Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Ken: I hope decorative gourd season is treating you as well as it is me, Jim, and that this month’s selection has broadened both our horror movie horizons. You mentioned that Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, a film to which you kindly introduced me, was so memorable to you that this re-watch was essentially like coming to it for the very first time. How has it enlightened you?
Jim: I legitimately remembered almost nothing from the first time that I watched this movie, which, in my defense, was probably about seven years ago at a loud house party. I can’t remember if this was before or after I heard the iconic Patton Oswalt stand-up routine on Death Bed, which he incorrectly thought was subtitled The Bed That Eats People, but he pretty much gets the rest of it right. This film is incredibly bad, but much stranger and more esoteric than I remembered. You go in expecting grindhouse T&A, but it honestly feels like writer-director George Barry was trying to make a serious, arty film—and it’s that much worse for his efforts.
Ken: Oh, this absolutely began as a diehard earnest attempt at arthouse horror and ended as a masterclass in technical ineptitude and sublime absurdity. This is a movie with high pretensions and utterly low urges. I doubt I’ll ever watch anything quite like it again.
Jim: “Arthouse horror” is the right term for what they were going for, I think. What other kind of film could possibly open on the sounds of loud chewing, playing over a black screen? Is this the only film in history to open with just the sounds of chewing? Seriously, name me one other instance of this. It’s like taking the creepy music from the beginning of The Innocents and replacing it with the most tacky and irritating thing imaginable.
Ken: Heavy breathing in Kill Bill Vol. 1 is about as close as I can come to thinking of anything like that. The chewing sound effect, by the way, is identical no matter what substance is being chewed upon by the deadly bed in question, but man are we getting ahead of ourselves. I know I selected this little gem, Jim, but perhaps you can tell me how you came across it. For background, dear readers, this was a film completed in the ’70s but never released until 2003.
Jim: I’m pretty sure that all credit likely goes to Patton Oswalt for anyone having seen this film today. It was put out on DVD by Full Moon Features, which should surprise no one, because it’s a Charles Band company and he specializes in forgotten trash like this, but it would have immediately faded back into obscurity if Patton hadn’t done a very memorable four minutes on it. But really, he probably could have done a half-hour special, just on Death Bed.
Ken: To give you an impression here of how simultaneously batsh*t and boring this film can be, there is one interminable sequence of a woman crawling away from the death bed, seriously long enough that I both thought of Oswalt’s bit, pulled it up on my phone, and then listened to the whole thing almost before the sequence ended.
Jim: That sequence, which is almost entirely done in one long take, is actually sort of amazing. The only thing that mars it is the fact that the woman’s sounds are more … orgasmic, than they are agonized.
Ken: But I suppose we must elaborate on the premise of this demonic bed. This origin story is revealed to us through the narration of a ghost sitting in a prison dimension behind a painting overlooking the bed. As he explains, this is an evil bed, and it eats people whenever it gets the chance. It was given horrible life when the blood of a demon fell upon it and then it kind of half-ate a woman.
The action of the film opens with a horny thirtysomething couple wandering into the crumbling estate in which the Death Bed lies in wait, fooling around on the bed before being consumed by it. Jim, I won’t deprive you of describing how the film portrays the bed’s digestive process.
Jim: The bed is basically an ambush predator. It lies in wait for you to get comfy on it, and then in a flash it basically transforms itself into a Gelatinous Cube from D&D, sucking its prey into an endless tank of yellow digestive juices. This is hilariously rendered on screen by the surface of the bed foaming up and the objects placed on it sinking into the bed, only to then rise back up as skeletons, or in one amusing case, as an empty wine bottle. The bed is even capable of getting indigestion, and at one point chugs a bottle of Pepto Bismol.
Jim: I know that to you, the reader, this probably sounds like comedy, but the tone is oddly dramatic and serious. Most of the time, the bed is presented like some evil spirit from a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem.
