The story behind the strangest DVD release of the year...
Stephen Thrower | London, England | 09/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first saw Death Bed: The Bed That Eats in 1988: a friend had discovered it whilst browsing at a cheap video sale and decided to spring the film on me. I was smitten by its weird aura right there and then, and mystified too. Who on Earth made it? What was the director playing at? How did such a movie get made? Death Bed, with its cheesy cover and `you're kidding me' title, was devoid of any credits, save for the words "(c) George Barry 1977." The mystery of Death Bed's origins was intensified as the film gathered momentum, from creepy comedy to poetic folk-tale to surreal horror: its mood ricocheted between registers in a way that defied categorisation, either as mind-warped outsider art, insane student project, or exploitation film gone awry. There was a streak of comedy, but the film wasn't just a cheap laugh: instead there was a loose, wayward dreaminess which gave Death Bed an impact all its own. I remember thinking `I must find out who made this!'. But no-one knew anything about Death Bed: the video label had disappeared, the name `George Barry' was anonymous enough to belong to a hundred thousand Americans. And so the trail went cold...
In 2002 I began work on a book about maverick American directors and my desire to find out more about Death Bed was re-ignited. Through the auspices of film researcher Marc Morris and a British web-site, Lightsfade, I finally had the chance to talk to George Barry and hear the full Death Bed story... George Barry was born in 1949 and raised in Royal Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit where he still lives today. He began making films whilst studying at University, and in 1972 - after working on a few b/w 16mm shorts - he decided to go for broke with a colour 16mm feature film to be blown up for theatrical release. Using $10,000 of his own money he began filming Death Bed, a project that would eventually span five years and cost around $30,000. Barry decided to weave a story around a dream he'd had - about an engulfing, possibly carnivorous bed...
With cameraman Robert Fresco, he headed for the Gar Wood Mansion outside Detroit, commencing the shoot in late Spring 1972. The core of the movie was then filmed over three weeks in the spring and summer. Assembled during 1976 by experienced Detroit TV editor Ron Medico, Death Bed's 16mm answer print was finally struck in '77.
Unfortunately, Barry's problems were only just beginning. Over the next few years he travelled to L.A. and New York several times, making the rounds of the small distributors. But with slasher films on the rise, Death Bed was always going to be a hard sell. Those who did show interest were put off by the blow-up costs, or were offering virtually no return.
The next convolution in the Death Bed saga would lead to the film at last reaching a few devoted fans: although it all came as a great surprise to Barry himself. In the early 1980s he'd sent the answer print, which was still without credits at the time, to a small LA company interested in obtaining video rights. He was offered $1000 for a finished video master. But Barry was chronically short of cash and unable to shoot the missing credits. Time passed, and the answer print was eventually returned.
What he didn't know was that the `interested party' had unscrupulously pirated a copy of Death Bed before sending it back. It was this version that snuck out onto tape in Great Britain in the late-1980s, on the supremely obscure `Portland' label.
Those who did notice it were tuned not to the noisy gore frequencies of the nasties but to a stranger, more elusive bandwidth. Death Bed is not a gorehound movie - viewers are required to spin their mental wireless to the space between stations, where the shipping forecasts, foreign signals and dream-voices live.
Eventually, In 2002, Daniel Craddock of the British website Lightsfade published an on-line review of the film, which at last alerted its director to the existence of the pirated version. "Death Bed came from a dream and, to begin with, I wrote the story as more a fairy tale than a horror film. We shot the story as possibly more horror film than fairy tale, then in the editing process Death Bed tried to return to its fairy tale origins."
The best movies leave something elusive behind, a lingering impression that drifts through the mind like Haven Gillespie's "haunting refrain": a special something that seems to dance out of reach when you try and look directly. There are skilled directors whose work, for all its craft, will never possess this quality, which is a dream quality and far from common. And there are films built on such uncommon lines that they're steeped in this strange pleasure even when their conventional limitations are readily obvious. It's in this way that a cheaply produced film, made at the very fringes of the industry, can stay with you after a major production has hurried faceless out of your memory.
The lines crossed by Death Bed are an index of its quality. Set in the twilight between genres - between comedy and horror, art and artless, mundane and insane - it draws on energies lost to more sensible films.
"People not only forget their dreams, they often forget about their dreams. They forget about the process of dreaming.", says Barry. If this is true, how great it is to see this DVD release, a dream thought lost and forgotten, now magically recalled in miraculous detail. Here's to the unique and lingering spell of Death Bed! Stephen Thrower (this is a condensed extract from my forthcoming book Nightmare, USA, in preparation from FAB Press)."
[4.5] A creative horror film. The Influence on A Nightmare
Mike Liddell | Massachusetts | 04/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A low eerie yet motherly voice tells Sharon to eat all of her food. On Sharon's plate there are larva, caterpillars, and a large cockroach. She is having a nightmare in the ominous bed born from a demons blood. As she sleeps her cross necklace slowly and patiently begins to saw away at her throat before the bed will devour her body and plant roses in her skull for her unknowing friends to pick. In the chamber a victim's ghost from this evil narrates this twisted macabre story while trapped behind his own painting.
That is just one of many such sequences in writer, producer, director George Barry's twisted, weird, and extremely creative only film. Death bed plays like an evil and Gothic fairytale, filled with dreamlike images and eerie effective sets.
