Janiak revealed how supportive her producers were when it came to the trilogy’s tone:
It was something that was really embraced by my producers, by the studio. There were conversations every once in a while about, ‘What would these be like if it was PG-13?’ And I was like, ‘Have you read our scripts? Because there’s zero chance that they can exist in that world.’ And they’re may have been one or two conversations about the amount of “Fucks” that were in the movie, but that’s fine. I think I cut like 35 “Fucks” from movie two [1978,] and there’s still like 45 in there, so we’re in a fine place.
While that’s not among the record holders for usages of that ever popular swear word, the fact that Fear Street: Part 2 - 1978 still had 45 “fucks” in there is pretty amazing. As the rough metrics for an R-rating see more than one usage in a particular instance as the bare minimum threshold, Leigh Janiak and her team certainly went above and beyond that call of duty. Though if the language didn’t get that particular branding, the gore and bodily harm to children absolutely would have.
Then again, Fear Street has always carried an expectation to be more extreme, with even series author R.L. Stine mentioning in the run up to the first trailer that this was a PG-rated book series adapted into an R-rated form. Stine’s mention of that fact was meant to be more of a badge of honor, as he was on board with the fact that Leigh Janiak put that prospect on the table from the first moment she was approached. Her reasons for making an R-rating essential to the Fear Street trilogy were quite simple, tying back to both her fandom of horror movies, as well as the original books:
From the beginning, when I was hired to come onto the projects and start thinking about them, they could only be R-rated. That was baked in from the beginning, and part of that has to do with I knew that I wanted to make slasher movies, and I think slasher movies need to be R. We need to have blood, we need to have dead teenagers, and we need to have all of the things. So I felt like that was really important. … And further, I think that as a fan of the books that read them when I was a teenager, I think honestly in my brain, in my memories, they were crazier. Like, they were intense because I was reading them when I was 14 or 15. I wanted to preserve that kind of feeling of ‘Holy shit! This stuff is crazy!’ in the movies.
Some of the most classic story twists from the Fear Street universe have included, but aren’t limited to, cursed family legacies, origins dating back to the time of America’s earliest settlements and, of course, teenage jealousy. All of those factors were combined in 1994, 1978 and 1666 as a sort of starter pack for what Leigh Janiak has described as a potential “Marvel Universe of Horror,” and the results have worked out rather well. Still, if there was ever anyone who had an outside hope that a PG-13 version of Fear Street could have happened, Janiak had her own strategy for making sure it would be impossible to cut together.
When we caught up on a phone interview closer to the release of Fear Street: Part 2 - 1978, I asked if there was any sort of backup plan in play for if Leigh Janiak had to rapidly shift to meet a PG-13 cut. At this point in the conversation, we’d already talked about how she came up with the killer bread slicer kill in Fear Street: Part 1 - 1994, as well as her reaction of “Fucking yes!” to the news that Netflix had acquired the entire trilogy for release. So it should surprise no one that Ms. Janiak’s thought process followed this school of thought:
My backup plan was to make it impossible, to make things so crazy they would have to literally reshoot the entire movie. I wasn’t super afraid, like I said, with Fox we were really supported as R-rated, and the producers were always behind it. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that when I was shooting, I certainly was very aware of how I was shooting things, knowing what would be possible or what wouldn’t be possible edit wise. And that was part of the conversation about the “Fucks.“ I knew there was always a way to cut some … and it’s seamless. Sometimes I would do alts that didn’t have them, but you can’t do that for everything.
Whether the studio liked it or not, Fear Street was going to be an R-rated trilogy that paid tribute to the slashers of the past, as well as some other cinematic influences that had come in more recent years. Uncompromised and fully out in the world, Leigh Janiak’s vision of what R.L. Stine’s universe of horror meant to her followed a straight line to the end result she had always planned for. The future of the series is bound to follow that path of gore and societally conscious issues, should it continue under Netflix’s artistically mindful eye. So fans shouldn’t worry about how, but when Fear Street will be coming back to the forefront.
At the moment, there’s no immediate plans for Fear Street sequels, which isn’t surprising seeing as Fear Street: Part 3 - 1666 was just released last weekend. All three installments are now available for enjoyment, streaming only on Netflix’s library. Though should you be ready for more Netflix excitement, you can check out the 2021 movie schedule that details what originals will be debuting on this popular streaming platform.