"Could a Bread Slicer Actually Cut Through a Human Head?" Inside the Nastiest Kill in 'Fear Street'
It’s been several weeks since Fear Street: 1994 hit Netflix, and we still can’t shake one of the new horror film’s most gruesome moments. It’s a wholly original kill in a genre where offing a character with real ingenuity is never easy. Director Leigh Janiak and her team did just that, though, and they did it with a bread slicer.
For cinematographer Caleb Heymann and sound designer Trevor Gates, the kill was satisfying yet challenging to produce. Here’s how they pulled it off.
The rest of this post contains spoilers for Fear Street: 1994.
The kill stings – it’s grotesque and accomplished with a blend of gnarly practical effects and invisible digital wizardry. But what makes it special is Julia Rehwald‘s performance as Kate. It’s not just visceral because of the ghastly image of her character being fed into a bread slicer head first, but because this is a fun, likable character being killed without mercy. It’s a scene built to generate a reaction.
The kill was immediately embraced by horror fans, although the cinematographer behind the sequence, Caleb Heymann, has been too busy working on Stranger Things to see the full extent of its warm reception. From the beginning, though, he knew it was going to be good. “It’s one you read in a script, it’s awesome, and you know it’s going to be very memorable and gruesome,” Heymann told us. “Almost immediately your mind asks, ‘How the heck are we going to do that?’ Leigh [Janiak] arranged with Sean Brennan, our art director, and their whole team to bring in an actual bread slicer.”
And not just any old bread slicer, but the bread slicer actually used in the production. “They did a test with watermelon,” the cinematographer told us:
“The logic was, could a bread slicer actually cut through a human head? The melon was devised that, if it could cut through a melon, it was in the range of possibilities. It actually worked. A lot of people didn’t think it would. Everyone was jumping around and high-fiving. It was a big victory for Leigh. It showed that this super outlandish scene she came up with we could justify doing.”
The scene is a satisfying mix of practical and CG. It’s impressive on a technical level, but for the team behind the skull-chopping, it’s Julia Rehwald’s performance that makes it sing. “Shooting something like that was crazy,” Heymann said. “Julia crushed it. We knew the audience would be devastated.”
As for making the actual kill happen: in the words of Nancy Meyers…it’s complicated. “You gotta worry about the cake continuity and matching how a stunt actor’s face falls in the cake,” Heymann said, referring to how Rehwald’s character is covered with dessert during her demise. He continued:
“And then, you have to get it right again with Julia. It’s a prosthetic mold of her head that was made, which was quite elaborate and full of blood. We wanted to do it practically, as far as getting in-camera elements of a prosthetic head going through a bread slicer. We want to see the slicer with all the blood and guts. I know they had to enhance it with visual effects and more blood splatter, but it was elaborate.”
The grocery store sequence as a whole was one of the craziest weeks of production. It was done over a five-day period, with 68 setups. It was, as Heymann confirmed, “Definitely Bayhem,” a joking reference to the chaotic and fast-paced sets of action filmmaker Michael Bay. From Monday to Friday, “it was a mad scramble to the finish line.”
The Mythical Quest for The Perfect Scream
Once the sequence reached the hands (and ears) of sound mixer Trevor Gates, he was equally impressed and challenged. “Oh my God,” Gates said:
“That was a very complex set of sounds to articulate in the bread slicer. We started with some organic sounds. Then, we manufactured some gore and bone-popping as she goes in. It’s terrifying. From a story standpoint, the sound of the bread slicer itself and the cutting of Kate’s head…it’s horrifying, but what’s most horrifying about that is Kate’s scream.”
First and foremost, Gates wanted to give credit to Rehwald. “The screaming from Kate was performed by her on the day,” Gates said:
“No real ADR. She nailed it. We embraced that. It was terrifying from the beginning. They did several takes of it on the set, so we had some variations of her screaming, to place in and around when we cut back to the characters at the lobster tank. We did record some ADR for the moment, which we sprinkled in for the peripheral perspectives, but she nailed it on the day. It was harsh, grating, dirty, and visceral. We felt confident moving forward with it.”
Rehwald truly went for it, and Gates had a great horror movie scream to play with in post-production. Which, as he pointed out, is a dream for a sound designer. “With the screams, there’s a mythical quest for the perfect horror scream,” he said. “A part of our loop group ADR focus was to get a couple of screamers that could really belt. We got a few really good pieces from those players, but a lot of the screams we felt from the cast, they did a good job. Teenagers and young adults have these fun, breaking voices.”
The complete Fear Street trilogy is currently streaming on Netflix.
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