The saga of the making of Death Bed (nicely chronicled by Stephen Thrower in the DVD's booklet) is as strange as the film itself. Begun in 1972 and completed in 1977, the film was unscrupulously released on video in England. Ironically, the VHS release did manage to ignite a small fan base, but it wasn't until Thrower himself managed to track down the director that the movie's first-ever legitimate release finally came about in 2003.
Filmed in 16mm with the intention of a 35mm blow-up for theatres, "Death Bed" gets an R rating not for gore (the violence is more silly than nasty) but for nudity, as the inviting bed (a giant purple-robed four-poster with an attractive self-cleaning mechanism) snares sleepy travelers and lovers with exposed boobery.
Thrower's assessment of "Death Bed" as having dream-like qualities is dead-on. The bed's Venus Flytrap existence is an absurd but functional myth and, in spite of obvious budgetary limitations, Barry created a captivating backstory aided by dry narration and witty on-camera observations by one of the bed's ghostly victims - a Lynchian artist who holds the key to the bed's doom.
Though drenched in Seventies' colours with high-contrast lighting, George Barry's film is poetic, dreamy, psychedelic and surprisingly effective. Despite a few continuity errors (perhaps the result of lost or unfilmed sequences), the rudimentary but inventive visual effects are preferable to the cheap digital tricks one finds in common direct-to-video fodder. The authenticity of the vintage film opticals give an impression of a rock concert poster come to life, with its psychedelic scrawls, swirling figures, and cartoonish imagery as the bed digests its juicy meals.
Rather than create a groping bed outfitted with ghoulish hands, the bed's mattress defies the laws of physics and lets its neon juices do the work. Somewhat cognizant of its role and more than a little playful, the digestive goo consumes the first of the female trio in a manner that's completely over the top. Subsequent 'historical' vignettes, punctuated by narration and overstated acting, are just as amusing.
Most of the cast seems to have disappeared from filmmaking, though "Death Bed" was an early screen role for Rusty Russ. Better known today as William Russ, the veteran actor subsequently lost the enormous hair and bell-bottoms, and has appeared in countless features and TV shows, including "Ally McBeal," and the short-lived "Mr. Sterling."
As for writer/director/producer Barry, he provides a brief on-camera intro for viewers -- cheekily divided into captioned episodes entitled Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Dessert. Addressing the film's odd cult status, he offers a personal take on discovering new fans on the Internet, but sadly he doesn't detail his current activities or his apparent disinterest in feature filmmaking today.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan