Unrated - Cinema of the Extreme


They don’t get any more outré than this forgotten gem from Detroit-born, writer/director George Barry. A black screen accompanied by eating sounds gives way to a panning camera movement that surveys a bedroom, replete with four-poster bed, and comes to rest on an illustration in the curvilinear style of Art Nouveau. We hear a voice, sounding like Stephen Fry, from behind the picture announce: “I’ve been imprisoned behind a painting in this limbo for 60 years since my death”, and see a crouched figure, wearing bohemian clothing. He appears to be sitting in a wall-space behind the picture but which we soon discover is in fact a state of perpetual limbo, between the physical world and afterlife. From his style, and later glimpses of his artwork we can assume “the artist” (Dave Marsh, voiced by Patrick Spence-Thomas) is an apparition of Aubrey Beardsley.

A couple arrive at the building; a decaying outer-house, that appears to be void of anything other than the purple draped bed and painting. The doors to the building suddenly lock themselves, and the couple enter the only open room, leading directly into the bedchamber. Settling their meagre picnic (consisting of a single apple, bottle of wine, and box of fast-food drumsticks) alongside them on the bed, the couple begin to indulge in petting, whilst yellow foam, resembling a lavish bubble bath, rises up and envelops the food. The bed drags the items under and noisily regurgitates the empty containers as the oblivious couple lay mere inches away. When our lovers turn to grab something to eat, and examine the bare bones, core and empty bottle, they seem unruffled and continue with their lovemaking only to be interrupted when the foam rises again and engulfs their screaming bodies.

US newspapers, with clumsily pasted-on headings (no expense spared here, folks), chart a history of mysterious disappearances and deaths connected with the bed. Three hippy-chic women on a cross-country hike arrive at the deserted building; Diana (Demene Hall), Suzan (Julie Ritter), and Sharon (Rosa Luxemburg), and decide to make the bedroom their resting place for the night. Whilst Diana and Sharon wander the nearby fields, Suzan decides to sleep in the bed. She dreams of her friends feeding her a plate of live insect grubs before falling victim to the bed.

Further voice-overs from our trapped artist, recall the bed’s previous victims as we witness a vicar, two gangster types, a sleazy playboy and his buxom mistress (looking the spit of Linda Lovelace, having eaten all the pies), and an elderly woman reading Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer, suffer death scenes that look like they have been pulled from Monty Python sketches. In between this mayhem, we learn of the bed’s origin. Apparently, in 1897, a demonic earth elemental (described on the DVD sleeve as a “wind demon”) fell in love with a beautiful woman, and built a magical bed upon which he tried to seduce her. Due to supernatural laws concerning forbidden union between humans and evil spirits, the woman died, and so the demon cursed the bed, returning to the surrounding woods where he would entice people into a nearby house, where the bed now stands.

The bed also kills Diana, but because Sharon reminds the demon of his long-lost love, it spares her life. Sharon’s brother (Rusty Russ) arrives and makes the mistake of sinking his hands into the bed mattress. He manages to pull them out, but not before the bed’s acids have stripped them down to the bone, forcing him to spend the rest of the movie wandering around with two skeletal claws emerging from his tweed jacket. Eventually we learn that once every ten years the demon goes to sleep, and this allows the trapped artist to communicate with anyone in the house. Whilst the demon rests, Sharon learns of a magical ritual that can destroy the elemental, summoning up the resurrected spirit of the demon’s original love (Linda Bond), a spell is cast that transports the bed outside, where it is consumed by the element of fire.

DEATH BED has its origins in a “fairy tale” dream scenario that director George Barry had in the early 70s. Having completed a couple of 16mm shorts, Barry decided to bring his surreal fantasy to screen in 1972. Changing the emphasis to comic-horror to cash in on the popularity of drive-in such as CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (1970), BLOOD FREAK (1971), THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971), CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972) etc., with an initial budget of $10,000 of the director’s own money, DEATH BED took shape over the next 5 years, eventually costing some $30,000. In an introduction on the DVD, Barry informs us that with the 16-mm production near complete, with just titles and end music to add, he attempted to tout the movie to distributors, in the hope of seeing a return. Unfortunately, it would appear they that a combination of the film’s offbeat nature and the cost of blowing up the film for 35-mm presentation rendered potential sales prohibitive. However, unknown to Barry an unscrupulous UK dealer had struck off a pirate copy, resulting in an unofficial VHS release on the ‘Portland’ label, sometime between 1976-1982. So, despite originally failing to see a cent of any return, the Portland release and the small cult of film buffs it attracted, is indirectly responsible for this first official appearance, on DVD, from Cult Epics some twenty five years later.

So, is the cult following justified? To be perfectly honest, the acting is poor (excepting a semi-serious turn by Demene Hall as the afro-topped Diana), the SFX mainly comprise of objects coated in gore and deposited into a fish tank filled with yellow fluid, and the direction is lifeless. The dubbing is atrocious; one hilarious scene wherein two gangsters attempt to shoot the mattress devouring them as they play cards, results in plentiful munching and rumbling sound but no pistol can be heard firing, due to the fact that the sound-mixer was obviously unable to combine the two on one track. Nevertheless, the preoccupation with “organic” noises is a facet of the film that stays with the viewer. We hear the incessant clicking and buzzing of insects, the whistling of birds, and sounds of trees and plants rustling on the soundtrack. The powers of nature are constantly in ear-range and accompanied by lush shots of the surrounding countryside by cinematographer, Robert Fresco lending an eerie “elemental” feel to the film that sits comfortably alongside its supernatural storyline. Equally mysterious is the allusion to pagan artist/author Aubrey Beardsley, and references to authentic mysticism that recall banishment rituals practiced by The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (of whom Beardsley was a member). It would appear that the film’s closing sequence where the resurrected female spirit dismisses the demonic bed with a “circle of fire” ritual also caught the eye of seminal Goth/punk band front man of ‘The Damned’ Dave Vanian. A self-confessed cult horror enthusiast, Vanian would undoubtedly have secured a copy of DEATH BED. Indeed, The Damned’s video for “Plan 9 Channel 7” (1979) ends with the band performing their number in a woodland clearing before their instruments are consumed by a circle of fire before evaporating into thin air, in almost identical fashion to the bed’s demise in Barry’s film.

DEATH BED, is presented by Cult Epics as a new transfer from the original 16-mm source, and comes with informative liner notes by EYEBALL’s Stephen Thrower (whose band Cyclobe supply the film with its end credits track). The transfer is relatively crisp and clean, but the soundtrack remains muffled in places mainly due to the economics involved with original funding. With a decided lack of gore, and an abundance of nudity shorn from the original print at the insistence of the director upon the film’s completion, DEATH BED can’t be recommended on shock value. Nevertheless, its fusion of dualistic themes involving magical and metaphysical decay, birth and resurrection, licentious behaviour and virginal innocence, good and evil, combined with surreal visuals, transcend the horror genre and remain etched in our consciousness long after initial viewing.

Carl T. Ford

 
Directed by George Barry

English language

USA / 1977 / 80 minutes.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES
4-page liner notes
Video introduction by the director

Colour

All region. Dolby Mono
Original aspect 1.33:1 Full frame

http://www.cultepics.com

DEATH BED - THE BED THAT EATS

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