Blumhouse Television and Amazon Studios are teaming up for another round of “Welcome to the Blumhouse,” bringing four new horror films to streaming this fall. Gizmodo is thrilled to have the exclusive first look at one of the films: vampire tale Black as Night, written by Sherman Payne (Legacies, Scream: The TV Series, Shameless) and directed by Maritte Lee Go, making her feature film debut. Today, we’ve got the first image from the film and an interview with Lee Go that explains more about what Black as Night is all about.
First, here’s the official synopsis: “A resourceful teenage girl leaves childhood behind when she battles a group of deadly vampires in Black as Night, an action-horror hybrid with a strong social conscience and a biting sense of humour. Fifteen years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, a new threat leaves its mark on the Big Easy in the form of puncture wounds on the throats of the city’s vulnerable displaced population.
When her drug-addicted mum becomes the latest victim of the undead, 15-year old Shawna (Asjha Cooper) vows to even the score. Along with three trusted friends, Shawna hatches a bold plan to infiltrate the vampire’s mansion in the historic French Quarter, destroy their leader, and turn his fanged disciples back to their human form. But killing monsters is no easy task, and soon Shawna and her crew find themselves caught in a centuries-old conflict between warring vampire factions, each fighting to claim New Orleans as their permanent home.”
Here’s a better look at the very first image from Black as Night.
Finally, here’s our chat with director Maritte Lee Go, who explains more about the film (including what’s going on in that image!), with an emphasis on all the things that set Black as Night apart from other vampire stories.
Cheryl Eddy, Gizmodo: Was Black as Night always part of the “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series? How did you get involved?
Maritte Lee Go: I think it was always part of the series, but I actually pitched for it and so they sent my agents the script. I read it, I loved it, fell in love with it immediately. I’m obsessed with horror films, vampires, so to finally read a movie that had a woman of colour as the lead, kicking arse, I was like, “Yes! Sign me up immediately!”
Gizmodo: What’s your background as a filmmaker and, as you just mentioned, a horror fan?
Lee Go: I grew up as an actress, actually. I did theatre and then I did a television show as a kid, and I came out to LA with big dreams of continuing my acting career. But then I started getting typecast in roles such as “the geisha” or “the nail technician,” and I was like, “What is this?” I’d spent my whole life training to be a serious actress and I wanted to, you know, be a protagonist! I could only get these bit roles where I could only speak with an accent, and I was like, “This is not a great representation of who I am.” I knew that to make that type of change I needed to become a director, a writer, a producer.
So I decided to go to USC, and from there it’s always been my goal to write, direct, and produce movies and TV with people like me who haven’t had the opportunity to be the protagonist of their own stories.
So when I read the [Black as Night] script, it was not only groundbreaking because there’s nothing like it that I had read before, but it spoke to so much of my life purpose and what I want to do in media and television and film — really just open up the eyes of people to sympathise, empathise, and to understand that there are more stories with people of all different colours who’ve got hopes and dreams and fears. So that’s how I got into the filmmaking part of it and why the story’s so important to me as a filmmaker.
In terms of horror, I grew up in a highly, highly extremist Catholic household where my mum believed in, like, the end of the world and stuff like that. So she would tell me all these bedtime stories of, like, “In the year 2000, when the Earth will end, there’s going to be a huge apocalypse and there’s gonna be demons.” And I believed that for a long time!
In a weird way it was like the most terrifying thing ever, but it also ignited my imagination for demons and monsters all around us. And I kind of got obsessed with that concept and started watching horror films at a very, very early age. Then it became more of “How did they make this? How did they create that? How can you suspend reality and push the limits to discover what our fears are, and express that through monsters or ghosts or things like that?” My love for it just kind of grew and grew, and I’ve been lucky enough to push through that and realise that dream.
Gizmodo: Gizmodo is debuting the first image from the film — it’s a group of teens looking deeply worried, holding flashlights. Could you contextualise what we’re seeing here, and maybe give us a quick rundown of the story and the main characters?
Lee Go: For sure! Black as Night is about a Black teenage girl who’s driven by revenge when her mother’s killed by vampires. Alongside her trusted friends, she spends her summer battling these vampires who are terrorising her city of New Orleans. So in that picture, she’s trying to find the vampires who are responsible for the murder of her mother.
