Death Bed: The Bed that Eats Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)
At the edge of a grand estate near a crumbling old mansion lies a strange stone building with just a single room. In the room, there lies a bed. Born of demonic power, the bed seeks the flesh, blood and life essence of unwary travelers… Three pretty girls arrive on vacation, searching for a place to spend the night. Instead, they tumble into nightmares - and the cruel, insatiable hunger of the Bed! (From Cult Epics’ official synopsis)
George Barry’s Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is what we call a real cult movie obscurity. Those precious few who are aware of its existence likely stumbled upon a tape during the era of bootleg VHS trading, read about it in Stephen Thrower’s epic-length ode to American B-movies, Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (2007, FAB Press), or, mostly likely heard comedian Patton Oswalt’s extended joke on the absurdity of the film’s title. In the bit, Oswalt mistakenly refers to it as Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People, but correctly notes that it had just been released on DVD (in 2004) after languishing in obscurity since 1977 (though, technically, Death Bed wasn’t made in 1977 – it was made in 1974 and failed to find distribution for four years). He then claims that the entire basis of the movie is that there’s an evil bed that eats people (he details a back-story that he seems to have made up himself) and goes on to describe the ridiculous situation that led a movie producer to think Barry’s movie was a good idea. The fact that Oswalt hadn’t actually watched the film is moot in the context of the joke – which is about the perils of screenwriting, filmmaking, and the creative process from his own point-of-view – but I can’t help but think that the sheer audacity of Death Bed would’ve charmed him.
Death Bed isn’t really the high-concept schlock-fest that anyone seems to assume it is (Oswalt included), but an act of scatterbrained surrealism. Yes, it does star a bed that eats people (a concept that was reused in at least three more times, including Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street , Douglas Curtis’ The Sleeping Car , and Danny Draven’s similarly-titled Deathbed ), but did you know that the titular evil furniture can also control its surroundings (opening and closing doors, starting fires, et cetera), induce nightmares, and write death threats on playing cards, or that it shares its living space with a ghost who is trapped helplessly behind a painting (actually an ink rendering) and who also acts as the film’s narrator? The bed is an inert object, but ‘lives’ via vocal effects, including yawns, snores, laughs, and heavy breathing. The ghostly narrator also tends to answer its unspoken questions. The bed’s fairy-tale-like origins, which span generations, and the science behind its peculiar digestive processes are at the heart of the movie’s indelible weirdness. According to legend, a tree demon became a breeze, fell in love with a human, created the bed to seduce her, and accidentally endows that bed with both his and her essences, which brought it to life. The voracious bed gained the ability to absorb and dissolve anything that settles on its surface with bubbling stomach acids (at one point, the bed gets a belly ache and sucks up an entire suitcase to access a bottle Pepto Bismol). There are no gaping maws or ragged teeth involved – only disturbingly serene scenes of objects noisily dissolving in a void of yellow liquid.
Death Bed has the methodology of an art film and, like any art film (especially a horror-themed one), it will try the weird shit tolerance of many of its viewers. Barry’s limited technically abilities as first-time filmmaker are at constantly at a beautiful war with both his tongue-in-cheek exploitation sensibilities and his artistic ambitions. He’s constantly wavering between satirizing and embracing haunted house and “dead teenager” traditions with an uncanny mix of awkwardly framed wide-angle shots and more grandiose techniques, like montage editing, smash cut juxtapositions, and superimposed images. The tonal and stylistic stage is immediately set during the pre-credit prologue, titled Breakfast. It begins as a horny couple enter’s the mansion where the bed lives with no explanation as to how they arrived. The bed leads them to its resting place by locking and unlocking doors. When they arrive, they set out a picnic lunch of apples, fried chicken, and red wine, before engaging in foreplay. The bed quietly absorbs the food, dissolves or drinks it, and slowly ejects or spits out the cores, bones, and empty bottle. Just as the couple finally notices that their meal has been ravaged, the sheets swell with yellow foam, the canopy curtains close, and the soundtrack is flooded by their muffled screams.
The overlying plot – concerning a trio of girls that run off to investigate the house’s reputation – is incidental, because the storytelling conventions are so episodic. The sporadic death scenes are most detached from each other at the center of the film, when the ghost chronicles his roommate’s sordid history and Barry runs through several decades worth of bed murder vignettes (including a brief and relatively chaste orgy scene). The deliberately paced, disjointed narrative is beautifully compounded by equally strange dialogue and hypnagogic acting. The ghost narrator, an oddly appropriate narrative device, isn’t the only one that unloads exposition on the audience – whenever the major characters aren’t speaking to each other in faux philosophical tones, they have internal monologs about their feelings for the audience’s benefit. The actors take almost every supernatural terror in stride. Even while being eaten by the bed, performances rarely peak above more than a confused stare (only one victim actually fights against the attack). One victim has his hands reduced to skeleton claws and describes the situation with the calm attitude of someone that just discovered the milk in his fridge expired.
