IF TEMPUR-PEDIC CAN MARKET A DEATH BED THAT WILL EAT A PERSON ON ONE SIDE, WHILE ALLOWING A GLASS OF WINE TO SIT UNSPILLED ON THE OTHER, I'LL BE FIFTH IN LINE TO BUY IT.
After accidentally killing the love of his life during sex (also a common concern for yours truly), a demon curses his bed to become an eternal killing machine, feeding on all those who dare lie down within it. Passed through the ages, racking up the highest body count of any bed since that of Magic Johnson in 1989, has the bed finally met its match in the form of three women visiting the country on vacation in modern times (1977)?
Famously mocked by Patton Oswalt, in which he mistakenly, but less awkwardly titles it Death Bed: The Bed That Eats PEOPLE, Death Bed is a curio of a movie if there ever was one. It was filmed over the course of five years, ending in 1977, but all but forgotten and unseen (legally) until about 25 years later after writer/director George Barry had hardly a memory of even having made it in the first place. Now, Cult Epics brings it to us in a brand new Blu-ray restoration. Was it worth the wait?
First and foremost, I should mention that, for better or for worse, the film delivers upon the promise of its title. If you're jonesing to see a movie about a bed that eats, you’re going to have your oddly specific desire more than sated. What I did NOT expect, however, is the incredible ambitions that also happen to be at play here. Not satisfied with just being another entry in the cheesefest of 70s exploitation, Death Bed is actually far more imaginatively plotted than can normally be expected of a film of this ilk. Besides the obvious horror, Barry mixes in healthy doses of fantasy, gothic romance, tragedy, dark comedy, European arthouse, weird underwater imagery, and historical period piece. It’s actually pretty impressively audacious for a film of its budget and talent pool. It’s also largely told in dream sequences, which makes a lot of sense considering the subject matter.
The grindhouse output of the 70s were a lot less densely plotted than their excellently edited trailers would have you believe, and DB is certainly no exception. It moves along at a very slow, languid, dreamlike pace, peppered with voiceovers and flashbacks, with Barry not afraid to play with the usual filmic structure. The ambition is slightly truncated with a massive exposition infodump about a third of the way through, answering most of the questions you never thought that you had, but the nonconventional pacing and timeline certainly goes a long way in keeping your interest vested in what would almost surely have to be the most easy-to-escape horror villain since Michael Myers put on a few pounds in that Busta Rhymes movie.
Lest you think that I’m crazy, certainly not all is positive here. The acting veers from positively dreadful to even more positively dreadful, not helped by an awful and unnecessary redub of all of the dialogue (interestingly, presumably in an effort to hide this, the camera is often NOT pointed at the character who is speaking), giving it the feel of an Italian production. Even when the actors are thinking aloud in voiceover, which happens more often that you can imagine, they are somehow unable to muster up any form of chemistry even with themselves. One character in particular gets a few unintended laughs at the nonchalance with which he reacts to the burning of his hands down to the bone…
There is also a pretty uneven balance between cheese and earnestness that can sometimes be jarring. At times, the film is going for grimly serious, only to be interrupted by the bizaare, open-mouthed sound of the bed chewing. Seriously – the bed rudely smacks louder than your Aunt Maureen (which would explain why I haven’t been around to your Aunt Maureen’s apartment in so long – despite what she says, it is NOT because of her cats). Lastly, the subplot of a man trapped in a painting behind the bed is rather fascinating and serves as a sort of Greek chorus to the proceedings, but, despite being the most interesting thing here, it never quite pays off as you feel it should.
Back to the plus column, the score by Osslan Brown, Stephen Thrower, and Mike McCoy is elegant, occasionally creepy, and almost always on point. Sure, there are a few times where it feels as if a couple is reaching second base set to slightly unfinished music, but for the most part, it’s spared use lends greatly to the overall atmosphere. The cinematography by Robert Fresco should also be noted – some beautiful shots of the countryside and flora of the region give a discordant feel to some of the more horrific scenes, forcing the viewer to ever be on the edge of their bed (I’ll see myself out). Gorehounds might be a tad bit disappointed, but there’s still plenty of blood shed throughout, along with a fairly generous, but not copious, amount of T & A. Perhaps best of all, Barry injects the film with a sense of humor that is sometimes dark, quite often silly, and occasionally downright bizarre, including title cards cheekily named after the meals of the day, and the fact that the bed doesn’t just eat people – wine, fried chicken and even Pepto Bismol (no, really) are on the menu. Keep that pause button handy anytime a newspaper is shown on screen…
Presented in 1080p with a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, this is surely as good as a movie with Death Bed’s storied past will ever look. Often, with the Grindhouse era, Blu-ray can clean the film up too much, losing sight of the grain that gives it character. That is certainly not the case here – cleaned up just enough, but never losing the scratches, pops, and hisses that we all love, this is about as close a representation of a theatrical screening as your bound to get (probably even a little better). Note: the images included in this review are NOT representative of those featured on the disc itself.
Cult Epics has also done an admirable job with the audio. With a master track in DTS HD, 5:1 surround sound, along with a secondary track in 2.0 stereo, there is a nice balance between dialogue, score, and foley. Occasionally, the sound effects come across a bit booming, but that often just adds to the jolt factor.
This is where this release truly shines. Packed to the brim with more extras than you could have possibly hoped for, you’ll learn just about everything you didn’t even realize that you desperately wanted to know about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. First up is a commentary track by writer/director George Barry and co-composer Stephen Thrower. A few times, but not often, it falls victim to silent patches and Barry’s ethereal speaking manner (matching much of the tone of the film), but for the most part, this is a quality listen. Barry, especially, seems surprised and humbled at the love his film has received, and the story of how he discovered its popularity is a fun one (and, at one point admits what we're all thinking regarding the over-reliance upon narration). Being a distant participant in the film itself, Thrower serves as a bit of a moderator, but for reasons discussed below, he’s a bit of an expert on the topic.
Barry and Thrower also each contribute an introduction to the film, giving you the option to watch the film with either one, or neither. They are worth a listen, but the duplicate information from the commentary make them a bit unnecessary.
Up next, and probably best of all, Barry and Thrower again sit down together, this time at a Coney Island discussing the state of horror films in the 1970s and 80s, with a particular emphasis on Thrower’s excellent book on the subject, Nightmare USA. The audio is a bit spotty (one can only imagine that hot dogs are not good for acoustics), and you’ll wish that it was longer at only about 15 minutes, but it certainly primes you to pick up the book. Even shorter, but certainly still worth a watch, is a featurette in which Barry discusses the filming of the movie in the Detroit area.
Also included is the opening credits sequence, featuring the original music track, not heard since 1977, lasting just a couple of minutes. Disappointingly, there is no Death Bed trailer (not sure that one even exists), and it would have been a nice surprise to have been able to include the Patton Oswalt bit that probably brought the film the most amount of notoriety, but all-in-all, this is a fantastic package.
Cheesy, somewhat amateurish, but entirely better than it has any right to be, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is an incredibly ambitious entry in the 70s grindhouse oeuvre, that apes the best and the worst of the Euro-arthouse-horror movement to form a much more original piece than you’ll probably be prepared for based upon the incredibly descriptive title. This is a must watch for all genre fans (if only to connect the dots that have been laid out by comedy routines and tape-trading lore) and a movie that only has occasional failures because of the tremendous aspirations that it reaches for. Overall, Death Bed caught me pleasantly off guard with what it does accomplish and is packaged with a nice HD transfer and a plethora of informative extras. Highly recommended.