Deathbed: The Nerfed Llamas Review – Psycho Sexual Frustration: the Movie!
After my review of Ravenwolf Towers: Episode 1 “Bad Mary” (which you can read here) kept me on the plus side of Full Moon Features from after the year 2000, I though it would be a good idea to stay there and find a new title that I had never seen before. I’m very well versed in Full Moon classics from 80’s and 90’s, but I haven’t seen as many of their modern films. Dedicating a month to watching and discussing their movies makes it easy to finally dive into their newer content. Full Moon’s catalog is robust, so randomly picking a movie is a process that can take some time. Also, I was in a particular kind of mood, so I wanted to watch something that was a bit more “down to earth” and a little less chock full of grisly monsters. Supernatural elements would be fine, but I wasn’t looking for a monster movie per se. I came across a film that was produced by Stuart Gordon named Deathbed and was intrigued by the plot summary. Gordon is a bit of a legend in the horror film community, as he is responsible for Re-Animator, From Beyond, and The Pit and the Pendulum (which I reviewed recently) to name a few. Positive name recognition can go a long way and is a potential indicator of quality, and so with Gordon’s name as a reassurance, I took the b-movie plunge and gave Deathbed a watch.
Click the following link to keep up to date on this year’s Full Moon Features festivities including film reviews and other articles: 2nd Annual: May is Officially Full Moon Features Month at Nerfed Llamas!
What is Deathbed: Deathbed is a 2002 horror film adapted from a 1977 George Barry movie (Death Bed: The Bed That Eats) written by John Strysik (The Music of Erich Zahn, Stuck), and directed by Danny Draven (Horrorvision, Reel Evil). The film stars Tanya Dempsey (Guardian of the Realm, Driller), Brave Matthews (A Song For the Dead, Birth Rite), Joe Estevez (Soultaker, Death Row), Meagan Mangum (Dr. T & the Women, Fake Stacy), Michael Sonye (Star Slammer, Surf Nazis Must Die), and Mona Lee Futz (Varsity Blues, Boyhood). Deathbed is the tale of a room that is possessed by a killer from the 1920’s, and his victims. Karen & Jerry, a happy couple of artists in 2002, move into a loft that is connected to the possessed room. On one fateful day, Karen explores the forbidden room and discovers an amazing looking antique bed… and that’s when all hell breaks loose, literally. Shortly after, Karen & Jerry experience various levels of possession and psychosis as the effects of the bed start to play them against each other and draw them to go back into the haunted room. Will they be able to survive? If they do, will they ever be able to love each other again? You’ll have to watch Deathbed to find out.
What I liked about Deathbed: Karen is a fascinating character that becomes more intriguing as the film progresses. Tanya Dempsey puts in a good performance as Karen and gets to explore a lot of different emotions and situations for the character. Starting off as a professional artist that is reserved but loving, Karen becomes adventurous, sadistic, and paranoid by the time the effects of the bed start to hit her. It’s intriguing to see her character progress, as you never know which “Karen” you are going to get from scene to scene. Again, this is a credit to Dempsey as she does an admirable job of selling Karen’s struggle. Also, there is a lot more at play with Karen, a backstory that is heartbreaking but explains a lot about what happens to her over the course of the movie. There is a depth here that is uncommon for a seemingly simple erotic horror b-movie.
The character drama between Karen & Jerry is a strength as well. They are couple working through a pretty severe and terrifying scenario, and they rely on each other implicitly. This is a nice dynamic. It paints them as a couple that is struggling but trying to make things work. They appear to be in love, so when the movie takes a turn for the worse with each character you feel for them and their relationship. You want Karen & Jerry to work it out and to survive the madness.
The scene with the shrink, which involves hypnosis is especially compelling. A few of Karen’s mysteries come to light, and her character (as mentioned above) is greatly benefited from the heavy weight of this scene. Many b-movies wouldn’t have bothered adding this level of depth, and it significantly enhances the viewers experience in Deathbed. I won’t go into the details, as it is a major spoiler, but trust me on this – the therapy scene is the clincher in Deathbed. It’s what elevates this movie from being a merely so-so horror flick, to a definite recommend.
What I didn’t like about Deathbed: There are some production design issues that should have been addressed before filming commenced. One of the key issues was wardrobe. Art (the apartment super) never changes clothes the entire movie. Jerry (the boyfriend) always wears the same blue boxer shorts to bed and wears the same outfit to work every single day. Jerry at least gets a change of clothing for when he takes Karen to see the shrink, but by and large the costumes are lacking in Deathbed. Karen is the only character that changes clothes on a regular basis. On the filmed side, the Steadicam operator doesn’t always manage the “steady” part very well from time to time. Also, the soundtrack seems at odds with the film and doesn’t always match up to well with the action on screen. These are relatively minor nitpicks, but they stick out as problems that could have easily been alleviated with better planning in pre-production.
The core of Deathbed relies heavily on the possessed room above Karen & Jerry’s apartment, and it feels like this portion of the story is a tad under-cooked. We are introduced to the “Strangler” character, but without much explanation as to why he kills, what his motivations are, and/or how is capable of possessing people. The opening intro has the Strangler taking a victim’s life way back in the 1920’s, but it has no dialogue, just some awful period music. With no exposition to flesh his character out, we get a killer that is terrifying and gross, but not ever understood on any level. At that point it becomes killing just for the sake of killing, which for how deep some of the other aspects of Deathbed can be, makes this part stick out as particularly shallow.
Bottom Line: Deathbed was better than I thought it would be. It gives a questionable first impression with the poorly executed retro S&M torture intro sequence, however things rebound afterwards quite well. On the surface it seems like a movie about a struggling couple, but there are multiple layers that get peeled away over the course of the film. The possessed bed is a catalyst for issues that are drawn to the surface, especially for Karen, and these issues lead to events that keep the movie engaging throughout its run time. When the dramatic elements work in tandem with the suspense elements, they work exceptionally well. You believe that Karen is absolutely terrified. The third act is quite thrilling and even manages a pretty terrific twist ending. There are some issues on the production side, and certainly more care could have been taken to deliver a better final product, but all in all this is a suspenseful and sexy tale of possession, fetish, and psychosis. This is a straight up bizarre horror movie, just what you would expect from Stuart Gordon (looks like you can trust the name after all). If you are in the mood for a relationship drama with a horrifying twist, then Deathbed might be just what you are looking for. You can watch Deathbed on Full Moon’s Streaming service, or purchase it on DVD from the Full Moon Direct online store.
Here is the trailer for Deathbed, give it a look-see and find out if you’d like to go to sleep a regular person and wake up as America’s next psycho-sexual strangler…