Oh, to be a character in a horror movie. It’s a perilous place, with danger around every corner. Basically anything can kill you, from frogs to robots to the damn wind. But sometimes, you’ll find a horror director that says, “Fuck all that, I want to make something different. One that boldly goes where few horror films dare to tread. Yes, I want to make a movie about a bed that eats people.” (No, this isn’t Bed of the Dead, but good guess!)
Welcome to Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, a bizarre, completely off-its-rocker art-horror film by one-time director George Barry. (I mean that: this was his first and last directorial outing.) To say that this movie is an insane acid trip would be doing a disservice to insane acid trips; made in 1977, the movie takes full liberties with movie effects of the time, creating a strange oil pastel painting of a world where what the viewers see is often to be interpreted as metaphor. You’ve got everything from flowers blooming on their own, to statues crying blood, to some pretty trippy scenes of the titular bed devouring its victims that look like they could have come out of the aftermath of listening to too much Grateful Dead.
And believe me, this isn’t your grandpa’s slasher film, where the bed is a goofy animatronic puppet with sharp teeth and a voiceover; the reality is much, much stranger. When the bed eats its intended target, the movie cuts to shots of the bed’s actual digestive juices, with our victims literally dissolving in the swirling, amber-colored whirlpool. At one point, a character attempts to stab the bed, only to have his hands completely dissolve down to the bone, but the oddest (and unintentionally hilarious) part is that we never really see any signs of pain or even distress from the guy; he pulls his hands out and stares at them, almost matter-of-fact-ly, the woman next to him showing a similar level of ambivalence. To say whether this is part of the overall artsy feel of the movie, or just poor acting, is entirely up to the viewer’s interpretation.
In fact, watching this movie, one might ask themselves: to what degree is the art in this film to be taken seriously? How much of this movie is George Barry taking a higher, existential road in his craft, and how much of it is pure, 70’s schlock? The answer, for my own intents and purposes, is surprisingly somewhere in the middle: it’s difficult to write off the movie as fully, honest-to-god oblivious to its own ridiculousness, because there are just some things in this film that are too strange to have been made unintentionally.
The plot revolves loosely around the four teens who discover the bed, and the strange curse that is attached to it – none of the characters are named, except for Aubrey Beardsley (whom, strangely, was an actual real-life artist) who in the case of Death Bed is now trapped in one of his own paintings, forced to watch the bed consume its victims. However, at that point any semblance of plot flies right out the window. We have a monologue by Beardsley about the bed’s past and how it came to be cursed, but after that it’s up to the remaining teens to find a way to take out the bed and survive the ordeal without getting eaten.
I will give this film credit: while the overall tone and pacing of the film is about as pulse-pounding as a comatose turtle, there are some genuinely interesting shots and effects happening here. It takes a certain level of mad, creative skill to think up a bed eating people by dissolving them through its sheets, and the whole movie is wrapped in a dreamy, almost serene quality. Well, if it wasn’t about a bed who eats people. Besides that, Death Bed does truly have a unique feel to it, similar to the exploitation films of the 70’s, and the film’s now-achieved cult status is something that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Honestly, I still don’t really know what to make of this movie. If you’re looking for something different and trippy, then it’s hard to see how you could go wrong with Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. It’s like Suspiria, but with a fifth of the gore and none of the soundtrack. It threatens to put you to sleep, but stay awake long enough and you may just find a unique, strange, and oddly entertaining piece of horror cinema.