Marti Noxon helped create the current vampire craze with her participation in the seminal Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show. She penned 23 episodes of the series and served as the show runner during its final two seasons. The experience made her an optimum choice to write the screenplay for the new remake of Fright Night, which opens in theaters this Friday. In an exclusive interview with Mania, she spoke about the genesis of the project, the travails of teenage life, and the state of vampires as we currently know them.
Question: Were you a vampire fan before Buffy came along?
Marti Noxon: Oh yeah. I was part of the Anne Rice wave. Interview with the Vampire. Those books were huge when I was in high school and college. The first vampire movie I ever got into was the Frank Langella Dracula. I was quite young and I didn’t understand the feelings I was having, but they were profound. I was always a fantasy and horror fan. The early Spielberg films, Poltergeist. They were such well-made, smart, affectionate, character-based films.
Q: What made you decide to set this new Fright Night film in Vegas?
MN: I was doing campaigning in ’08, and we were in the suburbs of Clark County – and I’d been fascinated with Vegas for a long time – but when we were canvasing in Clark County, every third house was empty. There were places that were just abandoned. You’d go and knock on the door, and no one would answer; the neighbors would say, “I guess they skipped town.” I was already working on a project that I was going to set in Vegas about all these monsters and vampires moving in to the suburbs because there were all these empty houses. So when they came and said that they wanted to redo Fright Night, I already had this image of this Spielbergian suburbia that was also a wasteland, a ghost town. It seemed like the perfect place to set a movie.
Q: Was there an effort to keep it out of the casinos?
MN: Definitely. That was not the Vegas that we were going for. But at the same time, the question of how to update Peter Vincent was a really intriguing one. The late-night horror movie host is really a thing of the past, except in a really campy way… and camp is alive and well in Vegas. I’d also read that Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller, has a collection of occult objects. Even though he’s not a believer, he has this extensive collection of real things, like a museum. And so there it was. He would be this perfect character.
Q: Was there a question of the balance between how much Peter Vincent really knows about vampires and how much was just smoke and mirrors?
MN: The idea evolved over time that he had some kind of personal stake, that he had a horse in the race, but that he had drunk himself into a kind of cynicism and fraud. I liked the idea of someone who’s gotten to a place in their life where they tell themselves that they don’t believe, and then reality sort of smacks them in the face.
Q: When you wrote Jerry, how much of it was Colin Farrell and how much of it was there to begin with?
MN: I was already in this Southwestern idea for a setting, and also I just thought, “wouldn’t it be great to have this consummately masculine figure here?” Someone who’s not the wan, trenchcoat-wearing metrosexual. I don’t think we’ve seen a vampire like that since Near Dark. This guy is not sending out the signal that he’s a vampire at all. He’s wearing a tool belt when we first see him. It was exactly what I wanted, and everyone got it, and then Colin bought so much specificity to that. And also… yeah, he’s very attractive.
Q: How about the mom? Was there ever the notion of a courtship or a “moving in” on the mom?
MN: Looking back, it seems a little old fashioned now that the mom in the original film is such a ditz. For me, one of the “a-ha!” moments when writing this was that moment in the first film where she’s already invited him in. “Oh, whoops! Sorry!” I really wanted to make a more modern woman who’s kind of wised up. I never really thought that she wouldn’t be suspicious. Jerry just seems like such a player… we never really went down that path.
Q: Were there any of the traditional rules for vampires that you wanted to stick in, or a characterization that you wanted to include?
MN: We hewed pretty close to the classic rules, which were a big part of the original movie. My favorite vampire that I helped to create before this was Spike… before he became lovesick. I loved lovesick Spike and I thought that was a credible arc for him, but I just love the predator. I love the Venus flytrap, the notion that any kind of charm he has is there to lure in prey. I really wanted to do that.
Q: How much fun did you have finding the loopholes and the twists on those rules?
MN: I probably sat and paced for a couple of days on that stuff – especially the notion of not being able to enter a home until you had been invited and how a vampire might get around that. I’d written a version of that scene many times back in the day, with Angel. It just occurred to me, one of those moments when your brain looks at a problem in a different way. Then I had to reverse engineer it; the writer’s rule is that you check the Internet, and if it’s happened once in the world, you can use it. I won’t say more than that; you’ll understand when you see the scene.
Q: The realities of high school life are really important here, as they are in Buffy. But at some point in everyone’s life, they say to themselves, “these kids with their Twitters and their hula hoops; I don’t get them.” How do you stay in touch with that part of life? How do you write teenagers when you’re no longer a teenager?
MN: The great thing about writing is that you’re allowed to be a fly on the wall. I spend a lot of time when I’m out in the world just listening and observing, and although the culture changes and the technology changes, the essentials are always the same. It’s a lot of universals. You’re still trying to figure out who you are, especially in relation to the opposite sex. In this movie, I got to really explore the notion of rejecting a part of yourself, and learning to allow all parts of yourself to exist. The parts that you’re ashamed of can be a strength, and that’s what Charlie’s journey is about.
Also, it’s important not to write down to teenagers. They’re pretty sophisticated, and I don’t really make a distinction when I’m writing adults and teens. Teens have their own language and their own interests, but they pretty much articulate things the same way everyone else does. It’s also helpful to be a part of the Internet age, because you can look in on a younger persons’ culture pretty easily now.
Q: Does that apply to Evil Ed too? He’s different here than in the first movie.
MN: Watching the first film, I always wondered what the relationship was between Charlie and Ed. How did they know each other? Was he just the weird kid or what? I just thought that there was a lot there, and I could relate it to my own experience of growing up as a total nerd… then what happens when one of us “gets popular” and the rest of us don’t. The way that those friendships kind of fractured, or when you felt left behind by someone who suddenly grew boobs or whose skin cleared up. There’s certain watershed moments when you’re young and you have the opportunity to change. So Charlie suddenly gets taller or his skin cleared up and he can pass for a cool kid; what does that do to his friendship with his best friend? When we started moving in that direction, it really changed the Ed character.
Q: Do you want to keep working in horror?
MN: Oh yes, I love it. Vampires, ghosts, monsters… the whole thing. I just love it.