Color, 1977, 77m. / Directed by George Barry / Cult Epics (US R1 NTSC)


Just when you thought you'd seen it all -- murderous houseplants, elevators, computers, even tomatoes -- along comes Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, which is certainly stranger and more worthwhile than the title might lead you to expect. A dreamlike and often amusing bit of gothic surrealism, the film takes place mainly within the confines of a stone crypt, the only remains of a demonic house once constructed around a voracious four-poster created by a tree demon to seduce a human woman. Unfortunately the bed took things a bit too far and swallowed her whole, with the ghost of Victorian illustrator Aubrey Beardsley trapped in the same room within a hanging portrait. The first victims are a horny young couple who stumble through the woods and seek shelter for the next on the devilish mattress, which first gobbles up an apple, a bottle of wine, and a bucket of fried chicken before turning the randy pair into a bloody mess. Later, three young girls arrive and reckon with the evil powers of the bed, which decides one of them is too beautiful and alluring to wind up as demon chow. We also see flashbacks explaining the bed's history, including a stint with a quack doctor and a disastrous romp through New York.

Though most obviously a horror film (with nods to all the familiar trappings, including ghosts and flesh-eating), Death Bed also fits snugly within the experimental conventions of the late '70s; in particular, one-shot director George Barry nicely evokes the whimsical, slightly perverse tone of arty underground filmmaker James Broughton, whose memorable 1968 short, "The Bed," must have been a strong influence. In the best Doris Wishman style, dialogue is looped after the fact with the actors doing their best to keep their lips either away from the camera, in the dark, or out of frame to keep production costs down. That's fine, really, as this is virtually a silent film in approach, using visual humor and shocks instead of rational plotting and dialogue exposition. The bed's activities are cheaply but effectively conveyed by showing a yellowish bubbling emerging from the mattress as an object or person sinks in, with a cutaway to the honey-colored, liquid interior where food and flesh are consumed. Incidentally, a not-bad 2002 film with the same title ("presented" by Stuart Gordon) ran with the same idea from a possession angle, adding kinky sex to the mix but decreasing the weirdness and comic value considerably. Try 'em both on a double feature for maximum effect.

Never really released after its lengthy tenure in post-production, Death Bed languished in the vaults after American distribution plans went belly up and a possible British distributor took off with a pirated copy. Fortunately for horror fans, said pirate distributed the film on video in the U.K., allowing word of mouth about this endearing oddity to spread through the horror underground grapevine. Eventually the fanzine reviews led to a burgeoning interest in the project, which boasts only the director's name among its credits. Luckily Barry was still around to participate in a DVD and theatrical renaissance for his film, which has been treated to a brand spanking new transfer. Exterior scenes tend to look grainy and a little peculiar due to some peculiar day for night tinting, but the rest of the film looks quite crisp and colorful, among the best new 16mm transfers out there. Barry turns up for a new video introduction in which he lays out the story behind the film's creation, disappearance, and resurgence, a history reiterated in detail in a solid four-page insert with liner notes by Stephen Thrower. For any fan of unsettling, semi-comic '70s horror cinema (fans of Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, you know who you are), this comes highly recommended.


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