So I find myself having my evenings free away from society and this is the norm like many of us and as a guy who has a videostore I find the time should be used in the best way possible. To revisit old school horror films that are sitting on my shelves at the stop and give them another watch to remember why I either loved or hated them to begin with. Tonight that journey brought me to 1989’s DEATH SPA. Where to start with gem of a flick?
The 80s were all about the Jane Fonda work sessions and going to your gym to look good, work out, and possibly get picked up. I know that might still be a thing today but not to the extreme as that classic era. So the idea of having a paranormal who is the killer slasher flick in such a setting was new territory in the horror genre excluding the equally brilliant Killer Workout.
Our story begins at closing time at the “StarBody Health Fit” with one final person enjoying the steam room before closing up and going home. It is Laura, the girlfriend of the owner and operator of the establishment, and she is about to have a traumatic experience involving a chemical rain shower hitting her hard in a suddenly locked room. She frantically tries to break out of the room but the damage is done. She lives but her body is badly burnt and her eyesight is no more. But who could have done this? She was alone. Or was she?
We then see Laura’s boyfriend, Michael, rush to the hospital to check on her status as he was told through a phone call. Turns out Michael was at home so he’s probably not a suspect but before getting that call Michael is having some terrible dreams about his deceased wife Catherine. Images of her on fire in a wheelchair engulfed in flames. Needless to say that’s enough to make anyone wake up and on top of that getting the call that your current lady is basically blind from an accident that occurred in your gym? Shitty deal indeed.
So it turns out the Health Spa is one of these new futuristic gyms where everything is run by a super computer to make life easier for the customers. Ah, super computers in 80s flicks, what could go wrong here? Anyways, the man in charge of programming and the day to day operations in the tech room is none other than David, the brother of Michael’s dead wife. Not only was he her brother but twin brother at that! Crazy shit I know. So with the police investigating this “accident” naturally they think they oddball running the computer might be a suspect in this. Also they make it no secret that David can’t stand Michael and maybe holds him responsible for his sister’s brutal death. Personally I’m not sure why but I’ll get to that later. I would also like to point out that Merritt Butrick, the actor who plays David previously played a character named David that mainstream audiences would be familiar. He was known other than the son of James T. Kirk in Star Trek II and III years earlier. Sadly after filming Death Spa Butrick passed away at 29 years old.
So moving on.. after the cops leave it’s business as usual in the Spa as they are thinking accident. Meeting the supporting the characters that either work or workout there we are hit with brilliant 80s workout attire and blinding colours in this beautiful set design of a heath spa.
Among the notable standouts for genre fans is Marvin, good friend of Michael, who is played by the horror icon Ken Foree from Dawn Of The Dead and From Beyond. Watching a film like this makes you realize that yes, Mr. Foree is indeed and very big man. His character of Marvin seems to the person well loved by everyone in Spa. Come to think of it almost every role he’s played he generally comes off well liked. Even when he was on the toilet as Grizzly Joe in Rob Zombie’s Halloween I liked him. Anyways, moving on…
Still emotionally recovering from his girlfriend’s brush with death there is no time to relax for Michael as another “accident” takes place involving a diving board that almost kills a lovely lady. In less than a day two accidents that could have been fatal. Might wanna shut down and go over things? Nah..I’m sure it will blow over. Business as usual.
Anyways, back at Michael’s place we see him cook a lovely dinner for the temporary blind Laura and while he seductively feeds her an asparagus he tells her to move in with him so he can look after her. Michael seems like a solid guy. Good for Michael. But seriously guys, the asparagus scene was just bizarre. Like, I think I know what they were getting at but that was a serious WTF moment for me. And ya, I loved it.
Back at the Spa things are looking up for young boys who were watching this in the 80s on their VCRs as we get a very long and lovely shower scene that, by watching the making of the film, the director took extra long to film because he felt he was not getting the shot he wanted. Cheeky bastard. Anyways, the ladies are laughing and joking around while soaping up having a great old time until….
