The history of the R-rated teen slasher movie is rife with scream queens. Kiana Madeira is not one of them.
The 28-year-old actress didn’t think that her tough and resilient character Deena Johnson would be the type to scream bloody murder – even though bloody murder is what she’s usually encountering – in Netflix’s new “Fear Street” film trilogy.
“It just didn’t feel natural expressing myself in that way when scary things are happening,” Madeira says. “I just kept my head down and kept that intensity to want to fix the problem and chase the killer as opposed to feeling like a scared victim.”
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She’s not the normal horror-movie persona nor is “Fear Street” (the first film is streaming now) your average nightmarish stroll down Elm Street or machete-filled visit to Camp Crystal Lake.
Based on R.L. Stine’s young-adult book series, “Fear Street” aims to reinvent the teen slasher 25 years after “Scream” by combining the sex, blood, gore, four-letter words and, yes, fun of a throwback era with a queer romance, lead actors of color and a centuries-spanning mythology.
“Fear Street Part 1: 1994” introduces Deena and her friends in the town of Shadyside, deemed “Killer Capital USA” for its history of serial psychopaths. Shadysiders are mocked and marginalized by the residents of rival Sunnyside, where Deena’s ex Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) moved for a better life. Another Shadyside tragedy brings them back into each other’s orbit, and the heroes investigate connections between a 17th-century witch’s curse and the town’s ghastly body count.
“Part 2: 1978” (streaming July 9) rewinds back a couple of decades and sets the action at Camp Nightwing, where another Shadysider goes on a rampage. And “Part 3: 1666” (July 16) reveals the true history of the witch Sarah Fier and how she connects back to the 1994 storyline.
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“At its core, ‘Fear Street’ is weirdly a love story and it’s the love of these two girls and their motivation to figure it out, to save each other, to realize they’re better with each other,” says Leigh Janiak (“Honeymoon”), who co-wrote and directed all three films. “That drives them further into ultimately realizing not only can we be together, we can change things, we can save the town.”
The mythology of Shadyside is that they’re “a group of outsiders told that they are ‘other’ or they’re not good enough and that they’re bad,” adds Janiak, and she wanted to change the narrative about what kind of people are in slasher films. In another time, for example, Sam and Deena might not have lasted very long in a movie: The “bury your gays” trope in film and TV existed for years. “You could have queer people in your movies, but they had to die in like a really horrible way to prove a lesson to the public,” Welch says. “That’s just so messed up.”
When Janiak was Sam and Deena’s age, she was already a horror fan raised on “Child’s Play,” “Psycho” and Stine’s “Fear Street” books. “There is a certain naughtiness,” the author says about their appeal. Stine’s teenage audience was “reading something that’s maybe a little bit bad for them.”
Janiak saw the original “Scream” when she was 16, and “it was mind-blowing how this movie could be so meta and so cool and then so disturbing at the same time.” With “Fear Street,” she pays proper tribute: The opening scene of the first movie, with “Stranger Things” star Maya Hawke as a mall bookstore clerk chased by a killer in a skull mask, is an homage to the classic Drew Barrymore prologue.
As for the trilogy’s grander scope, Janiak looked at the Marvel movies to lay “the groundwork for a horror universe” but also the “Back to the Future” films as inspiration for having “characters in different time periods, playing different roles and watching them evolve.”
While “Fear Street” has ambitious cinematic aspects, it also doesn’t skimp on the blood and guts. Stine, for one, gets a kick out of that. “It’s the only R-rated thing I’ve ever had in my life. Even my life isn’t R-rated,” the author quips.
Janiak wants to capture the curiosity of today’s youth the same way her generation begged their parents to rent an R-rated movie at a video store or turned on the TV late at night to watch something they shouldn’t.
“There was so much excitement in pushing the envelope of what was allowed. Hopefully, that exists with these movies, too,” Janiak says. “I don’t know if I should be saying this, but I hope that little 10- and 11-year-olds are like, ‘Oooh, I’m going to really scare myself here, but I’m doing it!’ ”Internet Explorer Channel Network