This film contains the only other lead role for Duane Jones, best known for starring in the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead (though he appeared in bit-parts in other movies).
The film was screened at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. It was remade by Spike Lee in 2014 as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
The film follows Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones), a wealthy black anthropologist who is doing research on the Myrthians, an ancient African nation of blood drinkers. One night, while staying in Green's lavish mansion, richly decorated with African art, Green's unstable assistant George Meda (writer/director Gunn) threatens suicide. Green successfully talks him down, but later that night Meda attacks and stabs Green with a Myrthian ceremonial dagger, and then kills himself. Green survives, but on discovering the body, drinks Meda's blood; he has become a vampire endowed with immortality and a need for fresh blood. Though he steals several bags of blood from a doctor's office, he finds that he needs fresh victims.
Soon, Meda's estranged wife, Ganja Meda (Marlene Clark), arrives at Green's house searching for her husband. Green and Meda quickly become lovers, and she moves into Green's expansive mansion. When she unwittingly discovers her husband's corpse frozen in Green's wine cellar she is initially upset, but then agrees to marry her host, who turns her into a vampire as well. Ganja is initially horrified by her new existence, but Green teaches her how to survive. Soon, he brings a young man home, who Ganja seduces and then kills. The two vampires dispose of the body in the water.
Eventually, Green becomes disillusioned of this life and resolves to return to the Christian church headed by his chauffeur (Sam Waymon). Returning home, he kills himself by standing in front of a cross. Ganja, though saddened by his death, lives on, presumably continuing her vampiric lifestyle. The film ends with the young man Ganja had earlier killed rising out of the water, naked but alive, and running towards her.Marlene Clark as Ganja Meda
Duane Jones as Dr. Hess Green
Bill Gunn as George Meda
Sam Waymon as Rev. Luther Williams
Leonard Jackson as Archie
Candece Tarpley as Girl in Bar
Richard Harrow as Dinner Guest
John Hoffmeister as Jack Sargent
Betty Barney as Singer in Church
Mabel King as Queen of Myrthia
Additionally, postmodern novelist William Gaddis and his wife Judith Thompson appear as extras during a party scene.
In 1972, independent production company Kelly-Jordan Enterprises approached William Gunn, an African-American artist known at the time primarily as a playwright and stage director, with the idea of making a "black vampire" film with a budget of $350,000. Though Gunn later told a friend, "the last thing I want to do is make a black vampire film," he accepted the project with the intention of using vampirism as metaphor for addiction. The producers' relative inexperience at filmmaking afforded Gunn a high degree of creative control over the film.
Filming occurred at Apple Bee Farms (Croton-on-Hudson, New York) and the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. The film had its premier in 1973 and was selected for the Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
The movie received positive reviews. It received the critics' choice prize at the Cannes Festival, and James Murray of the Amsterdam News hailed it as "the most important Black produced film since Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." Writing in 2014, critic Scott Foundas described the film as a "landmark 1973 indie that used vampirism as an ingenious metaphor for black assimilation, white cultural imperialism and the hypocrisies of organized religion."
The film's producers, Kelly and Jordan, were discouraged by the poor box office numbers and unhappy with the film's unusual structure and style. Kelly-Jordan took the film out of distribution and sold it to another company, Heritage Enterprises, which issued a rescored and drastically recut version under the title Blood Couple. This version (disowned by Gunn) was released on VHS under a number of different titles. Despite the compromised release by Heritage Enterprises, the original cut was donated to the Museum of Modern Art, whose screenings, according to writer Chris Fujiwara, "helped build [the film's] reputation as a neglected classic of independent African American cinema."
The film was remade in 2014 by Spike Lee in 2014 as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. The script was credited to both Lee and original writer/director Bill Gunn. It has been described as "...a remake - at times scene for scene and shot for shot — of Ganja and Hess."