*. When watching grade-Z horror films from the 1960s and ’70s it’s pretty obvious that the directors didn’t think very much of what they were doing. This is made even clearer when you listen to the DVD commentaries by schlock auteurs like Herschell Gordon Lewis or William Grefe, which are funnier than any comic send-ups of their films. You can’t mock their work more than they mock it themselves.
*. I haven’t listened to the commentary for Death Bed so I don’t know how seriously writer-director George Barry took it. I believe it was the only movie he ever made, and he produced it himself as well, so you’d think it meant something to him. It even took him five years, working off and on. But apparently he mostly forgot about it, and indeed seems to have thought it was never released, before finding out otherwise many years later.
*. So I don’t know to what extent Barry thought this whole film was a joke. Clearly there are parts of it that aren’t meant to be taken seriously. The hungry bed drinking a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, for example, to help soothe its upset tummy (or bleeding ulcer). Right from the opening, as we hear the sound of the bed munching away, we know we’re in a silly place.
*. That may not bother you at all. I’m not sure it bothers me much. But it is something I wonder about.
*. I’ve often heard Death Bed described as surrealism, and there may be something in this. We speak of falling into our beds and then falling asleep or falling into a dream. The idea being that in sleep we descend into a subconscious state. What Barry does is he extends the metaphor and has the sleepers being devoured by the bed, by sleep, and by their dreams. Is the bed all just a bad dream? Or is the bed dreaming its victims? You decide.
*. Apparently the concept came to Barry in a dream and he wanted it to play like a fairy tale. I think he succeeded in this, with the girls bringing their picnic basket o the odd building in the woods that houses the magical bed. There is also an Artist imprisoned behind one of his own paintings, a back story involving a demon and his sleeping princess bride, and a curse that needs to be lifted. It’s very much fairy tale stuff.
*. Or you could call it art house stuff. I got a real Jean Rollin vibe off of Death Bed. I imagine if Barry had kept going he would have gone further in this direction, as interested in campy sex as in horror.
*. I consider it more erotic-comedy-horror than horror comedy. The bed is as horny as it is hungry, with the “eating” of its victims being obviously sexual: the ejaculating wine bottle beneath a couple making out, the orgy massacre, all the hubba-hubba heavy breathing. You could even see it as a movie about the dangers of sex, which was becoming a major horror theme at the time.
*. The Artist (that is, Aubrey Beardsley) is an interesting narrator, and he’s necessary because we need to know the bed’s history and the bed (obviously) isn’t talking. Usually such a character has a privileged role: the author of the film, directing the action as well as commenting on it. But here he’s more a marginal figure, not in control of the events until the very end, when the bed falls asleep.
*. Aside from the caged Artist the only other aspect of the film that’s noteworthy is the digestive system of the bed itself. This begins with a bubbling up of foamy bile followed by a descent into a yellow acidic liquid. It looks quite bizarre, but has an unfortunate similarity in appearance to the artist Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ.” The connection is made even stronger by the appearance of a cross on a chain suspended in the solution. I doubt this movie was any influence on Serrano, but . . .
*. You’d think a movie this campy, with such a zany premise, would be a lot more fun. But the fact is it’s really very dull. Once we get used to the way the bed operates it’s just a process repeated over and over, and there’s hardly any suspense. Meanwhile, the plot is so bizarre that even after turning to several online synopses for help I still wasn’t entirely sure what had happened. That sort of confusion is ultimately self-defeating, as it’s hard to stay interested in the story when you don’t understand what’s going on. Death Bed is a curiosity to be sure, but I don’t think it’s an enjoyable enough experience for anyone to want to see it more than once.