There are some movies that transcend the traditional “good or bad” notions inherent to film criticism. This is not because they are above criticism: instead, this means the film in question goes so far off in its own direction that conventional methods of criticism just bounce off it. Death Bed is such a film, an unusual blend of genre stylings and arthouse touches that has been defying the expectations of cult movie fans for decades.
Death Bed throws the audience in at the deep end by introducing its central characters in action: a bed with a sinister history draws in a pair of lovers, only to “consume” them by pulling them into some sort of interdimensional void within the bed where they are dissolved in bubbling, acid-like waters. This is watched helplessly by the spirit of a long-dead artist (Dave Marsh) who helplessly watches the action from behind one of his own paintings.
From there, a narrative that is elaborate and free-form by turns rolls out before the viewer. There’s no point in giving away too much of the plot, as part of the film’s entertainment value lies in the film’s strange twists and turns, but it’s safe to say that the origin of the bed and its history are revealed as several interesting characters are drawn to it. It also builds to a memorable finale that is both sexy and strange all at once.
Death Bed is an uncompromising piece of work. From its initial moments, it follows its own strange rhythms. It’s never dull, primarily because you never know which way its narrative will go. It’s impossible to pin down the narrative to a particular type of story, as it constantly shifts from horror to satire to avant-garde. Writer/director George Barry has fashioned a film that recognizable elements of all three aforementioned genres but the way they gel creates an unpredictable work that merrily slips past conventional definitions with ease.
Because it’s so strange, there have been many attempts to push Death Bed into the “bad movie” category (a lot of this can be traced to a Patton Oswalt stand-up routine that uses the title to reduce the movie to an easy punchline). If you’re one of those odious types that likes to “MST3K” a film for being out of the ordinary, there’s plenty to work with here, from the concept to the dreamlike style of acting to the curveball-style shifts in tone.
However, doing so ignores the film’s originality and gutsiness. Amidst the more overtly horrific moments, there are bits of stunning artsiness: the most striking might be the way the bed completes its consumption of a victim by teleporting her skull into the soil of a nearby field, which sprouts flowers from the ground over it. The film is full of strange yet wonderful touches like this and if you are willing to give yourself over to its off-kilter sensibility and atmosphere, you’ll get a movie experience that is completely outside your definitions of horror, humor or arthouse fare. It’s ideal viewing for the wee hours of the morning, when your conscious mind is a little more relaxed and open to the unusual.
Simply put, Death Bed is a must-see for any patron of outsider cinema. It’s the rare film where you can truly say there is nothing else like it out there — and that’s a joy too rare for any self-respecting bizarro film buff to pass up.