I suppose it isn’t entirely out of the ordinary for a human being from any regular ol’ walk of life to completely drop everything they’re doing in order to pursue a dream. Some people even go as far as to film them, such as the great Akira Kurosawa – who constructed an entire feature based entirely on stories inspired by his own subconscious. And then there’s the case of a Michigan man by the name of George Barry, who chose to stray from the aforementioned, seldom-traveled path in order to follow what surely must have been a feverish and utterly bizarre nightmare. In 1972, Mr. Barry scraped up a tiny bit of dough and subsequently started work on bringing what was quite literally his dream project to life. Or death, as the case were.
Shot on 16mm with completely unknown non-actors in and around the greater area of Detroit at locations that have since been destroyed, Barry’s one and only film – the aptly titled Death Bed: The Bed That Eats – wouldn’t find its way to being completed until 1977. As you may have guessed by the title, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is about a piece of furniture that is possessed by a demon, and as such, eats people. Now laugh if you must, but there have been other movies – often popular ones, even – about inanimate objects possessed by demons since then. 1983’s Dutch treat The Lift gave us an elevator going on a killing spree after being inhabited by a less-than-benign spirit. Why, demons were even responsible for the much better-known The Mangler, which features a murderous shirt-folding machine, and the Stephen King adaptation Maximum Overdrive, wherein vehicular manslaughter was given an entirely new definition. So why the heck not a bed?
Good question. Sadly for Barry, he was way too far ahead of his own time when he made Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. His project could not find an audience to provide an answer, as the movie itself was – for some strange reason – unable to procure a distributor. And so, like many of us who have had our dreams crushed, Barry promptly went on with his life, eventually forgetting all about the amateur movie he made back in the ’70s. But that would change some twenty-five years later when Barry learned on the Interwebs one fateful morning when the rest of the land was fast asleep that his tiny little nightmare-fueled pledge to the realm of horror cinema had been bootlegged and unofficially released in Europe. Barry was even more surprised to learn his movie had gone on to gain a small cult audience with the Europeans – which is unsurprising itself as the film has a very ethereal (and decidedly French) feel about it. Honestly, one could easily mistake this as a dubbed Euro-made picture were it not for the fact that it is distinctly American for the most part.
But that’s beside the point, really. It wasn’t until 2003 that George Barry teamed up with Cult Epics to finally, officially release this bizarre arty horror tale for the very first time. And what a tale it is. Decades ago, a dying artist (esteemed rock music critic/writer Dave Marsh, in his only acting role) sketched out a portrait of his own deathbed, which itself was born by a demon’s love for a mortal woman, and now exists solely to eat people. (I guess that makes sense, right?) Seemingly unable to consume him due to his unnamed illness, the bed instead banished the artist to a limbo, and he sits within the wall behind his own drawing, forced to watch horny individuals do their last bit of business shortly before the bed does its own. The artist character, as voiced by late sound engineer Patrick Spence-Thomas’s soothing, articulate Welsh tone (yes, I know that’s unusual), narrates most of the surreal feature on a play-by-play level, which is broken up into four chapters, aptly titled “Breakfast”, “Lunch”, “Dinner”, and “The Just Desserts”.
Characters are introduced solely to be eaten, often experiencing their own feverish nightmares shortly before the fizzy colored foam from beneath the sheets comes up to drag them under into the tainted digestive fluids lying in the hoary netherworld directly below them. Meanwhile, the artist attempts to convey what’s happening in an ever-changing story as the film shifts from horror to comedy (a scene where the bed digests a bottle of Pepto Bismal quickly comes to mind), all the while altering its own law of demonic physics (if I may be so bold as to call it that) on a near-paragraphical basis. The bed takes has the power to make nearby statues to weep blood and eliminate the very estate around it, and can pull would-be escapees back in with its own blankets and sheets, yet it is unable to beckon passersby toward it for a snack. Very much like the way things tend to change within a really weird dream.
While most of the movie’s female performers – most (if not all) of whom appear naked, whilst looking simply lovely in their early natural ’70s physiques – never went on to do anything else in the world of film, its male lead (who only really shows up towards the end to wind up in a fate worse than death himself), actor William Russ (billed here as Rusty Russ), has gone on to become a recognized face on modern television.
More than forty years after his camera (singular) started-a-rollin’, George Barry’s Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is now available on Blu-ray from Cult Epics – culled directly from what is probably the only-known surviving (and naturally, grainy) 16mm print with burned-in opening credits and a new music track (which were only added for the original DVD release). Needless to say, this is the best-looking version we are likely to ever see. Well, should you decide to actually view it, that is. I admit even I was a bit hesitant over this one, but the movie somehow won me over within a few frames. In fact, it’s joyfully reminiscent of the kind of obscure moving picture monstrosities the late great Mike Vraney would have gladly searched for, dug up, and then distributed under his Something Weird Video label, probably with some loving liners from Frank Henenlotter accompanying.
Instead, Cult Epics goes the extra mile by presenting the movie with an audio commentary featuring George Barry himself in the presence of musician/Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower, who flew from Merrie Olde England over to America for the first time solely to be a part of this release. It’s an engaging commentary overall, and the good-natured camaraderie between these two rebels of society is continued in a featurette wherein the two wander about Detroit discussing the title. Barry and Thrower also have their own optional introductions to the film, the former of which was filmed for the original 2003 DVD. Thrower returns for a sit-down heart-to-heart at a Detroit diner with Barry and family. Please note that the audio in some of these special features is rather poor, and some desperately-needed subtitles are nowhere to be found.
I don’t know where the better(modern)-looking Thrower introduction was recorded, but my hat’s off to whoever has all those great books, memorabilia, and that Twilight Time Blu-ray of Bell, Book and Candle that likes to move around between supplements. But I digress. Lastly in terms of bonus materials, Cult Epics’ Blu-ray for Death Bed: The Bed That Eats includes the original music track that Barry set the movie’s opening to. It’s an interesting selection, to say the least – as it is of a decidedly non-threatening, jazzy persuasion. Quite odd. But then, this long-forgotten item from a bygone age of do-it-yourself filmmaking is quite an outcast itself.
Yes, there is no doubt within my own feverish nightmarish mind that Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is one heck of a truly bizarre movie. It’s also a “bad” movie by traditional standards: it was shot on a shoestring budget without any sound (everything was dubbed in after the fact) and without hardly any recognizable talent on either side of the camera, and essentially appears to exist to the average viewer as another excuse to show women who were probably paid off in cheap marijuana and even cheaper wine nekkid on film (and kudos to anyone who pulls that off, right?). But there is something distinctly distinguishable about this seldom-seen misfit of the horror genre, which its own creator feels is a decidedly normal tale (say what?).
By all outward appearances, this is one silly, stupid movie. But there’s something else in there, ladies and gentlemen. In addition to its very own built-in malevolent demon, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats inhabits a certain sort of anti-filmic poetry going for it, wherein its own ineptitude seems to transgress into something greater, which I can only ultimately describe as an unmistakable element of subculture artistry. It can be a rather unsettling feature when it chooses to be so. The sight of a man having his flesh and blood stripped clean from his hands by an unseen evil, only to be left with useless skeletal digits – whereupon he sits in the corner of the room, silently, despondently staring at them – is not one that settles well. And while it’s all done on such an amateurish level, there is something downright creepy about this movie. So much so, that I actually slept out on the couch the night I watched it.
Recommended (to the right kind of audience, that is).