Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Director: George Barry
Demene Hall, William Russ, Julie Ritter

I once wrote an email to the legendary film critic Roger Ebert. In my email, I asked him about an anecdote that the equally legendary filmmaker Russ Meyer once said. In the anecdote, Meyer told of a time that a third person told Meyer that he was the perfect host when Meyer was cooking breakfast for Ebert while Ebert was upstairs with a prostitute that Meyer had got for him. I didn't expect an answer from Ebert, but a day later I got back an email with Ebert simply stating, "A true gentleman never tells." Thinking about that response reminds me of many other remarks Ebert said over the years that were witty and/or insightful. One of those remarks was, "A movie is not what it is about, but how it is about." In other words, the premise of the movie isn't as important as how that premise is executed and comes across to the audience. This can be illustrated by putting two movies side by side that have the same basic premise. First, take the 1998 Michael Keaton movie Jack Frost. That movie, as you may recall, was about a man who is killed, but his soul is reincarnated into that of a snowman. I have not seen the movie, but I know most of the reviews it got were extremely negative. Critics (including Ebert himself) found that the premise of the movie was so bizarre, especially since it was taking place in a cinematic world that was more or less straight-faced. They also criticized that none of the characters in the movie were amazed by the miracle of a human being becoming a snowman, never questioning or wondering about it. On top of that, after becoming the snowman, the title character just concentrated on having fun with his son instead of dealing internally and externally with his new and strange lease of life.

As you can probably see from what I wrote, that movie was definitely one that took a fantastic premise and totally botched it. But now I would like to talk about another movie - another movie that took the premise of someone's soul being reincarnated into that of a snowman. It's a movie I reviewed a while back for this website, and ironically it too was called Jack Frost, and it was made a year before the Michael Keaton movie. But with this movie, it was a case of the best being the first instead of the last for a change. Sure, this take on a living snowman was no less absurd and fantastic, but the makers of this movie completely understood this. So instead of trying to sell the idea in a serious vein, they instead decided play up the campy aspects. The movie was made into a horror comedy. There were a number of dark elements in the movie, ranging from sexual assault to old people being killed, but the attitude towards this dark material was so crazy and so over the top, I (and I'm certain a lot of other viewers) found myself laughing at all of it. When an old person is killed with an axe - though by the handle of the axe being thrust into the senior's mouth - and when the rape scene is done by the killer snowman itself, you know that it was the right decision for these filmmakers to have run riot with the premise. So with this particular premise, there was clearly a right way to do it, and clearly a wrong way to do it. Though I feel that I should add that I am in no way saying that the absurd angle is always the right one to choose when deciding how a particular premise is to be portrayed. For example, I can only wonder what the reaction to movies like The Killing Fields or Philadelphia would have been had their subject matter been treated as comedies.

I have learned over the years from watching thousands of films that not only are there right ways and wrong ways to approach subject matter, that you also shouldn't immediately dismiss the chance to watch a movie even if its approach at first mention seems, well, pretty wrong-headed. Death Bed: The Bed That EatsThe premise for the Mel Brooks movie The Producers probably sounded bad to a lot of people, but it won an Academy Award and is now considered a classic. On the other hand, while Jerry Lewis' unreleased movie The Day The Clown Cried is reportedly by the few reports that have leaked out (including from Lewis himself) to have been made in a completely wrong-headed and inappropriate manner, I have to admit it - I would pay serious money to be able watch it and see just how bad it is. So when I came across the movie Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, I was very willing to watch it. True, from the title alone, the movie sounded extremely bizarre and not having much chance of being good... but I figured out at the very least that if it was bad, it would be an interesting kind of bad. The movie concerns... well... a bed that eats people. During the course of the movie, we learn that the bed originated by the conjuring of a demon to have a place where he could get down and dirty with a human woman he pined over. However, the woman died sometime during the act, and in his grief, the demon caused the bed to become possessed, with it needing nourishment every so often. This of course means eating people who are foolish enough to enter the derelict mansion the bed is currently stored in. We are treated to various vignettes concerning people who stumble across the bed and are eaten, much to the chagrin of the spirit of a mortal man that's trapped in a painting that has full view of the bed. The spirit is trying its best to warn potential victims and get the bed destroyed, but can it succeed?

