Released by: Dark Sky Films
Released on: May 27th, 2014.
Director: Michael Fischa
Cast: William Bumiller, Brenda Bakke, Merritt Butrick, Ken Foree, Sheri Shattuck
Year: 1989 Purchase From Amazon
So stupid. So gory. So much fun. Before we begin let me state it loud and clear. I love this movie. Now that that's out of the way...
DEATH SPA is a perfect storm of 80's Gorgonzola in almost every sense. A hilariously bloody horror film set in a then state of the art health spa (it has a COMPUTER!) the movie manages to hit just about every period-specific target of that era. Mindless dance music, weird headgear and spandex. Teased and tortured hair. Remember that horrific movie with Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta about the magazine writer and the hard bodied fitness instructor? DEATH SPA is the horror film version.
Michael Evans (William Bumiller) is toned, regularly propositioned by two hot women at once and owns The Starbody Fitness center. But this is no typical player of the era. He's a man dealing with some serious tragedy. A widower, whose wife committed suicide under grisly circumstances, he's haunted by her death and dealing with a very complicated relationship with his ex-brother in-law. The brother David (Merrit Butrick) is the tech mastermind behind the club's computer. This computer is the driving force behind the success of the Starbody because it can customize the various machines to the user's preferences and exercise regimens. Yes. This was a big deal then. When the machines start killing people in spectacularly gruesome ways suspicion immediately falls on the brother. His weirdly passive aggressive manner doesn't exactly get him off the suspect list either. Michael also has a new girlfriend who is the first victim (though not killed).
The plot is pretty standard slasher/third rate Hitchcock stuff until the third act when a medium (yes a quirky POLTERGEIST style medium) is wheeled in. At that point, DEATH SPA turn deliriously loopy with deliciously sexy Shari Shattuck wreaking all manner of havoc from beyond the grave. DEATH SPA succeeds on its balls-to-the-wall commitment to gooey practical fx and a complete unwillingness to compromise. Genre icon Ken Foree (DAWN OF THE DEAD) shows up as Michael's pal and fitness instructor just so we can get some sublimated homoeroticism in their gratuitous pool scene together. Two cops even show up to investigate the various deaths but are startlingly inept. Fletcher (Frank McCarthy from THE HIDDEN) and Stone (Rosalind Cash of OMEGA MAN fame) look completely out of place in this vacuous sex-crazed environment.
Does DEATH SPA deliver the chopped bone and gristle though? You bet! One guy gets split open like a rib cage special at a cannibal buffet. A woman gets her hand sucked into a high-speed blender and the blood shower is endless (and the screaming). People get burned. Benign wall tiles turn into potentially lethal projectiles. Steam rooms become inescapable death ovens. Often the effects are less than convincing on a medical level but they make up for it with lovable enthusiasm and bad taste. Many times the blood keeps gushing so long it turns into a three stooges homage. Mixed in with all this is some terrific terrible dialog.
The other salient characteristic of the goodness known as DEATH SPA is its PORKY'S level of interest in naked ladies and sex. The shower scene goes on quite a bit and the extras were cast from a local porno agency. This film wasn't made by puritans people. Take it on its own terms though and it's an absolute blast.
DEATH SPA looks quite good on its Blu ray debut. The 1080p AVC encoded 1.78:1 image has strong black levels and excellent visible detail and color reproduction. Print damage is confined to the opening credits and isn't particularly destructive to the viewing experience. DEATH SPA was given a 2K restoration and has a truly film-like appearance at all times. There has been some concern noted elsewhere about the overall softness of the image and loss of background detail in longer focus shots. It's certainly an issue but while the film would have benefitted from a 4K scan I found this transfer's minor flaws to be acceptable.
Audio is provided by a lossless DTS-HD MA track that utilizes a two-channel mono setup. Depending on one's audio decoder some very limited surround action will be heard. The score is a bit wall-to-wall but dialog is always clear even in the most chaotic scenes. There's also a surprising amount of LFE on display.
The two meatiest extras are the almost hour long making of documentary and a full length audio commentary from the director. The former is a very well done companion piece that charts the entire history of the film quite comprehensively using many key participants from the acting and production/producing ends. This was a film made with a lot of naive enthusiasm peppered with the help of a few industry vets but everyone displays genuine goodwill about the project in this piece. A must-see for fans.
The audio commentary from the director, producer and editor suffers from the participants watching the film for the first time in decades during the commentary. The personal chemistry is good but the track lapses into "watching mode" too often and misses the mark on information not covered in the documentary. A bit of a missed opportunity. You also get the theatrical and home video trailers with the home video one being the oddly more effective.
The Final Word:
DEATH SPA is both a total hoot and a great timepiece of the funniest aspects of some dark corners of 80's culture. Much like Spanish classic PIECES, DEATH SPA is "exactly what you think it is." If the poster charges your batteries go for it. Gory, fun and filled with absurdly violent joie de vivre I highly recommend it.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!