By Clark Collis
August 07, 2019 at 12:00 PM EDT

In writer-director Joe Begos’s vampire film Bliss, a painter named Dezzy Donahue finds an unusual way to get her creative juices flowing.

“It’s about an artist who has what you’d call painter’s block and can’t figure out any way to finish her newest painting,” says Begos, the director of 2013’s alien monster movie Almost Human and 2015’s telekinesis horror-thriller The Mind’s Eye. “So, she takes this hallucinatory drug, but she may also have been bitten by a vampire. It’s a crazy descent into hell.”

Donahue is played by Dora Madison, whose previous credits include the TV shows Friday Night Lights, Dexter, and Chicago Fire.

“She’s awesome,” says Begos. “I was afraid we were going to get really bad auditions, because it was such a low budget movie, and the role called for full-frontal nudity, excessive [onscreen] drug use, getting covered in blood, and they were going to make the absolute bare minimum that we could legally pay [them]. I was actually surprised that we got a handful of people who were really good. But Dora was totally down for all this crazy stuff in the movie and it was perfect.”

The supporting cast includes Begos regulars Graham Skipper, Jeremy Gardner, Matt Mercer, and Josh Ethier — who also edited the film — as well as Cheers legend George Wendt.

“I worked with George on Re-Animator: The Musical,” says the filmmaker. “He was playing the Dean and I was the stage manager on that show. I always wanted to use George on something. He’s just the coolest. He’s exactly what you’d expect. He loves to work, loves to hang out, loves to be on set. He’s another one that I hope to bring back on subsequent movies.”

Begos reveals that Bliss is, at least, in part autobiographical.

“I would say it’s a personal story in a way, because, when I was writing it, I just couldn’t get a f—ing movie made to save my life,” he says. “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m just going to write something small, I’m going to make a movie about an artist in despair in Los Angeles.’ A painter is obviously much more visually interesting to look at doing this gigantic painting than somebody in the corner of his apartment typing out on a laptop, trying to finish a screenplay.”

It is no criticism to say that Bliss is Begos’s most extreme film to date. What kind of reactions has the movie been prompting on the festival circuit?

“Very polarizing, which I think is the best kind of reaction,” he says. “If everyone thinks your movie is just alright, it’s forgettable. But if everyone either really f—ing hated your movie or they f—ing loved it, they’re going to remember it. I think that remembering it is what’s important.”

Bliss is released in theaters and on digital platforms, Sept. 27.

Watch the film’s trailer, above.

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