Today, I am going to take a look at a famously bad movie with a unique cult reputation: Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.
The simple plot of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is summarized succinctly on IMDb as follows:
A bed possessed by a demon spirit consumes its users alive.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats was directed and written by George Barry, and to this day has proven to be his sole film. However, a handful of the cast and crew went on to notable careers. William Russ, one of the actors, later appeared in Cruising, The Right Stuff, and wound up on the sitcom Boy Meets World. Editor Ron Medico went on to cut the cult creature feature Alligator, and had a significant career editing for documentaries and television after that. Cinematographer Robert Fresco wound up working on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone, and wound up working on a handful of documentaries as well. Last but not least, the special effects worker, Jock Brandis, went on to have a long career as a lighting technician and gaffer, working on movies like Videodrome, Scanners, The Brood, The Dead Zone, Maximum Overdrive, Blue Velvet, and Serial Mom, among others.
Famous comedian Patton Oswalt had a popular bit on his album Werewolves and Lollipops in which he obsesses over the inherent absurdity of the concept of Death Bed, and speculates what the inception process was like for the screenplay.
In 2002, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats received a remake in the form of Deathbed. The movie stars Joe Estevez (Soultaker) and was directed by Danny Draven, who has spent most of his career editing movies like A Talking Cat!?!, A Talking Pony!?!, Evil Bong, Ice Spiders, and The Gingerdead Man.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats did not have an official release of any kind until 2004, over 25 years after its completion in 1977. Before that DVD release, Death Bed had been widely circulated online and via pirated VHS tapes, and developed its cult reputation. George Barry, the movie’s director and writer, allegedly forgot he had made it until he saw it online, and only decided to officially release it after seeing how much people enjoyed it.
Rumor has it that the lion’s share of the action in Death Bed was filmed on Keelson Island in Detroit, specifically in the infamous Gar Wood Mansion. The mansion was originally built by inventor Gar Wood in the 1920s, but sat empty for many years after his retirement. Starting in 1969, it became a renowned partying location, becoming a combination of a music venue and a counter-culture collective until it was shuttered in 1972. Only a handful of years later, the mansion suffered significant fire damage, and was eventually razed in the 1980s.
The company Cult Epics, which specializes in restoring and transferring cult movies to DVD and Blu-ray, released an updated Blu-ray version of Death Bed in 2014, which boasts a full commentary track with writer/director George Barry.
Recently, I had the rare experience of getting to see the officially restored Blu-ray version of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats in a theater, as part of a fundraiser for Cult Epics. Previously, I had only seen some rough clips of the movie online, and I was shocked at how clear the movie wound up looking on screen.
As you could probably gather at this point, Death Bed is pretty far from a cinematic masterpiece. That said, there are definitely some positive aspects to it: first and foremost, the effects. For each of the scenes where the bed consumes something/someone, there is a cut away to an amber-colored tank, which stands in for the bed’s interior digestive system. I’m not sure exactly how they did this, but I suspect they filled this tank with some sort of highly corrosive fluid, and dipped in objects on fishing line to show them digesting inside of the bed. At first, these shots are of things like an apple and a bucket of chicken, but the movie’s climax features a character’s hands disintegrated in the fluid, which actually looks pretty cool.
Outside of those effects shots, however, there isn’t much positive to say about Death Bed. Almost all of the dialogue in the movie is done in voice over, and is delivered in a sort of trance by a multitude of perspectives and narrators. The overarching plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, and is poorly conveyed to boot. The performances range from sleepwalking to possibly comatose, as most of the characters show no range of emotions or exhibit any kind of sensible reactions to the events around them. I’m pretty sure that fault doesn’t lie with the actors, though: the strange reactions and woozy behaviors were almost certainly part of the directorial intent, which was apparently to re-capture the surreal atmosphere of a dream. However, I don’t think it comes across quite as he wanted it to.
For me, this is the biggest question about Death Bed: how serious were they about this movie? While there are brief moments of knowing humor scattered throughout, including a sequence where the bed ingests a bottle of pepto-bismol, most of the movie plays as serious as a heart attack. It clearly isn’t as hammy as the name implies, and is a pretty far stretch from any kind of Troma or Full Moon b-movie. I usually describe this as one of the worst-executed art movies of all time: the atmosphere is way too self-important for it to fit in with the usual lot of b-movies and horror fare, and it certainly isn’t smartly profound or well-crafted enough to land in the Criterion collection. It is a unique little oddity that is unlike pretty much anything else out there, and worth giving a shot for that reason alone. While it can be a little dull at times, I think the ride as a whole is worth a ticket, particularly for b-movie and cult movie fans.