Sunday, October 14, 2007

George Barry, "Death Bed- The Bed That Eats" (1977)

What type of expectations would you have for a movie called Death Bed- The Bed That Eats? That has to be one of the silliest titles in modern cinema. If you do a little surfing, no doubt you can find some other ridiculously-named movies- Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, Bubba Ho-tep, Coyote Ugly and Braveheart were all actual movie names in the past, and reinforce the point that there's no accounting for personal tastes. The truth of the matter is that while certain words are going to be an instant turn-off for some audiences, they are going to necessarily appeal to another group. I wouldn't see a flick called Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds, but (believe me) there is a demographic out there that would trip over their own feet on the way to the theater to see it.

So is it really so surprising that I bought Death Bed? If you know my tastes, you are already aware that they I tend to favor the macabre. Additionally, I am constantly seeking out buried obscure treasures to share with others. This movie is one of the lesser known entries in the horror genre. Its creation was begun by George Barry in 1972, and only finished five years later. Not surprisingly the finished product failed to find a large distribution. The director himself fully expected his work to fade into obscurity, and that's exactly what happened. Barry claims that he even forgot about it until he happened to stumble across mention of it on an internet message board in 1997. Apparently it had been pirated and released in several European countries. Realizing its potential, DVD distributor Cult Epics gave it a long-awaited video release in 2004. Now everyone can revel in its glories.

I really had no idea what to expect from the film. Having come across reviews of it on IMDB, I was intrigued by the possibility that I could be missing out on something good (or at least extremely wierd). What seemed like the equivalent of online whisperings was enough to compel me to seeek it out. In truth Death Bed is a unique work, if largely uneven. How would you present a man-eating bed? Barry seems to have hit on the ingenious idea of a vast pit that swallows the hapless victim, as he/she sinks through the covers and into its stomach. It's not especially clear where this pit exists in time and space, because its full dimensions are not shown and the bed's frame is off the floor. But when a yellow foam starts to appear on the surface of the bedspread, the viewer knows that something is about to get devoured.

The method of killing is not the only offbeat element in this film. From start to finish, we see some absurd and surreal stuff. The demon-bed seems to have been able to imprison an early victim, confining him to a space in the wall behind a crude portrait of itself. This guy constitutes the glue of the story, as he serves as narrator. He watches the proceedings hunched up in his little prison, and recounts the history of mayhem that the bed has unleashed in the past. Whatever exposition Barry has decided to serve up comes from this strange presence. From the beginning, we quickly realize that the thread of the plot is going to be woven very loosely throughout. There are strange sounds and inarticulate exclamations coming from the bed as it is apparently prone to indigestion.

I was impressed by the variety of death scenes presented in Death Bed. You'd think that the possibilities would be very limited (considering the relative lack of dynamism of the monster), but a surplus of dark humor keeps things interesting. The camerawork is uneven, the lighting poor, the editing suspect, the performances barely competent, and the dialogue alternatively pretentious and laughable... yet somehow there is entertainment to be had in watching this odd little film. It's evident that Barry was working with an extremely low budget (which could explain the distracting discontinuity of the settings), but he had no shortage of unaccountable imagination. And it would be unfair to hold this film to the standards of serious criticism.

If you were expecting a film called Death Bed- The Bed That Eats to make sense, then your own rationality should probably be called into question. If anything this is a "How-To" movie- demonstrating how (over time and with the perspective gained from the intervening years) an absolutely retarded premise can be transformed into a cult favorite.

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