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Things that go bump in the light

By Marti Noxon, Special to CNN
Seeing abandoned Las Vegas homes inspired Marti Noxon to write the "Fright Night" remake with Toni Collette and Anton Yelchin.
Seeing abandoned Las Vegas homes inspired Marti Noxon to write the "Fright Night" remake with Toni Collette and Anton Yelchin.
  • Screenwriter says the best horror stories have always been of the garden-variety sort
  • "Fright Night' writer says she grew up obsessed with all things dark and twisty
  • Every house contains a story -- and sometimes those stories can be grim, she says

Editor's note: Marti Noxon is the screenwriter of the new movie "Fright Night." She has written and produced for the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Mad Men," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Prison Break," and also co-wrote the recent film "I Am Number Four." Noxon is a consulting writer/producer on the Fox series "Glee."

(CNN) -- Back in 2008, while hope was still alive, I was canvassing for Barack Obama in Nevada -- in a suburban area that borders the Las Vegas Strip. At first glance, the neighborhood looked idyllic.

Bright new housing developments, green parks every few blocks, wide sidewalks. I was reminded of the optimistic opening shots of many of my favorite Spielberg films.

There were kids on bikes, speeding past rows and rows of family homes, clustered close together and thick with a sense of community. But as in those films, something mysterious and unsettling lurked beneath the agreeable surface.

Las Vegas had been hit harder than most by the mortgage crisis. Unprecedented housing growth was followed by tumbling decline. As I knocked on doors, I found every third stucco four-bedroom for sale or abandoned. And the homes that were still occupied were not what they seemed from a distance. Up close they were hastily compiled affairs, young but crumbling.

I walked beyond the complex and looked out over the sizzling desert, which yawned as far as I could see in every direction. Nothing much could survive out there for long, especially not tykes on Big Wheels.

You'd think I would have been contemplating the greed and ineptitude that led the nation to this sorry state, but instead my mind was fixed on one dogged thought: "God, this would be the greatest place to be a vampire. Sinners aplenty just down the road, a transient population that works all hours of the night and day ... and all these abandoned homes. You could pick people off and who would ever be the wiser?"

That was the beginning of an idea that would eventually become part of my script for a dream assignment -- the "Fright Night" remake, produced by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks.

People are sometimes surprised that I think this way. For one thing, I am a girl. Not just a girl, but a girly girl. I have never met a pair of red heels or a dermatologist I didn't like. For another, I was not raised by wolves. But I grew up obsessed with all things dark and twisty, especially if they were cloaked in the mundane trappings of everyday life.

Certainly the beloved movies of my youth helped form this predilection -- "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Poltergeist," "The Goonies" and "Jaws." These stories lived as much in sun-soaked Americana as they did in the shadows. But it was also how deeply I felt the truth beneath those settings.

Every house contains a story -- and we all know, sometimes too well, that those stories can be grim. As lucky and bright as my Southern California childhood was, it was still haunted.

There was Bertha, the woman who died in our family home before we moved in -- leaving a trunk of sad letters and wilted dresses behind. And the lonely old man all the kids in my neighborhood called "UFO Jack," who would invite me into his dank ranch-style home and spook me silly with evidence of little green men. More real, and scariest by far, was the mental illness and alcoholism that plagued my family, turning too many sunny days into quiet hours of dread.

Anybody can make a creepy castle or a creepy cabin in some creepy woods seem creepy. But a florescent-lit mini-mall, rows of foreclosed houses with forgotten toys on the lawn, a crowded amusement park on a perfect day? Make that the stuff of nightmares, and I'm yours.

For me, the best and most resonant horror stories always have been and always will be of the garden variety, the quiet sort that lives next door.