That plot description should confirm to potential viewers of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats that this is quite an unconventional horror movie, and would probably get labelled by many of those people after watching it the simple reaction of "Weird!". But it's not always a bad thing for a movie to throw conventionality out the window and being strange; sometimes it can be an excuse to display real creativity that you haven't seen in a movie before. Death Bed certainly does things you've never witnessed elsewhere. Do you know of another movie where the opening thirty seconds shows a black screen while a sound akin to someone chewing an apple plays over the darkness? Later in the movie, once the title object is introduced, we don't just see it eat people, it also yawns or chuckles on occasion, as well as it gasping in a horny manner when someone takes off their clothes. There are more touches like that sprinkled throughout that do keep you alert to see what additional and original touches will come next. And I will admit that some of this strangeness is genuinely striking, enough that you won't forget them for quite some time. Some of it is well done, like the impressive shot where we see the imprisoned man's spirit behind the painting while at the same time, we see a visitor studying the painting. But I must admit that some of the weirdness is just plain laughable, like when during a montage of headlines from a newspaper (The Daily Bugle - did Marvel Comics later sue these filmmakers?) we read big headlines like, "Thousands Disappear!" and "Strange Munching Sounds Heard In Night!" - without any more details then or later concerning these headlines.

Mostly, however, the strangeness isn't either striking or unintentionally hilarious, but simply just weird; you often won't know what to make out from it. There's a long montage of the bed's past victims where circus music plays while one moment after another is put together in a poorly edited manner that leaves you bewildered. Earlier in the movie there is a dream where someone samples insects served on a silver platter. I'm not quite sure of the purpose of many of these displays of weirdness, but if they are attempts to make the movie scary or even mildly creepy, they don't usually succeed. Strangely, much of the movie's moments where the bed isn't prominent have more bite than the whole bed munching menace. Writer/director George Barry manages to make the outdoors feel really isolated, adding a sense that something terrifying may very well be hiding nearby. There is also a moody feeling throughout that seems appropriate, thankfully avoiding a slicked-up approach that would break this somber feeling. Also, there are occasional little touches - a door that opens by itself, the noise of insects or the wind in the background - that at least get the horror portion of the movie to get past the starting gate... but unfortunately, not that much further from there. Barry doesn't simply handle the big shocks very well. The first victims of the bed are killed while the bed's curtains are not pulled back. While many subsequent victims' deaths aren't as hidden, there is still a really restrained feeling to them. In fact, it's quite low key at times. This even includes a scene where a character's hands are stripped to the bone; you simply won't believe how casually the character (or the other character with him) reacts to this predicament.

While the direction of the horror portions of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is pretty dismal for the most part, what hurts the movie even more is how boring writer/director Barry frequently makes the movie to be. None of the characters in the movie are all that memorable; you won't care one way or another if they are saved from being eaten or not. Also, despite the running time just being 77 minutes in length, there are some really tedious patches, particularly towards the end. There's once scene where a badly injured woman is desperately (and very slowly) trying to crawl away from the bed, and it takes forever to play out, and it's all for nothing - she eventually gets sucked back in by the bed and is then quickly disposed of. There's clearly not a heck of a lot of story here, so quite often we in the audience have to look for stupidly written material to liven our sleepy brains; I'm not sure why Barry thought it wise to have more than one character provide narration, for one thing. The movie's story more often than not just seems to be a jumble of many different ideas Barry had, but Barry not making the effort to link all of this material together in a way that makes one firm story. Towards the end, Barry almost seems to have painted himself into a corner and makes desperate moves to tidy things up. He should have paid himself to do some extra rewrites, but judging from the look of the movie, he apparently didn't have much money to spend. We have all the trademarks of 1970s backyard filmmaking, including lousy day for night photography, no blanks for guns (a character has to shake a gun while a gunshot plays on the soundtrack), and characters being filmed at a distance or just off-camera while dialogue is dubbed in. Obviously, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats isn't going to get anywhere near satisfying most viewers, whether they are die hard horror fans or not. As for viewers of really strange and bizarre independent cinema who are willing to put up with mostly extreme shoddy filmmaking and storytelling, would they like to go to this Bed? Well... let me sleep on it, I'll give you an answer in the morning.

(Posted May 14, 2022)

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See also: The Baby, Blood Freak, Sonny Boy