Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
Dir. George Barry
Premiered October 26, 1977
The year is 1977. After five troubled years of production, much like another film discussed in this series, director George Barry has completed his masterpiece: Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. But, unable to find a distributor, Barry abandons filmmaking before he’s truly started; he tries to put this labor of love behind him, and believes the film to be lost.
26 years later, he finds the film being discussed online. Someone has found a copy. Suddenly, the memories rush back, and Death Bed finally gets the theatrical release it deserves. Unfortunately, its time has come and gone, and it’s mostly regarded as a joke. It’s not. It is, in fact, the best American horror film of 1977.
Divided into neat acts labeled “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” “Dinner,” and “The Just Dessert,” Death Bed is host to a wondrously complicated plot. Time and time again, travelers in what I think is Long Island find their way to an oddly fresh-looking and comfortable bed that then comes to life and digests them like a venus flytrap. Watching over the bed is the ghost of Victorian gothic illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (Patrick Spence-Thomas), trapped inside one of his paintings after becoming one of the bed’s many victims since its creation.
When young Sharon (Rosa Luxemburg) is curiously spared by the bed, later joined by her concerned brother (William Russ, the dad from Boy Meets World or American History X, whichever you saw first), we become party to the deeply intricate nature of its creation: in 1897, a tree-dwelling demon fell in love with a local girl (Linda Bond), unintentionally put her into suspended animation through their unnatural coupling, leaving her for dead, and cried tears of blood that brought the bed to life, since which it’s made a habit of luring unsuspecting victims. Beardsley can only bide his time until the bed and its demon father sleep (and dream of eating everyone in New York City), when he can tell the latest would-be victims how to defeat the bed once and for all.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is, for lack of better words, joyously unpretentious in its pretension. It’s so thought-out, so in love with its own ideas, and just self-aware enough that you have to smile; possessing a dry wit and wondrous sense of imagination that, unlike a certain movie from 2016, isn’t just coasting on originality for originality’s sake. Its flaws are many, but only the product of a lack of funds and adequate casting (many of the cast are behind-the-scenes technicians rather than professional actors) rather than an absence of talent.
The Just Dessert
By only coming to light in the 21st Century, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats was doomed to be seen as a joke. Although the sole official review on RottenTomatoes is genuinely positive, most other reviews you find consider it to be of the so-bad-it’s-good variety. The AV Club’s Inventory listed the Death Bed itself as an infamously unthreatening horror villain, and comedian Patton Oswalt famously Charlie Rosed* the movie on one of his albums. Jack Shen, in a review that was even more positive than this one, praised the film as a psychedelic mix of Wes Craven and Ingmar Bergman, to which I would add perhaps the nascent DNA of Sam Raimi’s tongue-in-cheek style. It’s on YouTube, and I’d rather watch it for actual enjoyment a thousand times than sit through another screening of The Other Side of Midnight for shits and giggles.
As a side note: Jock Brandis, the classic Hollywood horror carpenter and propmaster who build the Death Bed and cameos in the film, continued his life as the hero of another story.
*Charlie Rose. Verb. To speak with the appearance of authority on a subject (usually a film), only to reveal one’s own patent ignorance of the subject, typically by confidently relating bogus details. Inspired by an apocryphal anecdote involving Charlie Rose interviewing Wes Anderson.
Next Time: Madame Rosa