Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is a familiar title to anyone who’s a fan of bizarre cult cinema. Even if you haven’t seen it, you know the name and understand that it’s a movie about a bed that literally eats people. Is it a good movie? Not in the traditional sense. Is it super watchable and amusing? Absolutely. The film has that surreal appeal of a director going all in on an outrageous idea and, while not capturing his intentions, creates a spectacle that’s well worth seeing. If nothing else, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (a title you never forget) is downright fun.
The Dwelling, from its uninspired title onward, attempts to be the serious-minded “good” version of Death Bed. It has a mystery, damaged characters, a race against time, and life-or-death stakes. It’s what a screenwriting professor would tell you makes a great, thrilling movie. What you get isn’t great and thrilling. It’s bungled, slapped-together, and absolutely toothless.
Director: Jeff Maher
Released: November 26, 2019
To be fair, Death Bed doesn’t have teeth either. No, in director George Barry’s inspired imagination, his bed consumes its inhabitants while they sleep by gurgling an orangish foam of digestive fluid up through the mattress as the bed itself pulses as if masticating, and the victim sinks down and down as blood pools across his or her skin. Then comes the trippy shots of limbs floating in the yellow spew within the mattress’s guts (which I guess makes it a water bed) as the victim is dissolved to nothing.
In The Dwelling, our bed doesn’t kill by its own means. Carved from finely crafted wood bloodied by cult sacrifice, this gorgeous and massive antique (seriously, whatever my opinions on the movie are, this is one beautiful bed) sits unused inside a sex club. That is until one horny dude slips the clerk an extra two Benjamins so that he can have a four-way with his best friend and both of their girlfriends. The room is clogged with dust, all the furniture covered in sheets. The dim space comes complete with a creepy organ. The group tries to get down to business, but the four-way falls apart, and they’re all left to sleep on this gigantic bed for the remainder of their fizzled celebration.
And as they nod off, some may NEVER wake up!
This is where we witness the bed’s hallucinatory powers as the first victim sees a dog from his childhood. He climbs off the bed in disbelief and is quickly swept under where a bunch of blood spills across the floor. It’s nothing special and is probably the best death of the bunch. Others might be more creative, like a boyfriend pulling himself along a pipe who’s assailed by a weird spider monster-thing skittering across the ceiling like the baby in Trainspotting. It dives down his throat and tears apart his guts, which should be cool, but the scenes are hampered with shoddy editing. Attacks are diced apart in an attempt to compensate for a lack of practical effects. By the third kill, I was yearning for some orange goo.
In an evident reversal of Death Bed‘s style, The Dwelling creates a situation in which getting off the bed is what kills folks. That I can relate to. Sometimes I wish I had the excuse that I’d die if I got out of bed. Soon, however, we’re left with just the two ladies on the bed, and the excuses to put them in danger become increasingly contrived.
We’re also given a twist in which a detective investigating the crime scene after the quartet have been killed receives a call on one of the victims’ cell phones–from the still-alive lady in the past. Why does this happen? Because the bed is evil, I guess? Anyway, that starts a countdown for the detective (who has a dead daughter and a substance abuse problem, of course) to try to solve the case and save the girl before it’s too late.
I have to pause to wonder why this is happening in a killer bed movie. If Maher wanted to make a movie about a detective solving a murder in the present before it occurs in the past, that’s fine. Here, though, it strains disbelief to its absolute limits.
While the time counts down, we start digging into characters’ troubled backstories, and this is where the movie being too much becomes like a physical presence. One victim is guilty of the bed since she pulled the plug on her sick mother, because her mom forced her to have an abortion against her will as a teenager. The other was a victim of a school shooting. And this troubled detective that we’re supposed to be rooting for? Oh, he just chased down and shot an unarmed black man to death. Again I am forced to ask, what the hell is all this ripped-from-the-headlines garbage doing in my killer bed movie? I’m not watching Law & Order. Please take it away. I did not order this.
How am I supposed to sympathize with a detective who shot an unarmed black man to death? How? This is not the climate to just carelessly tack that into a character’s past. Does him saving the life of an attractive white female redeem him? No. Nope. Never. And yet the camera follows him. Still, I’m expected to hope that he’ll solve this case and save the day. All I want is to see a bed use its sheet as a lasso in order to drag a screaming victim into its digestive maw. Why is that too much to ask?
Not that this isn’t enough, but the countdown timer that the detective races against is just absurd. He has around thirty minutes left before the final girl dies, and in that time he’s able to drive all the way out to a prison, talk to an inmate, and return to the sex club with ten minutes to spare. Is the prison next door to the sex club? Why not just give him more time? Why not just have him learn about the bed from someone else? It’s dumb, and I hate it.
Believe it or not, The Dwelling actually started out all right. The framing is spooky, lighting dramatic. Some of the dialogue is clever and funny. It sets you up to think that this might actually be a higher quality Death Bed. Then, it’s just crushed under the weight of its own bloat. Instead of exploring the cult and the evil nature of the bed, it digs into pointless and tone-deaf backstories. Instead of devising creative and satisfying kills, it settles for YouTube-quality scares. Instead of being Death Bed but good, it makes a movie lauded for its badness look like an arthouse classic.
Death Bed gets you inside the bed’s head. It gives you its lore, its creation. It builds a lifetime and universe around this bed that’s Gothic, weird, and even a bit romantic. You walk away knowing this bed inside and out. Death Bed is a movie about a bed. The Dwelling is nothing but a half-assed procedural in which the bed is just a pretty bit of decoration.