TFF 2019 Review: Bliss

Dora Madison as Dezzy

I always consider it a point of pride when I see a film people walk out of.  At House of 1000 Corpses, a couple walked out as the woman loudly declared “let’s get the FUCK out of here!”; another pair fled Suspiria (2018) after a nasty bit of body contortion.  So it pleased me that a few folks just couldn’t sit through Bliss, writer/director Joe Begos’ hallucinogenic vampire flick playing the Midnight category at the Tribeca Film Festival.  Interestingly, they all left before any of the bloody mayhem even got started; the visceral intensity of the filmmaking seems to be what they couldn’t handle.


Bliss opens with a warning about strobe effects, which seems as much part of the exploitation tradition as a legitimate caveat.  After a day glo, rock and roll opening title sequence, we meet Dezzy (Dora Madison), a starving artist struggling to pay the bills while battling a pretty heavy drug problem.  She’s got a deadline looming for her latest piece, an appropriately eerie painting of souls writhing in fire, but she can’t seem to find the inspiration to finish it, despite the help of a well-meaning boyfriend Clive (Jeremy Gardner).  Maybe that’s because she’s too busy scoring drugs from her pal Hadrian (Graham Skipper) and partying with her girlfriend and sometime lover Courtney (Tru Collins, giving off trashy Lady Gaga vibes) and Courtney’s boyfriend Ronnie (Rhys Wakefield).  When Hadrian slips her a coke variant called Bliss, Dezzy’s instantly hooked, but the bad trip it sends her on is compounded by a simultaneous thirst for blood.  Dezzy’s life quickly spins out of control—to put it mildly.

Jeremy Gardner as Clive, Tru Collins as Courtney,and Rhys Wakefield as Ronnie

Bliss is an impressively crafted movie, with stunning cinematography and lighting and a hard driving metal soundtrack.  Madison is remarkable as Dezzy, a character that could easily come off as selfish and obnoxious, but who is vividly real and funny in the actress’ capable hands.  The screenplay is smart and pretty damn funny, and the intensity of the filmmaking makes Bliss a movie you experience more than watch.  There’s also outstanding use of locations—the various bars, Dezzy’s apartment, and Hadrian’s house are all vividly real places.  Where Bliss might be polarizing is with regards to the copious drug use and the extremely intense, bloody violence (thought to be fair, isn’t that exactly what a vampire movie should have in spades?).  The finale is so gruesomely over the top that I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it.  But this movie really goes for it, and Begos and his crew are undeniably talented.  However you feel about Bliss, you won’t soon forget it.


Bliss screens Wednesday at 9:45 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.  Visit tribecafilm.com for more info.

Monster-Mania Con 42 report

The author and Rachel True

“I’m just saying if you’re gonna have three out of the witches, you need four, don’tcha?” actress Rachel True asked, referring to the controversy that erupted when she went public about an unnamed convention inviting all three female leads in The Craft–except her.  “Sounds about white,” she tweeted dryly.  “I’m very happy to be here with my whole cast,” she declared.  “I’m delighted to be here with the whole cast.  I am.” 

An attendee showing off their The Craft inspired jacket.

True talked to me at Monster-Mania 42, “the semi-annual Philadelphia Horror Film & Memorabilia Convention,” which invited her to join Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, and Neve Campbell for a Craft reunion at their March event shortly after the snub story broke.  The coven proved to be one of the weekend’s biggest draws.  There’s always a preponderance of Goths and geeks at the convention, of course, but the Craft ladies brought them out in force.  Much of the crowd seemed to exemplify Balk’s famous line “We are the weirdoes, mister.”  I told a woman in line with me that her outfit was appropriately witchy.  “Oh!” she replied.  “This is just what I wear all the time.”  Elsewhere, cosplayers embodied a mix of horror icons like The Haunting of Hill House’s “Bent Neck Lady” and a gender-swapped Ash (from Evil Dead) and comics universe characters like Batgirl and Gotham’s Oswald Cobblepot.

Cosplayers KJ Buxton and Alexa Bronco

The weekend marked the one year anniversary of a near disastrous event wherein the combination of big names like Tim Curry, Paul Reubens, Richard Dreyfuss, and the young stars of It (2017) drew crowds far past the capacity of the Cherry Hill, NJ Crown Plaza Hotel.  The fire department intervened, limiting Saturday admittance, shutting down a tent meant to host panels, and leaving droves of fans either left out in the cold (literally) or just plain ticked off.  To its credit, the organizers have since taken steps to strictly limit sales to reasonable capacity, meaning advance tickets are pretty much a must—but the precautions have paid off in avoiding a similar debacle.  I went on the comparably quieter Sunday this time, and although I heard the day before was packed, it didn’t sound anything like the previous year.

Justin with Halloween (2018)’s Jibrail Nantambu

The Con drew a wide assortment of guests, including two other notable African American actors: Jibrail Nantambu, who stole the show with his hilarious, heavily improvised performance in Halloween (2018), and Eugene Clark, the imposing actor who memorably played “Big Daddy,” the leader of the zombies in George Romero’s Land of the Dead.  There was also Dylan McDermott, hunky star of American Horror Story and the 1990 scifi thriller Hardware, original Michael Myers Nick Castle and 2018 version James Jude Courtney, 80s hearththrob Dolph Lundgren (He-Man in the camp classic Masters of the Universe), and Meatloaf!  (Christina Ricci was only there through Saturday, so I missed her. Le sigh.)

Also in attendance was Ashlee Blackwell, founder of the scholarly website Graveyard Shift Sisters (graveyardshiftsisters.com) and co-writer/producer of the excellent Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, currently streaming on Shudder.  I watched the film to prepare for meeting True, who appears throughout the movie’s brisk 83 minute runtime.  The actress joins everyone from Candyman Tony Todd to Get Out director Jordan Peele to discuss the history of black representation and contributions to horror, with plenty of illuminating insights throughout.  “It’s so good, isn’t it?” True enthused.  “Tell your white friends to watch it, because I think people think it’s only for Black [people]—it’s not, if you like horror, this is a great documentary, right?”  I agreed that it was, and mentioned how passionately Geeks OUT believes in representation.  “I’m really big on representation!” True responded, adding pointedly, “I’m here.  I’m happy to be here.”