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.

DeathB-bluThings 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-bedDeathB-03 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 DeathB-vhslove 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.