I would imagine Wes Craven's classic A Nightmare on Elm Street (Infinifilm Edition) was greatly influenced by the film, from a bed getting into your dreams that wants nothing but to kill you. The bed is also a sadist as the tortured spirit of our narrator points out, taking pleasure in tormenting It's victims before finally devouring them.
The acting is pretty bad but that adds to the moments of dark comedy such as the bed drinking pepto bismal after eating a young girl.
The scenes of a black screen with the titles Breakfast or Dinner in white letters across the screen reminded me of the seasons spelled on screen during The Shining [Blu-ray] minus the eerie music. It made me think of something an amateur Kubrick would make on an extremely low budget and perhaps while under the influence of mind altering drugs.
I heard about this diamond in the rough in Stephen Thrower's book Nightmare, USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (also very highly recommended) who has a write up on the dvd jacket and gives this and a few other "exploitation independents" the reason to continue to search through tons of bad obscure films in hopes of finding something like this.
I have to say the concept is so good and the budget low that I could see this possibly warranting a remake although this original is bordering on bizarre horror masterpiece in It's own right. This is a must add to your horror dvd collection to give it some diversity and even if you don't like the movie look at it this way: You have a movie called Death Bed The Bed That Eats, that's worth it alone.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES (FROM THE BACK OF THE DVD)
New Transfer from original 16mm Print
4 Page Liner Notes
Video Introduction by the Director
Unrated, Uncensored Version.
Tome Raider | California, United States | 12/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I never bought a single VHS tape over the years. But with the advent of DVD I find myself spending unreasonable sums of money on DVD's. These things beg to be collected, and it is the horror genre where I seem to be spending most of my efforts and cash. Most of the time I buy DVDs where I've previously seen the movie, but perhaps a third of the time I'm buying based on the favorable reviews given on Amazon, particularly where key words, phrases or concepts are mentioned by the reviewer which I find appealing.
The key words, phrases, concepts for "Death Bed" are: psychedelic, astmospheric, bizarre, sensuous, comfortable, surreal, dreamlike, artistic....and obscure. This is the type of movie I search out. I can't believe there isn't more buzz about this film as I've shared it with a few friends and they've responded with similar enthusiasm. This is just a hidden gem. It is not insanely scary, but it has a elegant weirdness to it that I think many people will find satisfying.
The story line has already been explained: hidden little cottage out in nowhere, with a big, beautiful bed in it which invites intruders to either nap on or get naked in. The bed then consumes them. At first I thought the "eating" scenes were cheesey, but then the movie showed some scenes inside the bed as it "digested" its prey, and these scenes are very well done and surreal.
The major artisitic fluorish of the movie is that it is narrated by the Victorian artist Aubrey Beardsley who is held captive inside the wall behind one of his paintings next to the bed. He reveals to you the history of the house, the bed, and many of the historic victims over the past century. The elegance with which this is presented can not be overstated, especially for a film which did not have a big budget. The bed gives Beardsley gifts of the deceased's jewelry, but Beardsley still yearns to be free. The actor who speaks Beardsley's voice was BRILLIANT, his pacing, accent, inflections are hypnotic and perfect.
There is another strange series of scenes displaying a woman inside an underground coffin on the estate of the cottage and nearby mansion. I can't recall her exact role, but the scenes of her emerging back to consciousness are very effective and scary.
I hesitate to criticize this movie at all because it was so satisfying. I think it is an American film, and I perhaps wish it had a little more erotic emphasis such as you would see with a European film of the same era. I believe sexuality is an important component in horror, contrasting life with death as it does. I also did not fully understand the ending of the movie, it ended a little unexpectedly and possibly a little anti-climacticly. But, given the overall excellence of the movie itself that was only a marginal detraction.
The director, whose name I now forget, gives a little introduction about the making of the film and his failure way back when to get the movie successfully marketed. He tells about how he actually heard about his film in underground internet chatrooms 25+ years later where bootlegged copies were being exchanged or discussed. He had all but forgotten about his little movie. This man's modesty, his sense of humour, and his total lack of affectation had me wanting to buy him a very good bottle of cognac. He may not take his little movie too seriously, but I see it as a serious artistic accomplishment (I'll call it "poetic horror") and it is in the top five of my voluminous horror collection along with Suspiria, The Haunting (the 1964 original), The Legend of Hell House, and Burnt Offerings."
Words cannot convey just how bizarre this movie is...
PETMINE | 10/26/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The premise- A demon falls in love with a maiden and takes on human form in order to make love to her. She dies, and the saddened demon cries tears of blood upon their bed. The bed absorbs this blood and becomes a living predator...an antique canopy bed which consumes anyone unfortunate enough to rest upon it. A strange concept for a horror film, but the way it's presented is far, far stranger... This no-budget oddity was made with a very peculiar artistic finesse...not so much pretentious as self-consciously esoteric, it combines the sleaze of 70s trash cinema with several oddball ingredients of dreamlike surrealism(it's largely narrated by a spirit held captive in a painting on a wall opposite the killer bed). These elements really don't work perfectly together, but that is certainly not to say that "Death Bed" is a BAD film...it is merely very bizarre and obvious of it's restrictive budget. I personally think it's one of the most original and inventive amateur horror films I have ever seen. Opinions about this one will be all over the board, but there's no denying that "Death Bed- The Bed That Eats" is unique. I recommend it to all fans of the outre. Four stars.