The “Killer Bed” horror sub-genre is pretty limited. To be honest, one would be hard pressed to create a Wikipedia page titled “List of Killer Bed Movies” that includes anything more than Death Bed: The Bed that Eats (1977) and possibly Johnny Depp’s best scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). That is, until now. Writer/director Jeff Maher teams with co-writer Cody Calahan to present Bed of the Dead (Fantasia 2016), which is playing as part of the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, Canada. Two couples visiting a private sex club find themselves trapped in a room with the titular Bed of the Dead, an antique emperor-sized bed which seems bent on punishing past sins. The film switches between their timeline and the following morning where a police detective is investigating the aftermath of the bed’s murder spree. When characters from the two timelines find that they can communicate across time, they realize there may be a way to alter the outcome of events. This time travel dynamic gives the film an interesting structure that rises above its silly premise. That is not to say it does not satisfy in the exploitation department; gore-hounds will be pleased with the bloody and creative death scenes which appear to utilize mostly practical effects. The filmmakers balance playing it straight while still not taking themselves too seriously, which is essential in the Killer Bed sub-genre. The result is a fun and gory time in bed.
Hard drinking police detective Virgil (Colin Price) is having a tough morning. He is still nursing a hangover when he is called to a crime scene at a local private sex club at 5 o’clock in the morning. He is investigating the aftermath of a fatal fire that had broken out in one of the guest rooms, but most of the five bodies discovered do not appear to have died from the fire. As he reviews the lobby security footage, the film shifts focus to the night before as two couples rent the room for an evening of “couples fun”. Sandy (Alysa King) and Nancy (Gwenlyn Cumyn) do not seem enthused about the evening’s planned activities, but they are going along with it because their boyfriends, Fred (George Krissa) and Ren (Dennis Andres) are best friends and it is Ren’s birthday. Before anything can start, Nancy has a frightening vision which puts a kibosh on things, much to the guys’ chagrin. After Fred gets up, is dragged under the bed by unseen forces, and is presumably killed (if the blood shooting out from under the bed is any indication), the surviving three bedmates realize that they are in trouble. As detective Virgil investigates the deaths in the present, Sandy, Nancy, and Ren try to figure out how to survive in the past. When a cell phone allows communication between the past and the present, it looks like there may be a way to cheat the Bed of the Dead.
When making a movie about a killer bed, one needs to be conscious of maintaining the proper tone. If the concept is played for laughs, one runs the risk of an overly precious Sharknado style parody. On the other hand, it is a killer bed movie, so taking an overly serious tone just invites ridicule. The filmmakers of Bed of the Dead strike just the right balance. For the most part, they play the film straight. There is no real smirking or mugging toward the camera. Most of the actors play it as if they really are deathly afraid. On the other hand, there are touches of humor. When the two couples first enter the guestroom for some “couples time” – it is not as four super-sexy swingers, but as four very nervous people uncomfortably experimenting with something they are not quite sure about. The police detective, Virgil, is essentially the hard drinking, tough guy cop style character so often portrayed by Tom Akins; one can see Mr. Akins playing this role if it was filmed 20-30 years earlier. Lines such as “I’m going to die, but I’m taking this bed with me!” are uttered straight, but with just a little twist. There is a self-awareness that runs beneath the surface and feels just right.
Much like the aforementioned Johnny Depp bed/death scene in Nightmare on Elm Street, Bed of the Dead delivers gore in buckets. Often, deaths are shown in reverse order, with the aftermath in the present being shown prior to the death itself in the past. This allows for some fun in trying to figure out what happened to a person right before being given the answer quite graphically. The kills are varied and creative, with lots of blood and viscera covering the set and the actors. Most of the effects work appears to be practical in nature, giving the scenes a nice solidity and messiness missing in modern CGI-fests. The death scenes are well spread throughout the film, from the opening reveal of a rotting corpse hanging from a tree to the final death right before the closing credits. One never has to wait too long before more gore is splattered during the proceedings.
The time frame skipping structure of the film helps it to distinguish itself from other indie horror gore-fests. At first, it comes across like a bit of a gimmick. For a few of the deaths, it follows a similar pattern. The police look at one of the bodies, they discuss the nature of the injuries, and then wonder what happened. Most of the bodies are so damaged that it is hard for the audience to tell to which character the body belongs. Then, the film jumps to earlier events and reveals who the future victim is before detailing their demise. It provides a nice “who will get it next and how” experience for the viewers. Later, this structure rises beyond being just gimmicky when the characters from the two different time-frames are able to communicate with each other. At that point, the two parts of the stories become one, moving along in parallel, while the events themselves are taking place two hours apart. In this way, the story structure is not used just for style but becomes central to the story itself.
Bed of the Dead is a fine addition to a much neglected horror sub-genre. Striking the perfect tone for the material, the filmmakers use an interesting story structure to rise above the silliness of the proceedings while still providing much to chew on for gore-hounds. This makes for a fun and interesting film to catch at a festival or for a night of watching Netflix from the comfort of one’s own bed.
Bed of the Dead (3 / 5)