All fucking hell breaks loose! The water gets hotter and hotter burning the ladies. The tiles from the walls begin to explode off and hit the ladies like damn ninja throwing stars. I’m literally sitting watching this scene take place and smiling like an idiot because honestly, it just felt inspired. Luckily they all get out with minor wounds. Again. None of them quit their memberships. Strange.
But before you can say “Evil Super Computer” another gym member has a horrible mishap with a computerized arm press machine that literally tears his lower abs open. Now my friends…this is where the blood really starts to flow in this masterpiece. They never showed it but if this guy did not die they probably offered him three free months at the gym and he would have taken it I’m sure. It was the 80s. Anyways moving on…
So multiple injuries, probably atleast one death, his girlfriend blind, not trusting his brother-in-law David, and having visions, hearing voices and receiving messages from his dead wife Catherine on the computer you could say Michael is having a bad day. Now there is another side story involving the club lawyer and his lady that might also have them being the cause for this shit in trying to take control of the place but honestly it felt tacked on and never had a pay off so it’s not worth talking about. Plus I’m on my third whiskey as I type.
So with all that being said there is no doubt in Michael’s mind that some bad shit is coming for him. But the timing could not be worse because in a couple days is the big Mardi Gra party at work which has to on to bring new customers in. He hates the super computer that David is running in the gym but more importantly he senses an evil presence from Catherine in that building. Now maybe I blinked and missed something but it was never made clear why she burnt to death in movie. Maybe it was but I blanked out during that moment of important story telling. Regardless he might be convinced her spirit is pissed that he hooked up with Laura shortly after her death and now that ghost, using the computer, is trying to get her revenge on him and all in the gym. So naturally he approaches Zelda Rubenstein, I mean Dr. Lelo Moray, to invertigate the building after hours. I’m sure he’ll be fine all alone with his paranormal equipment.
Well surprisingly after Dr. Lelo is left on his own to investigate he stumbles across another poor victim of the Death Spa with her face melted off and then is confronted by a figure resembling Catherine who tosses him around, makes his hand explode off to a shower of blood, and the good doctor is never heard from again.
We then see scenes of David by himself at his place taking to what seems like his dead sister Catherine begging her to stop this madness before more people get hurt or die. But wait?! Isn’t she dead? Just what the hell is going on here? It is obvious David has some part to play in this evil but what exactly? He seems to be pushed around by his dead sister and must do what she says. Again…what the hell is happening here? I’m not sure but damn is it not fun.
It’s at this point where Michael goes to the cops for help convinced it’s David behind all of this. David and his stupid computer. They end up going to David’s place only to find women’s clothing and make up everywhere in his room. Now you might ask yourself is Catherine still actually alive and living with David? Is he hanging with the ghost of his dead sister? Or is David pulling a Norman Bates and dressing up like Catherine and when he does the dirty work? I mean, they were twins. A little make up, a wig, and a dress. You never know. The one sure thing is Sgt. Stone and her partner believe Michael and they will all be looking for him at the big Mardi Gra party at the Spa to solve this crime. A serious awesome side note for movie nerds is the actress that plays Sgt. Stone is none other than Rosalind Cash known to us genre fans in her roles from the Omega Man and Tales From The Hood!
Now I mentioned earlier there was a subplot involving the gym lawyer named Tom and his female helper. They were trying to pull a white collar crime to screw over Michael from ownership of the gym blah, blah, blah. It felt unneeded in the plot but the reason I bring this up again is because during the party when people are being pegged off one at a time by an unknown killer to the human eye Tom has a glorious death scene in a sauna. He’s about to get it on 80s style with a lovely lady when the heat keeps rising and rising in the room until Tom’s face goes….
You really have to love the 80s practical FX but that usually goes without saying. Anyways, with the cops staking out the party and David being banned from the computer room because Michael ordered all power off for not needed equipment because, you know, evil super computer, a mysterious woman enters the guarded room and seduces the employee assigned to watch it. Oh no, it’s Catherine and she kills the shit out of the poor guy!
