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 humor. 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 mom 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.
For the release of BLACK AS NIGHT, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with Director Maritte Lee Go, where they discussed how she approached creating a vampire that felt fresh and new for the audience, the inclusion of animated sequences to tell a story in the film, and how 2020 ended up influencing elements of the storyline.
To start things off, how did you come to be involved with the Welcome to the Blumhouse project?
Maritte Lee Go: I was actually pitching Amazon another horror film that I had been developing and they didn’t end up buying it, but they were looking for directors for their new slate of films for Welcome to the Blumhouse, and they thought I’d be a great fit. So, I actually pitched for the movie in a competitive situation, basically. They gave me the script. I loved it. I knew I had to be a part of it. And luckily, I did a good job, apparently. So, they hired me.
While watching the film and recalling a previous interview you did, BLACK AS NIGHT seemed very much like what you’ve been aiming to do and bringing more diversity and a different slate of characters to the general audience.
Maritte Lee Go: Absolutely. I’ve been obsessed with horror for a very long time, and I never saw it with this perspective, and never saw myself as the protagonist, and after I read the script, I felt like I could see myself as her. And that was very different. Because, as you know, in all vampire movies, there’s nothing like this. So, it was really, really exciting and fresh, and I was very excited to jump on board and kind of create our own voice within a genre that’s has been around forever.
The vampire has been such a well-referenced creature throughout the course of history and can be found in every culture, what inspiration did you pull from in developing the vampire we see on screen? Because at one point, I was like, Oh, Buffy [the Vampire Slayer] with the dust poof.
Maritte Lee Go: It was very much a collaborative effort. It’s written in one way, but there was so much leeway into creating something new and we wanted it to feel very original. One of my favorite movies is 30 Days of Night. There’s definitely Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes going on there. But again, through a new protagonist, we’ve never seen before. And so, I took what was in my brain that is like, Okay, this is what a vampire is, but I wanted to add new things to it like their eyes. The vampires are separated by tribes. And so, we got this really amazing contact lens artist. There are only two people in the whole world who know how to do this, but she can hand paint contact lenses. We separated their eyes by their tribes, and she hand-painted every single lens on the vampires.
We built the teeth. Our makeup FX artists, I showed them what I really liked from other films, but I told them what we would need to do to change it up, but also have them be able to speak because, when you have those fangs in, you’re not able to talk. And so, we had to kind of cater it to very heavy dialogue scenes.
And then, the way that they explode and the way that they’re killed or not killed, we did a lot of collaborating within departments on how we would do this because it wasn’t a big budget. We had a very fast turnaround, only 17 days of shooting. So, it was like, Okay, how do we do it with limited time, a limited budget, but I want to push it to the max because how many opportunities do we get to direct a vampire film? [Laughs] It was a huge collaborative effort to make it feel fresh and original, but still have references to say yeah, this is still a vampire.
It was definitely interesting for me to see how the folklore and stuff played out throughout the course of the film. Like the garlic powder, I would never have thought to just yeet garlic powder at vampires, but I loved how that panned out.
Maritte Lee Go: I think that Sherman Payne, who wrote the script, did an amazing job of balancing humor and horror. And that sounds crazy to say it out loud. Yeah, using garlic powder is funny. But also, being able to kind of ride that line between humor and horror was really fun, and I think that really leans into it.
That blending of horror and humor is something I would have loved to have watched as a teenager. In a way, it works well as a gateway into horror. Adding that garlic powder element, it’s just funny. Were you involved in the process of developing the animated comic book sequence that we see in the film?
Maritte Lee Go: Yes. It wasn’t actually in the script. But, when I read it, he had a few lines on the background of the vampires in it, and I loved the history that he created within those couple of lines. I was like, let’s lean into that. Let’s build it out. I think that the antagonist of this movie is so interesting, and I really wanted to know what he’d gone through, what kind of pain he’d experienced to get him to this point.
And, what inspired that animation? Well, first of all, after reading it, I just automatically saw it as a comic book in my head. But, in Kill Bill, the scene where Lucy Liu’s character, we see her as a child, her parents being murdered, and stuff like that. It really reminded me of how to make a cold killer. That person wasn’t always like that, so what got them there. So, I was like let’s build it out. Let’s write more about his history. And so, fortunately, Blumhouse, Amazon, and the writers and the producers were all into that so, I was able to create that and add that to the story, which was one of the most fun things to create and build with the animator. I think it just adds so much more vulnerability and you understand why he does the things that he does.
Am I wrong in thinking that, in some ways, it makes it easier to work within the budget as well?
Maritte Lee Go: 1000%. That was another thing. If I could do it with unending money, I would love to do the live-action version of that and show that. But we didn’t have a big budget and very limited days so, to be able to show it through animation was definitely easier, but also helped us because then you can push the grotesque, with the vampires attacking and all this stuff that I would love to push but time and budget come into play, and so I think it definitely added with not exploding the budget.
How much did your indie background, in terms of shooting on PHOBIAS and other projects, how did that help you prepare for this experience?
Maritte Lee Go: Oh my gosh. It helped so much. I was a producer in this company called Defiant [Studios]. The CEO is Eric B. Fleischman, who also worked with Blum as an assistant. And so, he had the experience of working with Blum on very small budget horror films. He taught me the way that they were making films and we started making indie horrors, indie features for nothing, you know, nothing. And so, I have a lot of experience in producing things on a zero budget and begging, borrowing, pleading, to get everything that we can to increase the production value and make it look worthy of playing out of the theater.
After doing that for over a dozen features, being able to direct it, and this budget was way higher than what I’m used to producing. So, at the same token, when someone says we can’t do it, I’m like, Oh, I know how to do it without breaking the budget. So, it was really cool to have departments because as a producer of indie budgets, I’m everything. I’m the locations department. I’m doing everything. So, it was really cool to work with all these very talented, more experienced people who were very collaborative, very kind and uplifting, and be able to put this out there. Yes, the script is challenging in that it tries, you know, to pack a giant punch with a limited budget, but I think we did it. And it also just helps me not freak out too much, because we’re lucky to work. We’re lucky to be doing what we’re doing and be artists. That’s crazy, and it’s such an honor. So, I’m lucky.
In BLACK AS NIGHT, it references the middle of 2020. To shoot any of that during last year, and all the chaos, I’m sure it was just a blessing.
Maritte Lee Go: It was crazy. We shot half the movie before the pandemic, and then got shut down midway, spent four months in isolation, trying to figure out our lives and the world’s falling apart. I’m in LA, and so the Black Lives Matter protests were happening. It was very intense emotionally, and then we came back to New Orleans in the middle of the pandemic, and hurricanes and lightning storms, and a whole new kind of viewpoint on life.
So, we were able to tailor the script to what was happening in the country, and kind of funnel that rage that people have been feeling and funnel it through our antagonist and come out, hopefully, by the end with a hopeful viewpoint that we can affect change in this world in a positive way instead of poisoning ourselves with hatred. It was a really cool time to shoot it, to make it when it is such an impactful kind of subject.
Maritte Lee Go: That’s a shout-out to Maggie Molino, our producer who really thought like, this is happening, guys. This is happening in our country. Let’s talk about it. People are very unhappy with how this world is. All this stuff is happening. Let’s talk about it with references, because that’s exactly what we’re talking about in the movie. Let’s close that loop. And so, it was really lucky that we were able to have the time to incorporate that.
This interview was edited for clarity and length. All images courtesy Amazon Prime Video.
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