Death Spa (1989)

AKA Witch Bitch

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Businessman Michael is the proud owner of a popular and highly automated health spa. But after a series of strange accidents befall the patrons and the police get called, Michael has to figure out who, or what, is trying to sabotage his high-tech club.

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Perhaps we should ask this guy. He’s got the hat. Surely he should know.

Oh, 80’s. Beautiful bastion of neon lights and excessive spandex. How I miss thee and your opulence. Your bright, gaudy colors. Your excessive gore. Your excessive nudity. You may very well be the sheer embodiment of tacky. And if you are than Death Spa may just encapsulate your pure essence. It’s got the lights. It’s got the gore. It’s got the babes. And yes, by god, it’s got the outfits.

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In other words: Spandex. Spandex everywhere.

What it doesn’t have is a particularly coherent plot. But like much else from the 80’s, it likes to go to the extreme, so that’s perhaps not too surprising.

The movie’s biggest issue is its attempt to work as a mystery. The film spends a lot of time setting up possible culprits for the accidents/disappearances/deaths piling up at the club. Is the high-tech computer malfunctioning? Is David, the computer’s programmer somehow behind it? What about the lawyer who’s trying to buyout Michael’s share of the club? Or how about Priscilla, one of the clubs workers who miraculously showed up after-hours and saved the first victim who was nearly taken out by…. chlorine gas? Holy hell.

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It’s her own fault for constantly going over the time limit.

The answer to the above questions is: None. ‘Cause it’s a damn ghost.

And no, that’s not a spoiler, because the movie goes and tips its hat to the real culprit fifteen minutes into the film when you ‘see’ an unknown force unscrew the bolts of the diving board right before Unnamed Gym Bunny #3 almost gets taken out.

So why spend all that time throwing in all those red herrings when you already know that something non-human is to blame? Who knows. Maybe they wanted to pad out the run time a little bit. Whatever the reason, the result is that there’s about half a dozen useless mystery sub plots going on here… and then there’s about a half dozen more plots involving sabotage, a psychic and possible incest between a man and his sister thrown into the mix just for good measure. All of that and more get thrown out there, and they all come and go so quickly that you don’t realize that most of them didn’t go anywhere until the movie’s already over.

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But a well reasoned plot is not why one watches Death Spa, because reason is not one of Death Spa’s strengths. No, one watches Death Spa to witness it’s excess and absurdity.

Those looking for titillation will likely not be disappointed, as there are several sauna and shower scenes, plus a bevy of attractive women in form-fitting swimsuits and leotards. Also, as previously mentioned, there’s quite a bit of gore in this one. Faces morph, blood spurts, heads explode. It’s all very excessive and over the top, often bordering on the campy, but it more than gets the job done.

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Of course, this wouldn’t be an 80’s horror movie without some truly bizarre moments. Let’s face it, most low-budget horror movies have their oddities. Most of them are related to the many death scenes littered through the second half of the film, but there are a couple memorable oddities that have nothing to do with death. Like our hero Michael here, trying to seductively feed a phallic piece of asparagus to his currently blinded girlfriend.

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I could put something witty here, but you can probably come up with something just as good on your own.

But the best of these such scenes is, of course, related to death. I feel I shouldn’t give too much away. But suffice it to say that it involves a meat freezer, a frazzled cop and a reanimated fish (Pike? Tuna? Barracuda? I don’t know what the hell it is) brought back to life… with a taste for blood.

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Cheap, Cheap, motherf*&%er!

For something that was released direct-to-video, Death Spa looks surprisingly sharp. The blacks are deep and the colors, in their full, oftentimes neon glory, are sharp and vibrant. I was also surprised that many of the scenes were also very attractively framed. There is a bit of a persistent graininess to the entire film, but as a whole Death Spa looks leagues better than most might likely expect given the film’s cover. I must admit that there were a couple times when I myself was distracted by how nice some of the scenes looked.

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As for the performances, well, they’re kind of hit or miss. The late Merritt Butrick does the best at hitting it out of the park as David, the slightly possesed, likely incestuous twin brother of Michael’s deceased wife. He’s in charge of the high-tech computer system that runs the gym and some of the equipment, and he does a stand-up job of not reassuring anyone that the system is running perfectly and not killing anyone, all while people are dying and disappearing around him. Hell, dude is creepy as hell even when he’s not really meant to be creepy. That takes effort.

Meanwhile, William Bumiller’s Michael comes across as pretty bland for a lead and his girlfriend Laura (Brenda Bakke), while relatable enough, is also far too trusting considering somebody clearly tried to kill her with chlorine gas at the beginning of the film.

But my favorite character is probably St. Stone, played by Rosalind Cash. She and her partner are the two hard-nosed detectives tasked with finding out what the hell is wrong with this health spa. But by the end of the movie she is just DONE. She’s done with all these deaths, she’s done with the damn spa and, most of all, she’s done with the damn computer system.

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“F*&% this computer shit!” ←-Actual Quote
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And what the hell is this?!
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F*%# it! It gets shot too.
I love you, angry black woman. You are my hero.So Death Spa ends up as sort of a period-piece of 80’s horror spectacle. And I’m not just talking about the gooey gore and excessive nudity. It’s also in the outfits, the colors, the hairstyles, the interior design and the time period specific dance choreography. The whole film is pretty much just campy horror fun rolled up into less than 90 minutes. Is it perfect? No. The story meanders quite a bit in the second half and none of the acting would be what I would consider ‘great.’ But the film looks good and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Hell, by the end it doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Sometimes you just gotta say “F*%$ it” and go with it. And these guys did. I can respect that. So if you’re a fan of campy horror, or the 80’s in general, you’ll probably find some fun in this.

Death Spa is currently available for streaming on Amazon.

It has also received a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

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