Ken: Very much so, though it is truly unclear how much of that tone was in the script and how much was in the shooting of it and then in the lengthy post-production. There are some truly what-the-hell moments in this film. All of it is backed up by the posh-sounding narrator, who grimly intones the history of the bed and dourly laments the fates of the people who wander into its grasp. Yet, the movie also features sequences with spinning headline newspapers that include “MAYOR DEMANDS ACTION” and then “MAYOR MISSING,” implying that the bed
1) Murdered so many people it sparked widespread panic and
2) the mayor of whatever big city this is decided to lie down on this particular bed, of all the beds he could have possibly used.
The movie throws in a total non-sequitur sequence in which random people throughout the past century get eaten, including a priest who is dressed and emotes as if he is in a Monty Python sketch, and an old woman in the twilight of her years primly reading a magazine with a cover that reads ORAL LESBIANS. The “MAYOR DEMANDS ACTION” newspaper also included a voice-over with some generic voice going “Action, we want action!!!” or something, just one notch of coherency removed from a South Park “rabblerabblerabble.”
Jim: You forgot the spinning newspaper with the headline “STRANGE MUNCHING SOUNDS HEARD IN NIGHT,” which was my favorite. Also: The Death Bed is so evil that it eats a little girl with leg braces. With leg braces, Ken!
Just how loudly does this bed eat, anyway?
Jim: In terms of structure, the film is really quite unconventional. Except for one trio of women, there’s practically no actual characters in it. I can only imagine this was very economical for the writer-director to only have to write about 10 minutes of plot. An average child would have little difficulty writing a basic plot outline that was more complex than this.
Ken: It certainly does feel as if the director grabbed whomever he could get to commit to an afternoon shoot. More revealing, I think, is that so much of what’s going on is unfolding through voiceover. It seems like even some scenes of characters just talking to each other were probably dubbed over.
Jim: And only two of the trio of women are of any significance, although I’m not sure they actually have names. There’s the black woman, and the crimped hair woman. Only from looking on Wikipedia can I see that their names are apparently “Diane” and “Sharon.”
Ken: They might have been namechecked like once, yes.
Jim: It’s absolutely packed with voiceovers and internal monologues. It gives Death Bed an extremely strange feel when you’re watching it—it’s arty and dirty and dreamy all at once. It’s like taking a cocktail of hallucinogens and barbiturates and hoping for the best.
Ken: I was recovering from an illness while watching it, which I have to say sort of added to the experience.
Jim: Even if you don’t have the flu, watching Death Bed will make you feel like perhaps you’re coming down with it.
Ken: We don’t want to make it sound, by the way, like this is a good movie. Far from it. It features practically zero internal consistency when it comes to its monster or its crazy-ass plot. Despite being unable to physically move, the bed can do anything and everything else. It can haunt its victim’s sleep with bad dreams, open and shut the door to the room it’s in, and, as we learn, trap the spirit of the narrator in the painting so he’s doomed to eternally watch it devour other unsuspecting lovers. It can teleport one victim’s skull to the soil outside and make roses instantly grow from it. It can take the not-quite-dead body of the first young woman it devoured and put it in a coffin somewhere in a suspended state of un-life. I don’t know if you and I have ever discussed how infuriating it is to watch a film in which the villain has no limitations, Jim, but it’s one of my absolute pet peeves in cinema.
Darkness Falls was another one in this vein, I should mention.
Jim: Asking for logic from Death Bed: The Bed That Eats may have been your first mistake here, Ken. Anyway, we haven’t yet discussed the film’s crowning moment, when the brother of Crimp Head/Sharon arrives to save her from the Death Bed’s clutches. He tries to do this by stabbing the bed with a knife. The results … are incredible.
