Pain and gory
Bliss is a death-metal blast beat of horror filmmaking
For the longest time, every October, a group of friends and I would welcome the arrival of fall weather—not with a huge cup of pumpkin spice goodness or our favorite cable knit sweater, but rather 30 days crammed with horror movie madness. Our programming would run the gamut from high-art (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) to beautiful shlock (Street Trash) and a lot in the middle (Salo comes to mind). There was nothing we wouldn’t submit for our viewing (dis)pleasure.
Every so often, we would queue up an entry from the newer wave of horror films by the likes of Ty West (House of the Devil) or Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard (You’re Next). One such filmmaker to pop out of the bunch was Joe Begos. His first film Almost Human was a riff on Carpenter’s The Thing that felt more direct rip-off than homage to the 80s horror classic. But there was a style and tenacity that showed promise. Begos has made good with his third feature film, the scuzzy, 16mm death-metal infused vampire tale Bliss.
Bliss is a coke-snorting, drop D-tuned psychedelic horror film that’s equal parts tale of bloodsucking mayhem and a Darkthrone album—and I am here for it.
In the neon-soaked Los Angeles of Bliss, artist Dezzy (Dora Madison) comes down with a wicked bout of creative block. Her agent fires her on the eve of a major gallery show, sending Dezzy into a panic. Certain she’s painting what will be her masterpiece, she soon seeks out the aid of chemical inspiration. No slouch, Dezzy opts for the harder, more transcendent batch of drugs her dealer dubs “Bliss.” A few bumps of the nose candy finds Dezzy embarking on a drug-fueled night of LA excess and debauchery. Awakening from a blackout with a wicked hangover, she’s astonished to find her work-in-progress improved and a thirst for blood that will go unsatiated until she’s finished.
Shot on glorious 16-millimeter film, Bliss feels like the kind of grimy horror movie you’d discover after a night of voracious searching at the local video stores of yore. Begos spins a wicked 88-minute psychedelic, blast-beat driven tale of Hollywood vampires that feels right at home with the pulpy bloodlust fare like Katheryn Bigelow’s After Dark and Tony Scott’s Hunger.
Born out of a bit of autobiographical struggle, Begos directs his film with a frenetic and economic frenzy that adds to the drug-fueled mania of Dezzy’s descent into vampiric madness. Using practical locations and in-camera bloody effects elevates Bliss above the perpetual flood of schlocky Blumhouse rip-offs and corny haunted house films laden with bad CGI ghosts and jump-scares. The film feels like it was made from a place of a little desperation and an unsatisfied hunger for creative expression by the filmmaker himself.