It’s after this point Catherine takes the poor guy’s costume to blend in with the party because it’s a Mardi Gra themed event and everyone has masks. To make matters worse she sees poor blind Laura and assaults her in the tanning bed room with no one noticing she is gone. There she ties her up under the hot bed and is getting ready to fry her. This poor girl. Right from the beginning of the flick she gets a chemical shower, blinded, creeped out by David with a Screwdriver at home, and now has to deal with the psycho vengeful ghost of her boyfriend’s dead wife. Shitty deal…
Now Catherine heads back to the computer room and Michael shortly enters to confront his dead psycho wife who is controlling all the power during this party. She tells Michael if he kills himself and joins her in hell for eternity she will let Laura live and the others at the party. Hmm…tough call for Michael.
One thing leads to another and Michael gets out of that room leaving Catherine injured and pissed off behind. He makes his way to tanning room to get Laura untied before she fries but just like that the dead wife is there and starts fucking him up. But good old Ken Foree as best friend Marvin who is looking sharp at this party comes in to help. Surely a man of his stature can take out little old Catherine? Not a chance. She tosses him through a window having him land in the middle of a partying and dancing crowd. The funny thing about this climax and setting? No matter how many people are seen getting killed or injured by unknown forces the people around them are simply not caring. I shit you not, they keep dancing, drinking, flirting. Oh well, it was the 80s I guess.
So Michael eventually gets Laura untied because, and I completely forgot to mention this until know, he knew how to mentally fight the evil. Okay, so David has been no where to be seen but everyone is seeing Catherine. Well the kicker is Catherine has been using her twin brother’s body as vessel because he is too weak to fight her off and an overall weirdo regardless. So we have this scene with Michael saying “Fight her David! You are stronger!”. Hmm…this sounds familiar. Something about an old priest and young priest? Anyways, they keep cutting back and forth between David in the costume and Catherine. Actually the scene reminds me completely of the moments between the Gemini Killer and Father Karris in Exorcist III: Legion. A freaking beauty of a film!
Anyways, so the struggle gets to point where Catherine/ David eventually catch fire again along with the entire building which has been locked down all supernatural like with the evil back in head super computer room at the controls. Everyone at this party is gonna burn from this vengeful thing! Sound familiar?
Also during the insanity of the final act of this film how could not mention Sgt. Stone’s partner getting thrown into a freezer and killed by frozen sharp toothed fish coming to life and chewing his neck wide open. All this happened after he witnessed a young lady die by a chordless blender that would not let go of her arm. If this alone has not sold you on the film I give up.
So with the help of Sgt. Stone’s gun Michael breaks into the computer room and puts a stop to Catherine/ David’s evil ways with her being fully engulfed once again in flames leaving her a charred skeleton with some flesh still attached. Throw in one last jump scare with a reaching arm to be quickly ended with Stone firing off a few rounds of bullets into the smoldering body of evil.
With that the doors of the Spa open up and and the few survivors from this climax of blood, fire, and death slowly make their way out including Michael, Laura, Sgt. Stone, and Marvin. Come on, you knew they couldn’t kill Ken Foree off in this. One final shot of ghost/corpse/ Catherine/ David opening the eyes and roll credits.
Overall I can not stress how much must viewing this film is as a fan of an era were straight common sense has no place this world. Where the filmmakers threw as much nudity in a horror movie as possible to please the audience of the time. Where every splatter gore gag was a crowd pleaser regardless if it looked realistic or not. Where the plot at times was such a mess that it would leave most shaking their heads. For me though it was the horror movie tropes that made it live a powerful life in the 80s on the big screen and of course in our VCRs. So if you happen to making a trip down to the videostore anytime soon please ask the following..”Kev, please tell me you have DEATH SPA in right now?” If my answer is yes you know you have set yourself up for cinematic gold. As always thanks for reading. Now where is my drink….