Ken: Oh they are. We should mention that the sequences of internal bed digestion are achieved through what I assume was some kind of water tank. Naked bodies of victims, half-eaten apples, and yes, that Pepto Bismol bottle, are all dangled in it from strings as what look like carbonated bubbles froth around and crunching noises are heard. Blood oozes up, occasionally, with little rhyme of reason to why any person or object might be bleeding—a teddy bear does at one point. Anyway, Crimp Hair’s brother plunges the knife into the bed and finds both his hands sucked in. What follows is a deeply unsettling sequence where it gnaws the flesh off his hands, and we see the skeletal bits floating around in the Bed Stomach CamTM. The actor pulls his hands out to find them immaculately skeletal, like they just came from a biology classroom No howls of pain or unconsciousness from the agony, no quick death from bleeding out. He’s just kind of dumbfounded and depressed.
Pretty much speaks for itself.
Jim: He just sits there against the wall with his sister, ruminating on his Halloween costume shop skeleton hands as they start to fall apart. I can’t wait to screenshot it for this article, Ken. It’s a perfect encapsulation of Death Bed, which is like a series of insane islands floating in a sea of fuzzy, washed-out boredom.
Ken: I often find myself recommending these Bad Movie Diaries entries to friends for particular reasons: See Only the Strong if you want to make fun of Stand and Deliver. See Atlas Shrugged if you want a crash course in how dumb Objectivism is. But as singular as this movie is, I can’t under any circumstances recommend it to anybody for even ironic schlock value. It is just a slog to get through. So many shots go on for dozens of beats too long.
Jim: This is the kind of film that can only be appreciated by people who are really into zero-budget ephemera and ’70s indie schlock. You know, during that weird era where the horror genre had an obsession with witchcraft, paganism and satanism. It reminds me of the MST3K episode The Touch of Satan in particular. With that said, The Touch of Satan is a much higher quality film than this. Which is to say, yikes.
Ken: That bar is indeed very low, and Death Bed: The Bed That Eats trips right over it.
Jim: Any final thoughts? I enjoyed the opening credits, which appeared to be in a predecessor to Comic Sans font. Also, one of the credits was cut off on the right side of the screen to where you couldn’t even read the name. It’s like the filmmaker never even watched the opening credits to his own film.
Maureen, you don’t mind if your ENTIRE credit doesn’t quite make it onto the screen, right?
Ken: I really don’t have anything to close with aside from a brief summary of the end, I guess? Painting Ghost can talk for one night in however-long, marked by whenever the demon that created the bed falls asleep. He tells Crimp Hair how to perform some kind of ritual, which wakes up the naked lady who is the bed’s “mother,” and she … has sex with the bed’s demon father after the bed teleports outside and this causes it to burst into flame?? I don’t know, Jim, nothing was clear.
Jim: It’s completely unclear, but according to the plot summary, the resurrected Demon Mother has sex with the still not dead Johnny Skeletonhands, which somehow destroys the bed. None of this is explained. And then it’s just over, so you know, whatever.
Ken: I definitely did not at all garner that from what was happening on screen.
Jim: By the way, this guy is in the credits as simply “Sharon’s Brother,” so I think I’m in the clear, in terms of labeling him as Johnny Skeletonhands. I put more thought into this name than the film’s writer did.
Ken: He does actually have kind of a Burton-esque resignation about his skeleton hands, so there’s that.
What have we learned from Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, Jim? What deep reflections on the human condition have we taken away?
Jim: I learned that if I find an ancient, four-poster bed in a tiny shack, half buried in the Earth, I should resist my temptation for a quick power nap. Especially if there’s a talking painting that’s trying to warn me of imminent peril.
Ken: I guess I learned that my fear of strange bed sheets is entirely justified. Do you have any thoughts on whether our next feature will touch on a horror so deeply-seated?
Jim: Unless it’s Death Chair or Death Toilet, that seems unlikely.
Ken: I must be truly doomed, because I’d still watch either of those out of morbid curiosity, even after this affair. Until next time, sir.
Jim: If you really want me to, I will find you a killer toilet movie. I feel 95 percent certain that someone has definitely made one. Probably someone named “Charles Band.”
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste Movies, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.