M.L. Miller here! Welcome horror fans to my Annual countdown of the Best of the Best in Horror! Running every day through October, this list will culminate with the best horror film of the year announced on October 31st. Some of these films can be found in theaters—others have unfortunately only seen the light of day On Demand, DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films yourselves. I’ll also provide a “Worth Noting” secondary film suggestion in a separate post. These are films that stood out or just missed being on the list by a skosh—a little extra for those who can’t get enough horror.
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st 2018 and September 30, 2019 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number, 31. This countdown is not for the elitists or festival goers, so if the film hasn’t been released to the masses, it won’t be on the list. Also anything released this October will most likely be on next year’s list—so sorry, no films like DOCTOR SLEEP or ZOMBIELAND 2 just yet.
I hope you’ll join me daily and don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Joe Begos burst onto the scene with the Carpenter-esque ALMOST HUMAN, then followed that up with the Cronenbergian THE MIND’S EYE. Now he’s back with his most accomplished homage to date; BLISS. I’ll get into what that movie resembles down in the review, but I have to say that this one eeked into the countdown just in time for the cutoff. Released on September 27th, 2019, here’s my review of Joe Begos’ BLISS! Available On Demand and digital download from Dark Sky Films!
Directed by Joe Begos
Written by Joe Begos
Starring Dora Madison, Tru Collins, Rhys Wakefield, Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, Chris McKenna, Rachel Avery, Mark Beltzman, George Wendt, Abraham Benrubi, Jesse Merlin, Matt Mercer, Josh Ethier, Kevin Daigneault, Jackson Birnbaum, Susan Slaughter, Erin Braswell, Zoe Cooper, Simone Wasserman, Kristin Lorenz
Joe Begos is no doubt a talented director. ALMOST HUMAN and THE MIND’S EYE were able to distill some truly horrific moments of 80’s horror and placed them in modern films. BLISS is by far Begos’ most sophisticated film to date. It still is similar to a few 80’s and 90’s classics, but it is a great film nevertheless.
Dora Madison plays Dezzie, a talented painter and part of the LA art scene who is plagued with artist’s block. She’s broke, without inspiration, and needs to finish a painting by the end of the weekend or she loses her apartment and her commission. The stakes are high for her to produce some art, but she just can’t get it kickstarted. So she does what many artists do and dives into the nearest drugs she can find in hopes to be inspired to paint a masterpiece. When she tries a new drug called Bliss, Dezzie experiences a euphoric, orgasmic, and surreal trip, inspiring her to take her art to the next level. But the deadline is looming, so why not try a little more? The results are both beautiful and disastrous in this edgy and gimy look at the LA art scene and the quest for fame, fortune, and accomplishment.
There’s a lot to like about BLISS, so let me get the main flaw out of the way first. Dora Madison is no doubt a great actress, but the character of Dezzie is absolutely unlikable throughout most of the movie. Yes, her predicament is well communicated and I was able to be empathetic to her plight. But the way she treats herself and all of those around her is pretty vile. She cheats on her boyfriend, lies, gets wasted and into fights, and as her addiction to this new mind and body altering drug intensifies, she even kills. All with seemingly no remorse. I know people like Dezzie and most likely this character was based on some poor soul in Begos and Madison’s life, but they do a little too good a job of showing how horrible she is and the work just isn’t in there to get us to like her. It’s not a deal breaker that I didn’t like the protagonist, but it is definitely hard to empathize with someone if you don’t even like her.
That said, Begos gets his nails dirty with this film. You’re going to want to take a long shower after living in Dezzie’s shoes for a weekend. There’s an authentic way in which this film is made that really feels like Begos tapped into the very soul of the LA party/art scene that reminds me of the way Scorsese, Ferrara, and Hennenlotter tapped into the NY scene in the late seventies. This authenticity makes everything look grimy and gorgeous. Decadent and decayed. Begos really delivers in terms of atmosphere here.
But never fear, this IS a horror movie. The drug Dezzie ingests, combined with the reckless lifestyle she is living, somehow gives her a thirst for blood. This wouldn’t be the first time the nightlife and vampirism has been paired up. BLISS in many ways reminds me of the sexy and dangerous feel that exudes from every frame of Tony Scott’s fantastic THE HUNGER. But Begos also harkens back to Larry Fessenden’s HABIT which pairs drug/alcohol addiction with vampirism. There is a rawness here in Dezzie’s performance that reminds me of the self-destructive lush Fessenden played in HABIT. The combination of these two inspirations make for a truly exciting film in BLISS.
This film wades in blood by the end of it all. It’s the type of film that makes you feel like you’re in the front row of a GWAR concert. BLISS will leave you covered in blood, grime, and filth. The last few minutes is a gorehound’s delight.
The film sports some great cameos as well like THE BATTERY’s Jeremy Gardner, ALMOST HUMAN’s Graham Skipper, CONTRACTED’s Matt Mercer, and even George Wendt makes a brief appearance (NORM!!!). But Dora Madison is a true human hurricane in the standout lead role of Dezzie. She brings this tragic character to life and while I might not have liked her throughout the film, you do end up feeling bad for her by the time the credits roll.
While Begos’ previous films seem to be homage-ing films a little too closely, BLISS feels like a huge leap in maturity for the filmmaker. There are some scenes that border on beautiful and horrific and the end result is one of Begos’ first masterpieces.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#28 – BLISS
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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