Again, movies don’t come much more obscure than Death Bed. Its sheer existence on digital home video defies the odds of the market. Its existence as a remastered, full-1080p (1.33:1) Blu-ray is a jaw-dropping development. Cult Epics isn’t new to the Blu-ray format (I believe their 2010 release of Radley Metzger’s Score marked their ‘maiden voyage’), but, given their smaller stature, they haven’t exactly been the most prolific company, either. The only other Blu-ray I’ve seen from the company was their release of Agusti Villaronga’s In a Glass Cage, which, itself, featured a very nice HD transfer. Cult Epics’ short track record was more or less spotless as far as I was concerned, but Death Bed doesn’t exactly lend itself to a gorgeous Blu-ray transfer. Besides being shot on a miniscule budget and forgotten to time, it was shot on 16mm, limiting the prospect for sharp details. The effort is notable for not featuring any major compression artifacts. At times it truly felt like I was watching a 16mm projection, rather than a digital representation of one. The footage is dirty with grain and occasional print damage artifacts (mostly scratches and dirt, but there are a few skipped frames). Textures and patterns are consistent and tight enough to differentiate between elements in the darkest shots (there are some surprisingly crisp edges in the wide-angle images) and see the artful focus pulls that are otherwise invisible on the DVD release, but still obscured behind wobbly grain levels and muddied colors. The palette is an improvement over the DVD in terms of consistency and vibrancy, while still exhibiting common discoloration issues, such as overly yellowed skin-tones and overly blued night shots. All things considered, however, I still count this transfer as a small victory for Death Bed’s mini-legion of fans and assume the film will never look any better than it does here.
There’s plenty to celebrate about this release, but Cult Epics has done one thing wrong – they wasted time and energy remixing the original film’s extremely modest mono soundtrack into 5.1 and stereo mixes, both of which are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD audio. The problem is compounded by the fact that they haven’t included the mono. The 5.1 track is the better of the two, because it has a discrete center channel where most of the sound can settle. When the stereo and surround channels do come into play, it is usually a spread of effects or music, not properly separated aural elements. Death Bed is brimming with abstract and overly punctuated sound effects. These are likely more the result of the movie being shot largely without sound than Barry actively creating a spooky atmosphere. Some effects are clearly meant to sound surrealistic, while others are simply made weird via lumpy analogue mixing. Chirping crickets, spooky winds, creaking floors, and dialogue are all set to generally the same volume level and overlap each other, causing the busier moments to aurally clump-up quite a bit. The effects and vocals are distorted at high volume levels, especially aspirated consonants. The mix is best when the sound design is at its most stylized, specifically those moments when the titular bed bubbles up and digests things. The dialogue itself is differentiated slightly between the relatively natural spoken words and the more reverb-heavy, internalized thoughts.
On imdb.com, the film’s largely un-melodic music is credited to three people – Ossian Brown, Mike McCoy, and Stephen Thrower. Thrower’s contributions were not original – they were added to cover gaps on the remix after the original opening credits were damaged. Or something. It’s not really clear, as the original credit music is included as an extra in this collection.
Introduction from writer/director/producer George Barry (5:30, SD) – An intro from the original DVD release that quickly runs down the film’s history and rediscovering it via its online fandom. This is the only holdover from that 2003 disc.
Introduction from writer/fan Stephen Thrower (3:40, HD) – A new introduction for this Blu-ray with the Nightmare USA author discussing his personal history with the film.
Audio commentary with writer/director/producer George Barry, moderated by Stephen Thrower – This is a charming track that isn’t too hung-up on running down factoids and anecdotes to stop and laugh at the material when necessary. The subject matter covered includes Barry’s weird concepts (amusingly, he doesn’t think his movie is that unusual), filming locations/logistics, crediting actors, budgetary constraints, deleted scenes (which are, sadly, not included on this disc), and the extended post-production process.
Behind-the-Scenes of Death Bed in Detroit (8:00, HD) – Rough footage from Thrower’s trip to the film’s Detroit locations and a meeting with Barry and actor Samir Eid.
Nightmare USA(15:00, HD) – Subtitled ‘a conversation between Stephen Thrower and George Barry on horror films of the 1970s and 1980s,’ this roughly-recorded (in a noisy restaurant) interview is more of a history of Thrower’s obsession with American B-cinema than an exploration of Death Bed.
Original Death Bed credit music track (2:00, HD) – Here’s the original opening credit song. The image quality is a bit rougher, but I’m still not clear as to why only Thrower’s new music was included as part of the film proper. Perhaps it was a 5.1 vs. mono thing, which is just frustrating.
Death Bed isn’t going to appeal to every appetite. In fact, most viewers are going to be baffled by its slow moving, episodic, conceptually ridiculous narrative and utterly bizarre imagery. But those of us that have developed tolerant palates will find a WTF utopia unlike any other. Cult Epics’ new Blu-ray is well-preserved in terms of HD video quality and full of fun and informative extras, but loses points for not featuring the original mono soundtrack.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Full-sized versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab. Note that there will be some JPG compression.