It took place one night last week: an ordeal, a trauma, a hurtful jab in the guts of slumber. Mere recollection sears the memory paths for this was the sort of nocturnal nasty destined to be forever remembered. Maybe it was the urchins playing foolish games in the black of midnight, or I ate too much cheese, I can’t say. What I can say, however, is that this was wholly unanticipated; not one inkling had I that such an event was to disrupt my sleep that eve. So there I was, chasing sheep up and down Elysian fields, smirking at the planets, giving sagacious advice to Plato, when suddenly the façade was torn down and replaced with the foulest of sentience. The unlit abyss of my room faced me, the dark offering nothing but a faint rustling in the distance. Quickly the distance shortened, the rustling seemingly now beside me. Then I sensed movement, a jolting presence, not out there but in here, under the very sheets under which I lay. It was then I threw back the bedding, revealing none other than a Care Bear.
There it was stooped on all fours, pink fur ruffled by the sheets, plastic nose poking about the mattress, glass eyes adjusting to the light from the lamp I had just turned on. It looked at me, I looked at it. Was that murder in its eyes? Did I detect the glint of lust? Perhaps it was on its way to the Forest of Feelings and got lost halfway? Should I hug it or bash its brains out with my alarm clock?
It shuffled towards me and I shouted at it.
“You Care Bear bastard!”
It was instinct, reflex, a product of being born in the 80s. I won’t allow risk to enter the equation, I can’t, positions of power must be established immediately. That Care Bear stared its dead eyes at me, unfocused brown still and mysterious. The scene was one of tension, an escalating dread and possible regret that I had somehow offended the beast.
Truth is, far from mauling me dead then eating my skin, the Care Bear only wanted to know if I was interested in switching to British Gas. I was stunned. A salesman, by god, this furry dream creature was. Before I knew it, a plethora of leaflets were arranged on the mattress. It was then I kicked it to the floor. The pleading sales pitch came like white noise to my ears as I grappled with the light switch. Eventually the Care Bear lost interest, packed up its paraphernalia and used the window as an exit and I was left to finish my sleep uninterrupted by the dulcet dollar drone of Care Bears Inc.
Such a tale carries little of the blood and hunger that marks Death Bed. In fact, it’s fairly needless to start a review with such prolixity and sub-juvenilia narrative nonsense, particularly a review of a film like Death Bed, one that quite clearly requires no prologue. But moods must be set, words must be used, regardless of vulgar excess. Further: the title is not the only element lacking in ambiguity. Were one still in possession of questions, the subtitle carries enough force to dispel any such queries – Death Bed – The Bed That Eats.
Central to the film is a bed, a grand four-poster number that sits in the cellar of an old house. A wash of black begins the film, during which time we hear a crunching sound, a carnivorous chomping that brings to mind a wild animal. Well, kids, surprise surprise, that sound is emanating from the bed – it’s lunchtime and its having a feast.
A curse cast long ago means that the bed is alive. Despite having the appearance of inanimation, the bed lusts after meat, after a person or persons to digest in its tank-like stomach. Luckily, even though it resides in a rural manor, the odd flaneur does come by to test its comforts. When this happens, a bubbling starts on the surface of the bed allowing the hapless victim to descend into its interior, a watery yellow soup given the close-up treatment whenever feeding commences.
Certainly is. A monkey’s paw is one thing; we’ve seen that before. Familiarity kills fear, kills astonishment, curdles the creative juices. Look, it’s hairy, there are talons, it’s a certifiable threat! Ah but listen, and retain your calm: any object is open to an injection of evil; whether it’s a video tape, a lift, a packet of bacon rashers, demoniacal gusto can be found living in anything. Perhaps it’s the guilt over our commodity fetishism that leads us to imbue our objects with the potential to physically and mentally harm us (as if they don’t already do so!). Of course evil only has meaning in the context of the human; consequently, what we see is that with every increase in evil comes a corresponding anthropomorphization as the heinous object becomes a holder of human spirit and bodily presence. Observe the bed’s soft moans as a nubile undresses near it, or the tantrums it throws when bereft of food to dine upon, leading to the manor walls cracking and ceilings creaking.
Death Bed’s narrative consists of a young couple coming to use the bed for salacious purposes, the bed deciding pre-marital sex is not on the cards, the bed eating them, some digressionary scenes detailing the bed’s background, before finally three young ladies happen on the manor. Thus begins the main body of the story.
An unsettling voice-over gives the film documentary credence as a male tongue describes the actions of the bed, beseeching it to desist, to turn veggie and repent its homicidal ways. Less Fog of War, more Mondo Cane, the document is stirring. The voice-over has an odd efficacy in that its moral entreaties and observer position aligns it closely with the spectator, who has no one with which to relate. The narrator, a former victim of the bed who’s now imprisoned in a bizarre limbo behind a painting in the cellar room, is our only real figure of interest. Other characters are stock types, fodder for the screen cruelty, far from the glow of our sympathies. The artiste behind the painting, on the other hand, is a man of slightly more substance. He is essentially the sole user of language throughout the film (a few garbled screams is hardly a monologue) and is kind enough to gift us information as to the genesis of the iniquitous bed.
His admonishments and whimsical questioning must compete with the influx of buxom ladies in the middle of the film. An eerie and eccentric atmosphere gives way to a Russ Meyer-esque showcase. Burlesque banality erupts as breasts are disrobed and intimate linens are wafted about. Struggles against the bed’s yearning stomach are conducted in wailed sex moans. The bed devours one girl, the other two look for her, then the bed devours one of the them, leaving only one remaining. With the mire of sleaze still present, the brother of one of the girls arrives. I thought for sure this would be the beginning of a fight back, the time for macho ass-kicking. But alas I was wrong. Big brother gets his hands stuck in the bed, it strips his hands of all their skin and muscle, and he spends the rest of the film sitting about looking at what remains of his hands, now simply bone, and whining about his own ineptitude. Fool.
Death Bed proves an enjoyable excursion into the odd spectrum of 70s comedy-horror cinema. George Barry’s film entered the cult cannon a few years ago, unsurprisingly, for it’s clearly made to be held in such high esteem. I just hope we get that sequel, Death Bed 2 – Death Bed Takes Manhattan, before too long. I can already visualise a manic Keanu Reeves engaged in a spectacular slow-motion fight with the bed, during which time a jet carrying a nuclear warhead gets nearer and nearer the city. It’ll be 2011’s most exciting blockbuster!