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Fright Night – Writter Marti Noxon and her mix of humor and horror

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Fright Night - Marti Noxon
Screenwriter Marti Noxon © 2011 Dreamworks

Marti Noxon has written and executive produced for many critically acclaimed television programs including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Brothers & Sisters. She was also a consulting producer for Mad Men, Prison Break and Angel.

Her new movie Fright Night is a re-imagining of Tom Holland’s classic horror flick from 1985. It stars Colin Farrell as Jerry Dandrige, a vampire who moves into a Las Vegas suburb, next door to Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his mother, Jane (Toni Collette). When students at Charley’s school begin to disappear, he starts to get suspicious of Jerry, but nobody will believe him that evil has invaded their neighborhood.

Were you a fan of the original Fright Night?

Fright Night - Colin Farrell
The intriguing new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) © 2011 Dreamworks

I was, yeah.

Then were you excited about updating it?

When they called me to come in on this project, I had an immediate, gut level ‘yeah,’ which is not always the case. I think it was because it was such a good mix of humor and horror, which a lot of the movies recently have not had that tone.

It was a real welcomed opportunity, and I had a real affection for the characters in the first film.

I think a lot of times people think that a remake can be somewhat cynical, in that it’s an idea of cashing in on the fans from the first one, but this was never that for any of us.

We just all really thought there was stuff in the original movie that was great and really deserved a re-imagining.

How did you go about developing what the aesthetic of the movie would be, how bloody, how funny, how dramatic?

Fright Night - Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Dave Franco
Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a confirmed geek whose life is one of habitual harassment, gets cornered by his nemesis Mark (Dave Franco) © 2011 Dreamworks

Mike DeLuca, who’s the producer, said something early on that I thought really crystalized how I feel about these movies in general, which is that he’s a big believer in the first act.

The movies that I loved the most when I was growing up were movies that Steven Spielberg had a part in, because they took their time, like Poltergeist, to create affection for those characters to really see them as people like yourself, and then you bring on the pain.

But it doesn’t have to be gory to make it frightening. In fact, sometimes I find the gore the opposite, it has a numbing effect. I don’t really believe any of it, because it’s so over- the-top. So for me, as an aesthetic, as a writer, I write away from that.

What I hope to do is create some identification with those characters, something that isn’t over-the-top, that’s genuinely threatening, because you don’t want anything to happen to them.

How much rewriting did you have to do when you knew that Colin Farrell was playing the role of Jerry?

You know what’s interesting, and this is a rare experience, the script remained pretty much intact.

We did some work with the end for Colin. Jerry was a man of few words in the original script and in the end he didn’t have that speech about 400 years of survival, so knowing that we had an amazing actor we gave him a little bit more. But he pretty much embraced the conception of the character.

Was the decision to make the horror host that Roddy McDowall played in the original, an illusionist in this because of the fact that nobody knows what a horror host is anymore?

Fright Night - David Tennant
Illusionist Peter Vincent (David Tennant) starring in his own over-the-top, glitzy Las Vegas stage show © 2011 Dreamworks

There was some of that. I did some research trying to find out if there was [such a thing], and there were a few [horror hosts] around the country, but it’s certainly not something that young people would understand. So we knew we had to come up with something different.

I knew that I wanted to set the film in Vegas, because I’ve done some work out there and spent time in Clark County, and it is a haunted place! (she laughs) Every third house was empty, and I just thought, ‘God, if I were a monster or a vampire, it would be easy pickins out there.’ It’s a place where anything can happen and people tend to look the other way.

Once we were in Vegas, I started to think about Penn & Teller, and apparently Penn has a cult collection, even though he’s a total debunker he does collect the stuff, which I thought was really interesting.

What do you have coming up next?

I just did a rewrite on Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, which Craig (Gillespie, who directed Fright Night) is supposed to direct. We wanted to work together again as we had such a good time on this.

Were you ever approached about doing the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie?

They approached me a long time ago about that, but who would ever want that job other than Joss Whedon? I hope it’s good. It’s hard enough having done Season 6 of Buffy. I didn’t even do it alone, but you can go online and see, ‘Marti Noxon ruined Buffy.’ How about trying to write that movie? Jeez, no thank you.

Wasn’t that great musical episode in Season 6?

Right, but there was also Spike trying to have his way with Buffy, some weird sex and Buffy getting really mopey. There were some things that people really objected to, but it’s funny how it’s now kind of legendary that it’s the season where it all went off the rails, and some people think it’s my fault.

How did you get involved in this type of genre?

What’s a nice girl doing in a neighborhood like this? There are so many answers to that. I’ve recently come to believe that it’s because my mom believed we had a ghost in our house we grew up in.

I grew up in an old house in Los Feliz where she found a trunk that belonged to the woman who died in the house, named Bertha, and then my mom, who was an artist, took all the stuff out of the stunk and started to make spooky art with it.

If I wasn’t going to be a horror or fantasy writer before then, she guaranteed my future!