It takes place in a part of New Orleans where the housing is being closed down — all these people who had suffered from Hurricane Katrina were kind of pushed into these housing developments with nothing, and they are very poor, and her mother ended up there. So that’s where she is looking for these vampires.
Gizmodo: Why do you think New Orleans is such a favourite location for vampire stories?
Lee Go: I love, love, love New Orleans. There’s voodoo, there’s old mansions with haunted stories for days, and there’s nothing that feels like that in the United States besides New Orleans. And it just brings so much richness to the story because it feels like so much a part of history. I love New Orleans for that, and the architecture around it just lends itself so much more to the story, because within the movie there’s a lot of deeper themes.
Sherman Payne, who’s the writer, really, really did an amazing job of writing this movie with deeper themes and terrible things that have happened within history and kind of putting it within a fun story. So yes, you came for the vampires, the action, and the fun — but what’s gonna stay with you are the deeper themes of systemic racism and what that’s done to our society, and how that’s playing out today.
Gizmodo: Could you expand on that more, in terms of themes and other new elements that Black as Night will bring to the vampire movie genre?
Lee Go: There’s never been a Black teenage woman of colour as the protagonist of a vampire movie. [When I am pitching a] movie, I usually put together a reel to show people [the concept], and there was just nothing to pull from. What made that so exciting and special for me was that we were going to be creating something that’s never been done before. So it became so much more than that — again, the movie is not only fun, you’re thinking about a lot of issues that we’re dealing with today.
We shot it at a time during the pandemic when the Black Lives Matter movement was happening. There was a giant upheaval politically and a huge unrest, and that movie was made in that time. So we spanned from the days of slavery — as you’ll see when you watch the movie — we got back into that and how that systemic racism has affected this girl’s life, to this day, and how it’s continuing to play out. We’re kind of exploring that through the fun element of vampires. It’s very different and fun and it was such a joy to make.
Also, there’s a really, really cool section in it that’s animated. I just want to shout out David Romero, who animated it frame by frame, and it kind of gives the backstory of the vampire lore created within this movie. It was one of the most exciting things for me to create and to kind of incorporate into the story, and I just hope people enjoy it.
Gizmodo: From what I can tell, Black as Night has a mostly young cast. Would you call it a coming-of-age story?
Lee Go: Yes, it is a coming-of-age story. Shawna [played by Asjha Cooper] is in high school and she’s dealing with issues of colorism. She’s a dark-skinned Black teenage girl and in the opening scene, she’s talking about how she doesn’t want to get too dark in the sun. It was really important to have that theme within there because what we’re discovering today is the lack of self-love for women, especially women of colour who’ve always been told that having dark skin is ugly and it’s wrong.
I really related to that; in the Filipino culture we’ve got soaps and we’ve got bleaching lotions, and it was always kind of set up that if your skin is too dark you are known as a “worker” or you are lower class. I’d always been told growing up, like, don’t be in the sun because your skin’s gonna get ugly. That’s so awful to hear that your natural way is ugly, you know?
What I love about this movie is we’re seeing it through Shawna’s point of view — she learns to completely and utterly love herself, love her skin, love who she is. We see her fall in love for the first time. We see her best friend be like, “Stop talking about yourself that way.” To kind of explore that, that really hasn’t been done before — and again, within a vampire movie. So it’s much more meaningful than just a regular horror film.
Gizmodo: I also have to ask you about working with Keith David, because I love him. Can you tease his role and what it was like having such a legend as part of the project?
Lee Go: I’m only gonna talk about working with him because I don’t want to [spoil] what he is in the story. He’s amazing. He’s done so much, he has such a huge impact in film and television. His voice is so intimidating, he’s honestly so intimidating. [Laughs] But he is one of the nicest people, and gracious, and he works for a reason.
He’s pretty method — he gets so into the role and will walk around the set exactly the way his character is. It’s actually pretty terrifying [Laughs]. But I love him and his voice carries everywhere, and everywhere he goes he’s singing. It was such an honour to work with him, and I was so excited to cast him.
Black as Night, which also stars Fabrizio Guido, Mason Beauchamp, Abbie Gayle, and Craig Tate, arrives on Amazon October 1. The other films in this year’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series include Gigi Saul Guerrero’s Bingo Hell (also premiering October 1); Ryan Zaragoza’s Madres (October 8); and Axelle Carolyn’s The Manor (October 8).