Anghus Houvouras talks to Gwenyfar Rohler, writer of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats…
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is one of those forgotten pieces of cinematic history that almost never saw the light of day. A product of passion by a director named George Barry who grew up in the same neighborhood as Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. When you hear his story, it’s easy to see the comparisons. Both Michigan based filmmakers were fans of classic horror films and inspired to make their own low budget scary opus. Raimi and company crafted The Evil Dead which became a cult classic allowing them to continue making movies and build a fervent fan base. Barry made Death Bed, which sat unreleased for decades and was almost completely lost to history.
Patton Oswalt has the most iconic take on the movie, which he discusses extensively on his album “Werewolves and Lollipops” declaring that it inspired him to make his own movie ‘Rape Stove: The Stove that Rapes People.’
Since its release, Death Bed has managed to develop its own cult following, mostly in discussions about the worst movies ever made. Writer Gwenyfar Rohler has taken on the task of not only writing the story of the movie’s creation, but in a way crafting the legacy of George Barry who never made another movie again. Her stage version of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats premieres this weekend and I sat down with Rohler to discuss the history of Death Bed and the inspiration behind the stage adaptation.
Anghus Houvouras: When I first heard about the stage play version of Death Bed, my first thought was; This could be the coolest thing ever or it could be a total fucking disaster.
Gwenyfar Rohler: Well, one of the things we found with Death Bed is that we have to cover 40 years of time and space, because it’s not just the making of the movie—it’s also the story of the movie being lost and the movie having a whole life outside of George (Barry). And how people re-discovered it and how the people who did work on it continue to interact with it. The first act of Death Bed: The Play That Bites will be the story of the making of the movie. Jock (Jock Brandis), who is the great, grand passion of my life. It was his camera that was used to shoot the film. Actually, he’s the one who made the bed eat. He lit the movie, and he’s one of the first people killed by The Bed—which means he’s kind of the main character in act one. Though I have talked with other people who were part of Death Bed, my entire concept of the film is filtered completely through him.
AH: So, I knew a little bit about Death Bed just from being friends with you and Jock for many years. For those who have no idea what Death Bed is—trust me, there are people who aren’t as weird as me—what is it exactly?
GR: Death Bed is a low-budget movie that was made in 1973 for less than $30,000. It was never finished, and it did not get its official release on DVD until 2003; though, it was pirated in the early ‘80s and distributed throughout Europe where it became a cult classic. It is considered to be the worst movie ever made. Having seen a lot of bad movies, that is definitely not true.
AH: The ‘70s was a great time for independent cinema. Any time someone says a movie was made in the ‘70s, it automatically gets a star from me no matter how bad it is. They probably were trying something. Death Bed was trying to be something scary, and it ended up being something ridiculous. The fact it was never released but was pirated speaks volumes.
GR: Another writer friend Chase Harrison was at the very first reading we had for Death Bed: The Play That Bites. Of course, what we have now looks nothing like that. At one point, he said, “This reminds me a lot of Searching for Sugar Man [a documentary which chronicles the search for ‘70s rocker Sixto Rodriguez, whose musical career—unbeknownst to him—gained a following in South Africa].” The more I thought about it, I realized he was right. They are both Detroit stories: Rodriguez and George Barry were from Detroit. Death Bed was made in Detroit. Both Death Bed and Sixto created something that had life outside of themselves, which [neither Rodriguez nor George] knew anything about. The people who loved them had no idea how to find them. George literally was playing around on the Internet at 3:30 a.m. in 2001, and stumbled upon a thread in a film forum about Death Bed. He was like, “Wait a second are you talking about the movie that’s rotting in my attic?” The forum had people talking about how much they loved the film, but they had no idea how to find it. The only thing the credits say is: “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, George Barry, 1977.” Because they had gotten the rough cut together by ’77, there were no character names or actors listed on the original credits. They had no idea who George was or how to find him. It was a lot like the Searching for Sugar Man story. It’s this beautiful kind of finding. Stephen Thrower wrote a book you would love called Nightmare USA, which is about independent horror films in the U.S. He was so taken with George that they actually narrated the Blu-ray together.
AH: Where is George now?
GR: He’s still in Royal Oak, Michigan. He owned a bookstore for most of his adult life and had two wonderful children. He’s coming for the show. He and Jock have not seen each other since 1973.
AH: 41 years!
AH: Would you call Death Bed a comedy? Drama? Tragedy? Both?
GR: It’s a mockumentary.
AH: In my mind, The Bed is a giant puppet that goes: “Wahahahah!”
GR: In a perfect world, but no. One of the struggles I had is that when I first started thinking about adapting Death Bed to the stage, I completely went to Little Shop of Horrors.
AH: Yeah, I think that’s natural. “Feed me!”
GR: Yeah, I wanted that kind of puppetry. The reality is that The Bed doesn’t actually eat so much as it dissolves people.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats makes it’s first appearance on stage this weekend, produced by Big Dawg Productions in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.