BLISS - "A Neon Nightmare - Pure Heavy Metal"

When I hear the phrase “heavy metal”, what comes to mind are bands like Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne – mainstays of the musical sub-genre. But beyond the connection to dark, riffy rock 'n' roll, lays the sci-fi/fantasy comics magazine "Heavy Metal". Known best for it's tales of dark and dangerous dystopias, Conan-esque sword and sorcery and highly suggestive erotic imagery.

Much like "Heavy Metal", the films of Joe Begos are brutally dark, blood splattered works of genre fiction with a distinct horror slant. First there were invading aliens, deadly psychics and now, with Begos' third feature film, "Bliss" with blood craving vampires. Bliss is everything you would expect from Begos and at the same time everything "Heavy Metal".

This blood drenched tale of the LA art scene and Dezzy, a struggling twenty-something year old artist who’s on the verge of either breaking through or burning out. Dezzy, played by Dora Madison, is suffering through a dry spell. A lack of inspiration has kept her from finishing anything new, and the money that’s been advanced to her has all but run out. With her landlord, agent and gallery owners breathing down her neck, Dezzy is in dire straits. But soon this won’t matter, as she delves deep into the seedy, midnight underbelly of nightclubs and drug dealers looking for an escape to her predicament, an along with it, vampirism.

Things heat up as Dezzy runs into an old friend, Courtney, and together fill the evening with drug and drink fueled debauchery. Later, Courtney's boyfriend, Ronnie, enters the picture and the three spend an erotic night together. But is that all that happened? Was it just the drugs, or did something else happen? Something that Dezzy can't quite put her finger on.

Following this, Dezzy spends the next several days repeating the night time partying, but with one caveat. She has a strange and insatiable hunger for human blood, and with it comes a surge of creative energy that pours from her and onto her canvas. Much like many artists who claim to see things differently while under the influence, and finding inspiration in it, so does Dezzy.

The take away from "Bliss" is this very idea. That some artists are often inspired by their vices. The drugs and drink become their muse who then abandon them once they kick their habit. Of course, with Dezzy, her story escalates to a feverish climax as she clings to her crutch to complete her piece, but also tries desperately to understand what's become of her and how to stop it.

Dora Madison's performance as Dezzy is fantastic. She feels natural and real. I feel like I’ve met her, but that doesn’t mean that I like her. She is a person who I’ve crossed paths with and been introduced to, but someone to self-absorbed to remember having met me. The only downer here is that once things get out of control for Dezzy, it's difficult to empathize with her. Maybe a little less attitude could have achieved this, but Madison owns it regardless.

Another familiar face is Jeremy Gardner ("The Battery"), who plays a smaller role, Dezzy's boyfriend, but none the less convincing.

The cinematography and editing are sharp. Everything looks very polished and colorful, but given a rough edge through the use of 16mm – a popular technique among contemporary filmmakers who want their spanking new digital film to have that classic movie look.

As for the story, I always shy away from revealing too much when reviewing a film that is hot off the presses, or a low budget indie. But with "Bliss", so little actually happens that it's difficult to spoil. And that isn't a bad thing. "Bliss" is defiantly one of those films that is more about experiencing the journey than the destination. After all, it seems to borrow heavily from Able Ferrara's "The Driller Killer" - also about an artist who struggles to complete his masterpiece, but instead discovers murdering the homeless of New York.

The stylized, neon nightmare cinematography and the, at times, dirge like doom metal soundtrack give the film a sedated and ethereal quality – matching the mindset of our protagonist. But this also seems to match much of Panos Cosmatos' "Mandy".

In fact, quite a bit of Joe Begos' work is reminiscent of other works. "Almost Human" is a little bit "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and a little bit "The Terminator". "The Mind's Eye" is a little bit "Scanners", but "The Stranger Things" as well. And after having seen "Bliss", I think I understand Begos a little better. He isn't borrowing from a lack of his own inspiration. He is creating art. Mixing techniques and elements of other sci-fi and horror to make something familiar, but new. As long as he can continue to make well made and interesting films with all the rivers of blood, ultra violence and eroticism of "Heavy Metal", than I'm a happy camper.

With that said, "Bliss" isn't for everyone, but true horror hounds and fans of "Mandy" will eat it up. Personally, it is one of my favorites from this year. Check it out!

"Bliss" has spent the year racking up accolades as it traveling the festival circuit and only recently has been made available on DVD, BLU-RAY and VOD via the fine people at Dark Sky Film.


★ ★ ★ ½

"A brilliant painter facing the worst creative block of her life turns to anything she can to complete her masterpiece, spiraling into a hallucinatory hellscape of drugs, sex and murder in the sleazy underbelly of Los Angeles."