Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Biting the Bed That Eats You

Having written of my love of The Room before (on two occasions!), it should be no surprise that I can be quite entertained by a terrible movie that's the right kind of terrible. I was hoping to find that again with a movie I recently learned of quite by accident.

Actually, that's a story worth telling in and of itself. I'd been playing a mobile game with some friends, called Fireback Movies. It's sort of the Kevin Bacon game as an app; you name a movie, and your opponent has to respond with some other movie with at least one actor in common. You score better for changing the actor connection with each "fireback," so you're rewarded for obscure movies and movies with only one major memorable star.

After playing this game over a period of months, it had gotten a bit stagnant. We'd often get caught up in the same mental whirlpools, naming the same movies over and over again. Whenever a new game would begin, and I'd have the opportunity to "throw out the first pitch" (without a time limit), I'd make an effort at trying something new. I wanted to be fair, and actually name a movie people might reasonably have seen -- but I wanted it to be a movie we'd not played before.

Starting one game, I couldn't think of a film. I just started typing random letters. D.... E.... "ooo, there's a ton of movies with 'Death' or 'Dead' in the title"... A...

At this point, having typed 3 letters, the app throws up a list of films it thinks I might be aiming at. I could have kept typing, but I decided to browse the list. There's tons of these movies, so many that I'm already bored of browsing by the time I get to Death Becomes Her. "Fine," I decide. "It's not exactly obscure or anything, but I don't think we've ever played it." I go to tap that film. I accidentally tap the film below it instead, which I've never heard of before. But wow, did its title leave an impression:

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

It turns out that this is a super low budget horror film made from 1972 to 1977 (it took five years to put it together!), printed only a couple of times, and then lost and (supposedly) forgotten by its writer-director George Barry, who never made another film. Somehow, one of those prints survived to be circulated among cult fans via endless pirated copies, until it finally received a DVD release 25 years later.

The plot is pretty much all in the title. An abandoned mansion is home to a nefarious, evil bed. Unwitting victims find their way into the house, sleep on the bed, and it eats them. All the while, a past victim of the bed lives on as a ghost trapped in a painting on the nearby wall, watching the continuing carnage while powerless to warn anyone or stop the Death Bed.

Obviously a ludicrous concept to begin with, matters aren't helped by how this movie is put together. At least 80% of the dialogue is delivered in voice-over, in the form of various characters speaking their inner monologues. The middle act flashbacks chronicling the Death Bed's long history of kills are utterly inessential to the plot, yet the most entertaining material in the film. Lingering shots actually depicting the digestive system inside the bed are ill-conceived, but hilarious. Subplots that flirt with characters' potential motivations are teased only to be dropped.

Editing problems abound. Scenes are lacking for establishing shots, coverage of certain characters, and adequate mental separation from adjacent scenes. The sound quality is terrible, with microphones picking up incidental noise like actors walking over rocks, while the dialogue they speak is often unintelligible. The acting is horrible. One woman is so bad that it feels like the director started taking away her dialogue to avoid hearing her speak; beyond a certain point, she doesn't utter a single word (even in voice-over) for the rest of the film.

The ways in which people react to horrifying injuries are hilarious to behold. One character has a painfully protracted sequence of trying to escape the Death Bed for several minutes; the director seems to think he's being artistic by showing it all to us in one unbroken take. (Or maybe he didn't have enough money for more film?) Two other characters seem downright indifferent to a comically over-the-top disfigurement.

This movie is really full of the types of mistakes that make The Room so hilariously awful, so "so bad, it's good." But sadly, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats might just peak at its amazing title. I certainly did laugh out loud at moments. There were certainly lots of silent sections where your clever friends could inject stinging jokes. But somewhere along the line, it was just missing that special sauce. More consistently, the movie is just boring, too boring to keep you enjoying its terribleness from beginning to end.

If you want to make an evening of watching this film with some friends, it might be worth a go. If the RiffTrax gang ever did a commentary on this movie, I'd probably have to force myself to watch it again so I could listen to their jokes. But make no mistake, this is an atrocious grade F movie. I mean, duh, I knew that going in... but I was hoping for a bit more entertainment value.

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