Throughout the events of Leigh Janiak’s Fear Street trilogy, the threads of the past and present of Shadyside, Ohio intermingle in some interesting ways. With over 300 years of history connecting characters through various eras in R.L. Stine’s fictional town, it’s a universe where familiar faces pop up in different eras of time. But one interesting connection came in the coincidental casting of two Stranger Things stars, Sadie Sink and Maya Hawke, and how neither of them knew it until later in the process.
Originally, as I was talking with Fear Street: Part 2 - 1978’s Sadie Sink during the press day for the Fear Street trilogy, I’d meant to ask about whether or not Ms. Sink got a chance to bond with Gillian Jacobs, who just happens to play the older version of Ziggy/Christine Berman. As Sink gets to play the younger, more rebellious version, and Jacobs is the more subdued and traumatized variant, I wanted to find out what sort of discussions that may have prompted between the two actors. However, in that process, I learned something even more interesting, as you’ll see in Sadie Sink’s discussion on how she learned that Maya Hawke was in Fear Street: Part 1 - 1994:
No, I didn’t know she was a part of it until I got there, and Leigh was like, ‘Oh, you know Maya’s in this, right?’ So that was really exciting and yeah, since then we’ve talked about it a lot, and we’re both really excited for the movies to come out. But yeah, she’s an amazing friend, an incredible person. So it’s fun that we both got to be a part of the Fear Street world together.
For those of you wondering where Maya Hawke may have popped up in the Fear Street trilogy, we’ll help you out with the answer. In the beginning of Fear Street: Part 1 - 1994, Hawke plays Heather, the B. Dalton store clerk who is actually selling Fear Street books at the Shadyside Mall. Though, in the tradition of such films as Psycho, she doesn’t make it past the first act, as her boyfriend is Ryan Torres, the first victim of the supposed “Curse of Sarah Fier” who we’re introduced to. And for you eagle eyed R.L. Stine fans who couldn’t tear your eyes off the books shown in that sequence, yes, Heather is selling The Wrong Number to Sam’s stepmom in the opening. Not to mention that the book that spares Heather’s life for a little longer is none other than Cheerleaders: The First Evil.
The respectful nostalgia that Fear Street shows to R.L. Stine’s source material is another angle that probably sees audiences draw unconscious comparisons between these films and the Stranger Things phenomenon that Netflix has been riding the wave of for some time. What’s even stranger about this Netflix casting coincidence is the fact that Leigh Janiak herself has a personal connection to the world of Stranger Things, as she’s married to series co-creator Ross Duffer. Taking the connections one step further is the fact that Fear Street: Part 3 - 1666 showcases yet another actor from the cast in its ranks, with Randy Havens playing the father of Sarah Fier in the trilogy-capping installment.
But with all of these strong connections to that other nostalgic Netflix juggernaut, Janiak found it even more important to respectfully separate Fear Street from Stranger Things. One key decision in how Fear Street distinguished Shadyside, Ohio from Hawkins, Illinois was in its baseline time period. 1994 wasn’t just chosen out of a hat, as Leigh Janiak explained that the setting of the Fear Street universe’s core story was initially set to take place a bit sooner than it eventually did. The switch to 1994 came out of the following necessity, according to Janiak herself:
I didn’t want to live in the ‘80s. I felt like that for me, the ‘80s was a very specific time period, which they had done so incredibly well. So that was really important with the second movie, placing it in 1978, where we could still be living in that kind of aesthetic of the ‘70s, for style, for music, for camerawork, tonally it’s different. The same with the ‘90s movie, maybe the first few conversations we had, it was going to take place in 1990, not ‘94, and I was worried that it was too close to that time period.
While Sadie Sink, Maya Hakwe and Randy Havens just happen to be in both Fear Street and Stranger Things, it’s not like Leigh Janiak was trying to create a Voltron-style combination of Netflix properties. That’s not to say that she doesn’t enjoy the comparisons, but rather that she wasn’t aiming for such a connection when making this project over at the original home it set up with 20th Century Fox:
While I welcome kind of the comparison of being able to indulge in nostalgia and send a love letter to these time periods and these movies that we love, I felt like they’re doing that and living that. So I very much wanted to be very different, distinct worlds, and also push the limit. We are movies, and we’re R-rated, so we could live in a very different kind of universe of violence. Although, I will say Season 4 is crazy.
Of course, the distinctions between Fear Street and Stranger Things do present themselves in the ways that Leigh Janiak described above. But even when it comes to Sadie Sink’s role as Ziggy Berman in Fear Street: Part 2 - 1978, part of pushing those boundaries came in the form of her most stunt heavy role ever. As Ziggy gets to tussle with the Nightwing Killer, the physical edge to those antics are more strenuous than anything the monsters of Hawkins threw her way, and she was absolutely game for it.
Audiences will still probably draw comparisons between Stranger Things and Fear Street, and much like Sink and Maya Hawke, they won’t even know they did so until after the fact. But the big difference is that while the more family-friendly TV series sinks a little deeper into the nostalgia pool, Leigh Janiak’s potential universe of terror opts to use nostalgia as an accent, doing the world she loves justice in the hopes that others will also fall in love with its bloody and harrowing charms. It’s a blood-soaked love letter with a mix tape to die for, and you can enjoy every minute of the Fear Street trilogy for yourself, as all three installments are currently streaming on Netflix.