Netflix is getting ambitious with its Fear Street movie saga, the first of which, Fear Street Part 1: 1994, drops tomorrow just in time for the Fourth of July weekend. A trilogy of movies based on the iconic teen horror series by R.L. Stine, Fear Street promises enough film references to satisfy many a horror cinephile, but what about its more explicit source material? How closely will Netflix’s Fear Street adapt Stine’s scandalously entertaining tales of teen horror? Den of Geek talked to Fear Street trilogy director Leigh Janiak about the saga’s strategy in adapting a much-loved YA series.
First, some background. For those unfamiliar with Fear Street‘s origins, the book series was created by Goosebumps author Stine to appeal to readers slightly older than the Goosebumps demo. It was originally published from 1989 to 1999, but was rebooted in 2005. The series has sold over 80 million copies worldwide, which makes it one of the bestselling YA book series of all time. With an IP like that, it’s easy to see why 20th Century Fox, the original studio to greenlight the film, went after the books for a screen adaptation of some kind. But where this film trilogy differs from many a book-to-film adaptation is its earnest and creative approach to the translation. This film trilogy isn’t adapting the plot of a specific book, but rather the tone of the entire series.
“They’re not really based concretely in the book,” explains Janiak. “Mostly, I think I would endeavor to stay true to the spirit of the books, which was kind of subversive and edgy for teenage readers. There’s violence, there’s blood, there’s hints of sex. And then for me, just a lot of fun. They’re really, really fun to read. That was kind of the thing, every decision we made with the movies or with scenes was like, “How fun can this be? How can we make this more of that?” Horror in the past decade or so, it’s just a different type of fun, I guess. So I was interested in revisiting the fun of those ’90s slasher movies and the ’70s slashers. Keeping it crazy, I guess.”
The film trilogy makes an additional foundational connection to the book series by setting the first of the three films, which take place decades and then centuries apart, in the 1990s. “It made sense that the present of the movies would be the ’90s because that’s where the Fear Street books originated,” Janiak says. The subsequent films are set in 1978 and 1666, respectively, with the latter being a nod to the Fear Street Saga books, says Janiak. The Fear Street Saga was a trilogy within the series told across time periods and generations.
While traditional adaptations can make for excellent screen stories, too often creators of book-to-screen adaptations adhere too closely to the plot of a source material and completely forget in translating the tone of a story world. Years after reading Fear Street books as a kid, the plots have faded in my mind, but the feeling of sitting on a school bus, heart beating as I turn to page to find out if a teen protagonist will succumb to the horror waiting in the shadows remains steadfast. Here’s hoping the Fear Street film trilogy is just as horrifically entertaining for another generation of story-lovers.
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 premieres on Netflix on July 2nd. Fear Street Part 2: 1978 will follow on July 9th. The trilogy will conclude with Fear Street Part 3: 1666 on July 16th.