Black As Night Director Maritte Lee Go Brings A Fresh Perspective To An Ancient Horror [Interview]

"Welcome to the Blumhouse" is back with four new films, each focused on telling a scary story from a marginalized community. The coming-of-age vampire horror "Black as Night" stars Asjha Cooper as Shawna, a 15-year-old in New Orleans whose high school concerns are thrown by the wayside when her drug-addicted mom gets bitten by a vampire. "Black as Night" is a refreshing and fun horror story that's whip-smart and filled to the brim with violent bloodsuckers. 

I got a chance to sit down via Zoom with director Maritte Lee Go, who was super-excited to talk about shooting "Black as Night," working with Blumhouse, and surviving a scary lightning strike.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Slaying Vampires in the Big Easy

First off, is horror your favorite genre? I saw you've done some horror work before, but I was wondering what some of your inspirations were and if you were excited to do something with Blumhouse.

Oh my God, I love, love, love horror. When I'm sitting on my couch, like what should I do? I want to find the scariest thing possible so that I don't sleep. I love horror. I just grew up on it and found such a huge fascination for it. And it had always been my dream to direct horror films. I went to USC [University of Southern California] and almost every single one of my short films were horror.

And it was funny because USC I think I was kind of discouraged to do horror films because I'm like, that's not how you win [Oscars], but I didn't care. That's what I loved. I wanted to kind of bend reality and push the limits and explore darkness. It's just so much fun for me. So this is definitely a dream come true to work with Blumhouse. They're making the scariest things out there. And so, yeah, it's a dream come true.

New Orleans and the lingering trauma of Hurricane Katrina play a big role in "Black as Night," and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about that?

Yeah, definitely. So actually the writer, Sherman Payne, he wrote it originally to take place in New York. That's where he's from. The script had been bounced around from studio to studio for over the last 10 years. People loved it, but it just wasn't right for timing. And once it got to Blumhouse 10 years later, it was perfect timing. And they were making this slate of films, "Welcome to the Blumhouse", in New Orleans. It was kind of shot in the way that you shoot a TV show, one after the other, with the same crew. And so he had to quickly kind of rewrite it and make it very specific to New Orleans, which was actually perfect because there's so much history within New Orleans.

Visiting there, people are talking about the witches that exist, the voodoo that's practiced. There's so much history. The buildings that still exist there are hundreds of years old. It feels like you're in Europe. And so it's a perfect place for a vampire where they're timeless. And being able to kind of loop that in with the traumatic history of hurricane Katrina and the people in the community that were overlooked and have been suffering to this day really leaned into what Sherman was trying to write within the movie. And so it was a perfect kind of synchronicity that happened there. And I think that it also helped deepen the story and the point of view of Shawna, our lead character.

Bringing Fresh Perspectives to the Screen

How do you feel "Black as Night" allowed you to talk about some of the tougher issues that marginalized communities face?

I think that there's been a huge shift in horror films recently. I think that with the success of "Get Out," people can see that stories that are coming from marginalized people, people who are not represented on the screen, there's a benefit to doing that. Because there's an over-saturation of horror films as it is, but if you can lean into another perspective or see a person's experience through other eyes and through other experiences, it feels fresh. We've all seen a million vampire movies and stories, but to tell it through this perspective makes you feel completely brand new. And so it's been always my purpose to create stories for people like myself who have never been represented on the screen. And it really deepens our understanding of what humans can be and not just limit ourselves to what we look like or what society perceives us to be.

Exactly. There's a great moment where Shawna says, "I'm not Buffy." And I kind of sat there going, "But why not?" Do you think it's time for a Black female vampire slayer to rival Blade and Buffy and all those other ones that have come before?

Absolutely. This movie is so fresh and different. And it's not just your typical horror film. You're dealing with coming of age, of realizing the strength within you, the awkwardness of what it's like to be a teenager. It explores colorism, racism, so many subjects. But that's the way life is, right? We're not just one toned. We have so many issues in this life. And I think that we explore all of that. It's a very well-rounded kind of story. And it's really cool to see it through this perspective. It's very different. And I hope that it'll connect to audiences everywhere.

Designing Unique Vampires

Can you tell me a little bit more about the inspiration for the look of the vampires in this? Because those teeth are nasty.

Yes. Aren't they amazing? Well, the contacts, the teeth, the nails, they were all created from the ground up. We did not order things to just come in. The eye contacts were hand painted by this amazing artists named Jessica with Veiled Optics. And she hand painted each individual contact lens. She's one of two people in the world who do that. And we kind of separated them by the tribes of vampires. And it was amazing to kind of build those eyes according to the vampire and then also work with the VFX on when their eyes would glow, when they would not. I wanted to add a lot of animalistic qualities to the vampires, because it was kind of speaking to our inner monster of how you can lose your humanity when you are filled with so much rage and hatred. And so I wanted to lean into that more and build a vampire that had that animalistic quality.

And then the teeth were also handmade. They were not ordered off a site. They were handmade and structured specifically for this film. But we worked in tandem with VFX and make up and stunts and to create something that hopefully people see is very new and fresh in something that's been done over and over.

A Spooky Moment from Mother Nature

I have to ask, did anything spooky or creepy happen in New Orleans? It's a pretty haunted city.

Man, I wish it did. Well, we shot in this mansion that was hundreds and hundreds of years old that actually used to be a plantation. The scariest thing that probably happened was, we were shooting through lightning storms and my hotel got hit by lightning. And as I was on the phone talking to the producer sitting on my bed, a bolt of lightning struck through my room and went into the wall. I saw it across the bathroom. And if I was standing in front of my sink, I'd be electrocuted. So that was terrifying. I could have died.


Yeah, it was crazy that it sounded like a giant whip in my ear. It was terrifying. And the lightning bolts traveled throughout the whole hotel and my [Director of Photography's] room, which was across the hotel, she said she saw blue sparks flying in the air. And the producer upstairs, it zapped through his room and there was holes and water kind of draining from that. So that was probably the scariest thing. And then also shooting through COVID. The second half of the movie, I was kind of isolated on my own. We were not allowed to be together, only when we were on set. And so I spent a lot of time in my room alone. That was kind of scary.

Yeah. That was scary for all of us. The whole world is experiencing some scary things. But supernatural, no. I wish. I want to see ghosts, so yeah.

Final question. I have to know what was it like working with Keith David? He is a legend.

He definitely is a legend. He has been working in this industry longer than I've been alive. And to hear his stories of working on "The Thing" and "Requiem for a Dream" and hearing all of his stories was so epic. I just felt like I was able to kind of put my fingerprint on something that is going to be hopefully remembered forever and involving an actor who's so just... He's epic. He has so much energy and he's a very intimidating person. So being able to work with him was honestly such a joy and an honor.

"Black as Night" begins streaming on Amazon Prime on October 1, 2021.