“Follow your bliss,” the great mythologist Joseph Campbell once told Bill Moyers in an interview. “If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.” Campbell’s idea of bliss probably had more to do with eating, praying and loving than hallucinogenic benders and cannibalism, but being as he kept his definition of the word broad, who’s to say that euphoria can’t, or shouldn’t, be sought in cocaine and human viscera?
Joe Begos, director of the 2013 Carpenter-adjacent Almost Human, apparently took Campbell’s words to heart with his latest, Bliss, a tactile, sleazy antidote to self-conscious attempts at respectability in contemporary horror; it’s also a superb PSA for avoiding any drug sold in dingy clubs lit by Dario Argento and run by guys with overabundant mutton chop beards. Grant that Dezzy (Dora Madison) is suffering from a major case of painter’s block, and what good is a painter who can’t coat a canvas? She’s hungry for inspiration. So she starts snorting a potent stimulant called Bliss, and for a while, Bliss does the trick. She paints, and paints, and does more Bliss, and has orgies with her friends Courtney (Tru Collins) and Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield), and then does yet even more Bliss. Her painting comes along nicely all the while, but it’s slowly taken a turn to the morbid, and also she’s hungry for human blood.
There’s a wicked, EC Comics allure to Bliss’ premise, and in fact feels like a natural partner to “Easel Kill Ya,” the eighth episode of Tales from the Crypt’s third season, in which Tim Roth plays a struggling artist who finds fresh creative influence in murder most foul. It doesn’t end well for him. Things don’t go much better for Dezzy, but the journey of her downfall is an aggressive and texturally pleasing ride. Bliss is a horror film so awash in sensation and driven by excess that viewers might think it possible to reach through the screen and wipe the grime and gore and sweat and sex right off of the walls (though they’d risk losing a limb in the process). Dezzy has an unhealthy appetite that grows exponentially as Bliss rockets forward. She’s not particular, either: finger, nose, elbow, throat—it’s all the same to her.
The role of Dezzy is a demanding one—not a second of Bliss elapses that doesn’t revolve around her, and every second that ticks by, she must alternate between escalating panic and savage abandon. Dezzy has no other modes: She’s either desperate for artistic impetus or hankering for bone and body parts. The film’s bleakest punchline is that the latter eventually becomes the former, and Dezzy’s painting, once resembling a harsh Martian landscape, turns brushstroke by brushstroke into a portrait with sinister implications. Begos draws a direct connection between creative outlets and the diet of the creator, both literal and figurative: If we are what we eat, then so’s our art.
Bliss is such a transgressive heavy metal splatter-fest that these high-minded aspirations don’t really matter even as they manifest. If you’re watching this film, you’re likely watching it for the human flesh parade, for the violent color scheme and for the violence itself, and for the thrashing soundtrack. Comprising hardcore and doom metal, à la Isis, Electric Wizard, and Doomriders, Bliss is more metal than most of the metal records released in the last five years. The substance beneath the slaughter is a happy bonus, and a reminder that even the ugliest horror movies can have more going on under the hood than one might think.
Director: Joe Begos
Writer: Joe Begos
Starring: Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, George Wendt, Abraham Benrubi, Mark Beltzman
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Boston-based culture writer Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009 (and music since 2018). You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.