Filmmaker Joe Begos knows what a certain breed of horror audience wants out of genre cinema and isn’t afraid to deliver it. He has an adoration for the genre—particularly horror from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s—and is making the kind of films that—I imagine—he would have wanted to see as a young man and even more so now as an adult. ALMOST HUMAN and THE MIND’S EYE felt like lost classics from the Full Moon or Empire catalog and his latest BLISS carries through it that same devil may care attitude, paying no credence to the squares. Bleaker in tone, BLISS may find Begos at is darkest and introspective, but there is a sick sense of humor and a sense of rock ‘n’ roll fun that drives this tale of addiction, ambition and vampirism.
That rock ‘n’ roll cool blasts out of the speakers over the film’s opening, splatter painted credits, giving way to the modern drug fueled, erotic vampire tale. The Los Angeles of BLISS is shot through a grimy lens similar to how Abel Ferrara saw New York City in MS. 45 and THE DRILLER KILLER. In Begos’ Los Angeles—reminiscent of TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.— it’s always a dark night lit by streetlights or a smoggy dusk giving way to the darkness. Dezzy (Dora Madison) is an artist known for her work on heavy metal album covers who is now taking commissions from the wealthy for her devilish masterpieces…yet is still broke herself. It’s a plight creative types can relate to. She cruises around L.A. in a drop top classic boat of a car and while her boyfriend Clive (Jeremy Gardner) is supportive enough, but Dezzy finds drugs to be her best way to cope, inspire, and escape all at the same time. She goes to drug dealer Hadrian (Graham Skipper) who turns her onto something called “bliss” which you snort like cocaine but affects the brain like DMT, and according to Hadrian, is best in smaller doses.
Almost every scene is shot through a smokey neon haze and the film provides an out of time sensibility that never leans too hard on the notion of throwback cinema even if it does evoke a feeling of nostalgia for 16mm grindhouse horror. BLISS has an authentic griminess in its settings and its characters. Dezzy doesn’t seem to be one for half-measures, enjoys tremendous amounts of the “bliss” and engages in a sleazy threesome with friends who party regularly at the drug den. The denizens of this world stroll around the drug dens and filthy dive bars are perpetually clad in sunglasses looking like strung-out rock stars and exotic dancers. When Dezzy begins transforming into some sort of drug addled creature of the night, her relationships begin to suffer, but her art begins to come together like never before, like she’s possessed by some sort of artistic, demonic force…and craving blood.
BLISS isn’t here to make a grand statement about sex or drug use. In the world of the film—like the one we inhabit—it simply is a day to day occurrence. It just is. Every action feels appropriate for the characters, and while it does appear that its either sex or drugs that lead Dezzy down this path, it’s more matter of fact than judgemental. If there’s a fable element, it’s about the price of ambition. Begos revels in the exploitativeness of it all rather than attempting to deliver a message outside of providing a dark fairy tale about the plight of the artist. And just when the proceedings start to feel too high-minded, Begos gleefully leans into gory horror as all the pieces come together and Dez’s world begins to fall apart: heads are ripped off, bodies are drained, and faces are quite literally melted.
Steeped in grit and grime and drenched in hazy neon, BLISS sits alongside NEAR DARK and MARTIN in the pantheon of ultracool, weirdo vampire flicks but ups the ante with an unhinged, manic, rock ‘n’ roll sensibility. BLISS plows through it’s 80 minute run time, never overstaying its welcome, with an edge of your seat feeling that at any moment, the wheels could completely come off.