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The path of films that intersect horror and extreme underground music hasn’t exactly been a well-traveled one. There are a few shining examples, such as the legendary zombie comedy Return Of The Living Dead, the brief appearance of Times Square punks in Jason Takes Manhattan, and a few hidden Easter eggs in the background of movies like The Midnight Hour and Night Of The Demons. More recently, there has been a resurgence of punk horror with the release of films like the Jenn Wexler-directed survival slasher The Ranger and one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, Green Room. These newer horror movies often take a group of punks and put them in terrifying and deadly situations to some seriously entertaining results. Entering the punk/horror conversation is Bliss, the 2019 film by Joe Begos that is now exclusively streaming on Shudder. Not only does Begos direct the film, but he was also writer, producer, and camera operator of Bliss. With Bliss becoming widely available and Begos’ newest movie VFW being shown in theaters across the country, it might be safe to say he could be on the fast track to becoming one of horror’s newest movers and shakers.
Bliss is a technicolor nightmare, utilizing modern ideas to work on the classic vampire tale. The movie centers on Dezzy, a party-savvy painter living in Los Angeles. Under the gun from her agent and an impatient client who has paid a large up-front sum for a piece, the creatively blocked Dezzy turns to drugs and fellow socialites to alleviate her work woes. But after acquiring a bizarre strain of cocaine called Bliss and experiencing a horrendous night filled with sex, murder and transformation, she’s thrust into a life of hallucination and horror, struggling to survive. Despite all this, her commissioned painting is finally coming together, slowly displaying visions of death and terror. Funny enough, the early stages of the painting look a lot like the climactic scene in Michele Soavi’s 1989 horror film The Church. Those who see it are heavily impressed, but fall victim to Dezzy’s need to survive. The film is hyper sexual, as is the standard for vampire tales, with some segments reminding me of the 1986 vampire western Near Dark.
On the technical side, the movie is incredibly shot. One of the selling points is Begos shot Bliss on 16mm film, which at some points is obvious with the natural film grain and spots on the finished product, but adds an additional layer of intrigue and mystique to the story line. It also creates a visual darkness to the movie as well, which is an interesting juxtaposition to the colorful hypnotic nature of some of the scenes. The amalgamation of color, jump cuts, and bizarre camera angles creates a wild hallucinatory environment, which helps the audience see the movie’s universe through Dezzy’s eyes as she stumbles through her drug-addled somnambulism. An aspect I really appreciated about the film is the flashing light warning up front, which I feel is pretty rare for horror movies. Some may complain about it in a boring and annoying anti-PC stance, but I found it to be incredibly thoughtful. The effects are also pretty impressive, although slow to really get going. The third act of the film contains the most gore, especially towards the ending.
The cast in this does a great job of fulfilling their roles in moving the story forward. The star of the film, Dora Madison, was perfectly cast as Dezzy, who can stop on a dime and go from chilled to distraught to homicidal in a few seconds flat. Tru Collins portrays the deceptive party girl Courtney very well, coming off initially as unassuming and harmless (aside from some recreational drug use) to a villain that turns Dezzy’s world upside down in the course of a single night. The film is also brimming with familiar faces, such as Graham Skipper (Beyond The Gates, Downrange), George Wendt (House, Cheers) and Abraham Benrubi (ER, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose). Each cast member kills it, metaphorically speaking, and a handful also appear in Begos’ newest film VFW – which has the horror community buzzing, coining it as a punked-out version of John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t talk about the score and soundtrack for the film. I haven’t been this thrilled to hear a familiar song since watching the short-lived Fox television show The Following, where songs by Refused, the Deftones, and Danzig popped up in random episodes. Bliss contains songs by well-known extreme music groups Electric Wizard, Doomriders, and Isis, among others. I was clued into the musical vibe of the movie by the Death Waltz and Holy Mountain clothes Dezzy wears during the film, but was taken aback nonetheless, throwing my fists in the air in a “just won the Stanley Cup” fashion. Not only did the songs stand out, but the score by Steve Moore lays some incredibly creepy groundwork for the story. For those not familiar, Moore is one half of the instrumental duo Zombi, known for their sci-fi sound influenced by the likes of John Carpenter and Goblin. Coincidentally enough, Moore is a native of Monroeville, Pennsylvania (yes, the zombie capital of the world featured in Dawn Of The Dead), which was the next township over from my childhood home. The score was released by Relapse Records, who have issued multiple records by Zombi, and is filled with creepy soundscapes that create lots of tension in the film. It would make for great background music for a Halloween party this fall. Not only is the music in this rooted in metal, but there are some Easter eggs to look out for as well, such as a sticker for the extreme metal label 20 Buck Spin and shirts from Holy Mountain Printing and Death Waltz Records Dezzy wears in multiple scenes in the film.
If you haven’t delved into Shudder’s eclectic library yet, you definitely should, as Bliss is a great addition to their service, as well as a great conversation piece for modern horror films. With its plot points of following a frustrated painter working against the clock for a gallery opening, it would make a great double feature with the 1965 Hershell Gordon Lewis film Color Me Blood Red. And with writer/director Joe Begos creating a streak of wild horror thrillers with this film and VFW, I’d be very curious to see what he rolls out next. Just be sure to go into the movie sober; it’ll mess you up more than any drug could.