It was a long road to release for Death Bed. Shot in 1972 and completed in 1977, it was taken from distributor to distributor without success by writer/director George Barry. It first reached the public when it was bootlegged in the U.K. during the early ’80s, building a cult rep with genre scholars like Stephen Thrower. Fittingly, Thrower contributed liner notes when the film got its first official release on DVD in 2003 from Cult Epics. A little over a decade later, Cult Epics has revisited the film on blu-ray with help from Barry and Thrower – and the results are its best home video rendering to date.
Things start off with a new HD transfer taken from the surviving 16mm elements for the film. The nature of the source materials means that there is some speckling and the odd bit of damage to deal with but the results look surprisingly rich for a film shot in the early ’70s under hurried conditions. The colors come through nicely, detail is often surprisingly sharp for 16mm and the results have a pleasing celluloid texture to them. Lossless 2.0 mono and remix stereo 5.1 options are included for this transfer: there isn’t that much difference between the two but both offer a nice rendition of the original mix, with the 5.1 occasionally spreading things into the rear speakers.
Cult Epics carries over all the extras from their DVD rendition with the exception of a liner notes insert that came with that disc. The DVD-era extras begin with an introduction to the film by Barry, who tells the strange, heartbreaking film of how his film stayed underground for so long and the interesting tale of how he became aware of its bootlegged status.
Barry’s tales continue on commentary track, which pairs him with Thrower and is also carried over from the 2003 DVD. They make a pretty good duo act, as Thrower meticulously prepared a set of questions to prompt the filmmaker and Barry shows a sharp memory of his one cinematic venture. For example, it is revealed that how many scenes were “rewritten” after the film was shot via recutting and the addition of narration. Other highlights include a tale of how the inside-the-bed effects were done and discussion of some scenes that were cut from the film, including a really interesting-sounding one that took place at a “dream lab.”
There are also a few video extras that are new to this set. These begin with a new video intro to the film by Thrower, who talks about discovering the film on home video during its bootleg era and offering a soft-spoken but typically insightful assessment of how the film blurs genres to operate in its own style of filmmaking.
Elsewhere, there are two new featurettes. The first is entitled “Death Bed In Detroit.” It begins with Barry showing the ruins of where much of the film was shot and then transitions to a meeting with actor Samir Eid at the successful restaurant he owns. It’s informal, shot under guerilla conditions with a cheap video camera, but the results are fun.
“Nightmare USA” was shot under similar conditions as Thrower chats with Barry and a few of his family members and friends at a diner – there’s even an interruption near the end from an overzealous fellow patron. However, it’s worth sticking with as it’s got some interesting info: in an interesting switch, Barry interviews Thrower about his love of regional American horror films of the ’70s and ’80s. The featurette takes its title from Thrower’s popular genre film overview of the same name: he reveals the unique circumstance under which he developed an obsession with vintage indie American horror and even talks about the subject of his next film tome, Jess Franco.
The extras are rounded out by the inclusion of the original Death Bed opening credits music, which was replaced on recent video releases with a better cue composed by Cyclobe (of which Thrower is a part). The original music was moody, saxophone-led jazz. The Cyclobe track is the better one but completists will be glad to have this.
In short, Cult Epics has done a fine job of updating Death Bed for blu-ray. If you love this slice of outsider cinema, this is the best way to experience it at home.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Death Bed, click here.