It’s October. Time to talk horror. This year I’m reviewing a different horror movie each day of the month.
It’s the late 80s/early 90s and strange things are happening at Starbody Health Spa, a futuristic club run entirely by computers and card readers. Within minutes of its opening, Death Spa treats us to some fantastic nudity before trying to boil the actress alive in a steam room. At least I thought she was being boiled—later its revealed someone dumped a toxic dose of chemicals into the steam. The incident leaves her blind.
This is the girlfriend of Micheal, the club’s owner, who’s still recovering from his wife’s death. See, one day his wife rolled her wheelchair into the garden and set herself on fire. I’m sure the film explained why at one point, but I never paid that much attention to it. The filmmakers initially want you to believe Micheal’s wife is haunting the gym, but then they try to convince you the high-tech computers and a cross-dressing hacker are to blame for the spooky occurrences. After they can’t decide what kind of movie they want Death Spa to be—supernatural or technophobic—they finally decide it’ll be both.
And it’s just weird enough it works.
In yesterday’s review, I said City of the Living Dead wasn’t incoherent enough for MST3K-style quips. Get your drinking buddies together because making fun of Death Spa is a riot. Unlike Evilspeak and Shrunken Heads, I’m not entirely convinced all the cast were in on the joke. Ken Foree was obviously aware Death Spa isn’t Shakespeare (he had appeared in more than twenty projects between 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and this so he certainly knew the score) and The Omega Man’s Rosalind Cash looks like she understands the material as well. I can’t say the same about the rest of the cast.
Or the director for that matter. The gore is so incompetently filmed, sometimes you can’t even tell what’s going on. At one point the villain merely touches a victim’s face and you hear what sounds like someone crunching into an apple. The next time you see the victim, his face looks like a ball of freshly squeezed Silly Putty. (This prompted my girlfriend to ask, “What kind of fucking injury is that?“) In another scene (partially seen in the trailer above), a client straps his arms into a fly machine. When the machine inevitably attempts to kill him, you expect it to rip his arms right out of their sockets. Instead, a Capri Sun-sized amount of blood spills out of his left flank. The lame visual is accompanied by a sound effect like ripping paper.
Like I said, the movie gets a lot of laughs, but that laughter will be frequently broken by viewers asking, “Wait, what?”
The editing, too, is nonsensical. When Michael’s girlfriend (the absurdly attractive Brenda Bakke, who later played Charlie Sheen’s love interest in Hot Shots Part Deux) finds herself trapped in the steam room, she manages to shatter the glass on the locked door with her fist. In the very next cut, she’s falling to the floor in such a manner the back of her neck will hit first. At the exact moment of impact, they jump-cut to her lying on the floor unconscious and her legs are where her head should be according to the geography of the previous shot. In other scenes, the editor shows reaction shots of the actors doing no reacting whatsoever, which only adds to the campy brilliance.
As usual, it’s another film which rewards the viewers for sitting through the boring parts by tossing them the occasional bone or severed limb. If ever you needed a reason to set a movie in a health club, this is it: there are some very attractive people in this movie, including Chelsea Field. So why they chose a leading man who could have appeared in Quest for Fire without the need for makeup, I’ll never know.
By now you already know if this is your type of movie. If you’ve read this far, I think it’s safe to say it is. At only 88 minutes long, it’s brief enough not to outstay its welcome and you don’t have to wait long for the payoff. Any movie which stocks its cast with a paranormal investigator who carries a Luger is essential viewing as far as I’m concerned.
Come back at midnight Central Time for the next movie.
2 thoughts on “31 Days of Gore: Death Spa (1990)”
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