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‘Fear Street’ Trilogy: How ‘Pulp Fiction’ Inspired the Final Film’s Unexpected, ‘Weird’ Structure

"We're already doing something weird and new in doing these three movies. Why not do this?" When it came time to map out a trilogy's worth of material, filmmaker Leigh Janiak tells IndieWire why she decided to break some rules.


“Fear Street Part 1: 1994”


[Editor’s note: The following post contains spoilers for the “Fear Street” trilogy.]

Surprise! As the “Fear Street” trilogy wraps up its run with one final entry — “Fear Street Part 3: 1666,” which hit Netflix in the wee hours of Friday morning — filmmaker Leigh Janiak still has plenty of tricks and twists up her sleeve. While the trilogy has long promised to journey back to 1666 (if only so that we may finally get to meet alleged witch Sarah Fier, whose legacy has loomed large over the previous two films), Janiak’s film isn’t content to simply go back in time, but to also return the action to where it all started, at least cinematically: in 1994.

“We knew we wanted to go back to the 1600s, we always knew that,” Janiak said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “We also knew that we had to go back to the ’90s, because that was the present of our movies, that was the thing driving us forward. I wanted the characters, ultimately, to win and to feel like we were ending on some level of hope, and that change is possible.”

That meant making some unexpected structural changes, and twisting the concept that each film in the trilogy would simply follow its own timeline. The answer: split “1666” into two pieces, with the first half of the film chronicling the early days of Shadyside and Sunnyvale (back then, known as just the single village “Union”) and the Sarah Fier witch mythos that has hung over everything, before zipping back to 1994 to see Deena (Kiana Madeira), Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), Constance (Gillian Jacobs), and assorted pals finally avenging her spirit and the two towns that have spent centuries living in the shadow of her death by hanging.

“It was the third act. The ’90s, part two, is the third act,” she said. “It’s not enough to warrant a whole other movie. One of the things we deal with in the trilogy is going to different spaces and seeing how they change over time, and the mall became this amazing place because it was the camp, it was the site of the village, and we also started the trilogy there. It just became this place that we knew we had to go back to but we didn’t quite know how.”

The second half of “1666” returns the crew to 1994 and the mall where so much action unfolded back in “1994” — as Janiak notes, the same location where both the summer camp of “1978” and the village of the third film’s first half took place. Her inspiration: a little structure-bender known as Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”

“While we were all still working on the script, it became like, ‘Fuck it, we’re already doing something weird and new in doing these three movies. Why not do this?,'” she said. “I [already] knew that I loved movies [when I was young], but when ‘Pulp Fiction’ came out, I was like, ‘Oh, this is something else.’ I was 14 or something like that. It was next level, as far as just feeling so pumped about how it was weird structurally and it has those little intertitles. I felt like this was a moment that could pay homage to that kind of ’90s Tarantino thing. I love it. It’s one of my favorite moments of the trilogy. I think it just feels like so fun to be like, ‘Oh, fuck.'”

FEAR STREET - Cr: Netflix © 2021

“Fear Street Part 3: 1666”


Janiak also said the idea to re-use some of her cast members from both “1994” and “1978” in the final film was also an early idea, one born from both the nature of production — the films were shot out of order, going from “1994” to “1666” to “1978,” allowing a number of her cast members’ time to overlap while on set — and the themes of the trilogy.

“That was something that we came up with in the early stages of the script,” she said. “It’s clear, because it’s very built into the structure of the movies, but I just love the idea of the mistakes of the past repeating themselves and cycles of time. I thought that it made sense to have these characters that we saw in the ’90s, maybe this is their ancestor? Or some kind of spiritual ancestor. It’s like, centuries have gone by, but we’re living the same thing over and over again and we’re emotionally in the same place.”

That means that, once the audience finally gets to spend some actual time with Sarah Fier — the supposed “witch” whose legacy inspires all the horrors of the story — she’s initially introduced as actress Elizabeth Scopel, before trilogy star Madeira slips into the role. She’s still Deena, but she’s also Sarah. She’s joined by a number of actors from the previous two films, similarly cast in both their original roles and as denizens of the 1666 world, including Welch, Ashley Zukerman, Benjamin Flores Jr., Fred Hechinger, Jordana Spiro, Julia Rehwald, and Emily Rudd.

“It made sense, because we wanted to still be emotionally invested in Deena’s journey and what she was doing,” Janiak said. “Also, just to see these characters that we loved in these other movies that there are not with us anymore and to keep them alive [was appealing].”

Still, Janiak said the challenge of crafting a cohesive trilogy from three distinct films really “hit her in the face” during post-production. She remembered “having all of this material across all three movies and being like, ‘Oh, my God. These are three different movies.’ When we were shooting, it was also extremely challenging, [because] we shot ‘1994’ and then we shot ‘1666’ and then we shot ‘1978.’ When I was shooting ‘1994,’ we’d be prepping for ‘1666,’ and to be able to flip our brains from the ’90s to ‘1666,’ and then looking ahead to ‘1978,’ that was a lot, but it’s also like, we were in production. My head is just down and it’s just like, well, just keep going.”

“Fear Street Part 1: 1994,” “Fear Street Part 2: 1978,” and “Fear Street Part 3: 1666” are all streaming on Netflix now.

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