I have written a few times about my former boss and friend Patrick Spence-Thomas. He was my first boss out of college and a big influence in my career path. Sadly he passed away a few years ago, but every year on his birthday those that knew him all gather at his favourite watering hole in downtown Toronto to raise our glasses and tell stories of his great adventures. Recently family and friends met for what would have been Patrick's 80th birthday and it was a fantastic night filled with stories of all the crazy ways he got himself into and out of sticky situations.
Patrick was a sought after field recordist and traveled the world recording battlefields and historical moments on his trusted Nagra, but he was also a talented audio engineer in the studio. He helped a lot of Canadian film makers get their start. Strangely amongst all the projects Patrick worked on, the one that gets talked about most is possibly the worst film he ever worked on. In fact there are many people who would argue this film is in the running for the very worst film ever made. Patrick mixed and did voice over work on "Death Bed: The Bed That Eats", a truly horrible and damn near unwatchable film. Deathbed was finished in 1977 with a minuscule budget. The antagonist in the film is a wooden four post king size bed. When people fall asleep on the bed it somehow sucks the victim into its acidic underbelly and dissolves their bodies. With a concept this bad it makes sense that funding would be hard to find.
The film was recently featured by Rotten Tomatoes on their list of "25 Movies So Bad They're Unmissable" and it has headlined festivals dedicated to horrible film making around the world. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is truly a spectacularly bad film. When George Barry, the film's American director, arrived at Patrick's studio he had little money and a giant mess of a film on his hands. The film did not make sense at all. With no money to go back and further edit the film, Patrick and George made an attempt to save the film by adding new narration and ADR. Since this was decided so late in the process Patrick was quickly cast as the voice of "The Artist" simply because he was already present in the room. I can not even imagine a film arriving for mix in such bad shape that the director asked me to get in the booth and narrate what was supposed to be happening on screen. Patrick also performed the voice of the Deathbed itself (uncredited!!!) when the bed would snore or laugh after a "nice snack", as Patrick himself would say.
Other lines were added in post, with much of the ADR occurring while the actor's mouths were fully on screen and closed. This lead to Patrick adding an odd audio treatment that implies characters have ESP powers and can talk to each other without speaking....... but only sometimes........ and for no discernible reason within the plot. What an amazing mess this film is!
To really get an idea of kind of film Death Bed is here is a synopsis from wikipedia:
A large, black, four-poster bed, possessed by a demon, is passed from owner to owner. The Demon was a tree, who became a breeze and seemingly fell in love with a woman he blew past. The demon then took human form and conjured up a bed. While he was making love with the woman she died and his eyes bled onto the bed, causing it to become possessed. Those who come into contact with the bed are frequently consumed by it (victims are pulled into what is apparently a large chamber of digestive fluids beneath the sheets). The bed demonstrates a malevolent intelligence as well as some psychokinetic and limited telepathic abilities to manipulate dreams.
Now you are intrigued right?
I now have a DVD copy of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. It was released a few years ago for the first time after becoming a bit of an underground sensation through bootleg copies being passed around. I have attempted to watch it many times and never made it through the whole film in one continuous run. I believe I have seen it all though in various sittings. I can attest that it is, in fact, really really bad. If you think you are up for the challenge I believe it is available on Netflix in a few countries. Good Luck if you take on the challenge.
The comedian Patton Oswald saw the film and it inspired a hilarious portion of his stand up album "Werewolves and Lollipops". You can hear it here:
The amazing thing is that I can guarantee Patrick Spence-Thomas tackled this project with great zeal and excitement! Not because he could not tell that this was a horrible train wreck of a film, but because that was just how Patrick was. He loved working with filmmakers and helping get their careers off the ground, he loved everything about making movies. Even if that movie was destined to become an legendary example of the worst the medium could offer. He was a positive guy and he would have taken it as a challenge to make this horrible film into something better then it was when it got to him. I am not sure how successful he was on this film but I know he was a strong positive influence on countless other projects. Patrick could talk for hours about the crazy times he had working on this film. He was never ashamed of having worked on it, he wore it like a badge of honour. He especially loved hearing his own ridiculous V/O work when he saw the film again 30 plus years after working on it. I have to say hearing Patricks voice is by far my favourite part of the film.
I had my field recorder rolling in the bar the night we gathered to celebrate Patrick. I got some great moments of various people telling their favourite Patrick stories over the course of the evening. Without knowing the man personally some of the stories might not make sense to outsiders, but as I listened back the files, I heard something universally understood. Lots and lots of laughter. I think that is the greatest thing Patrick left us all. Take a listen for yourself.