Judge Patrick Naugle's worst nightmare is Zumba.
You'll sweat blood!
Welcome to a workout that will get your heart racing…until it stops! A local spa has been having major issues with patrons coming in to sweat buckets and leaving in body bags! The spa's owner, Michael (William Bumiller), has a state-of-the-art center where computers control all of the workout equipment. Not surprisingly, this opens the spa up to all sorts of gruesome injuries and maiming once a seemingly malevolent supernatural force takes over and begins picking off the customers one by one. Now the steam shower, weight room, and basement boiler have become death traps that await the fresh blood of anyone carrying a full time membership to the Death Spa!
Death Spa has one of those truly unique, all-time great advertising images. The poster art (and Blu-ray art) features a curvaceous woman in spandex on a stationary bike while a muscular man works out on a piece of exercise equipment behind her. Oh, and the woman's head is a freakishly melted skull and the man's body is being gorily ripped apart by the machine. It's one of those images that's so graphic and yet so goofy that it could only have come from the 1980s. Lo and behold, here is director Michael Fischa's answer to the Jamie Lee Curtis / John Travolta howler Perfect, Death Spa! After years of being hard to find, this cult classic is finally making a long overdue arrival on Blu-ray and DVD.
I've sort of prided myself on seeking out some of the best "worst" horror movies of the 1980s. From the awesomely titled Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama to the underrated Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the decade of decadence spewed forth some of the most interesting and ridiculous horror movies in cinema history. Somehow, 1989's Death Spa slipped past my radar. How is it that I missed a movie about a murderous workout facility? Could it be that all these years I've been deprived of a lost horror gem? All I knew was if an elliptical machine eats someone, the film would be well worth my time.
Death Spa wastes no time getting to the moments of grizzle. The movie starts out with a woman being burned inside a steam spa and moves briskly to a bunch of other grisly deaths, most of them the result of workout machines from hell. The idea of the machines being controlled by a central computer system is both utterly stupid and exceptionally genius; although wildly unrealistic, at least it gives the filmmakers a way of terrorizing the guests without having to show an actual killer. Of course, on par with most movies of this ilk, the person who ends up being the killer isn't nearly as interesting had the movie just said, "Screw it, let's just say there was a faulty wire and the machines did it all by themselves!"
The C-level talent involved in Death Spa is…well, considered C-level talent for a reason. There isn't a performance given that raises the material above average, although it's probably not for a lack of trying. There's a fair amount of low-wattage genre power to be found here, including William Bumiller as the health club's attractive owner; Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) as one of the co-workers; pretty Chelsea Field (Prison) as Darla, a bubbly coed; and Brenda Bakke (Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight) as Michael's new love interest after the tragic immolation death of his wife. Also, there are many actresses who were paid a bunch of money to take off their tops and shower naked. I think they deserve to be mentioned because I'm pretty sure support from their families for their work in Death Spa was scarce.
For those looking for gratuitous gore and nudity, there's a copious amount, and if you don't know what copious means, you are the perfect demographic for Death Spa. During one scene a group of women shower together and are attacked by ceramic wall tiles being shot at them by high pressure steam vents. It's about as titillating as a Home Depot commercial, and twice as entertaining. Death Spa is filled with abhorrent yet hysterical dialogue. For example: "You blame the computer for tiles flying off shower walls! It doesn't control shower tiles, for Christ's sake!" For you cinematic romantics out there, Death Spa includes a love scene featuring a woman with whose face is covered with bandages being fed asparagus in the most erotic way possible, depending on how you feel about asparagus. I'd give you the context of the scene, but in a movie about a killer stair master, does it really matter?
Death Spa is presented in 1.85:1/1080p HD widescreen, and MPI's work on this transfer is pretty good, although fans shouldn't expect miracles considering the film's low budget origins. There are moments where the image looks crisp and clean, and other times where the picture appears washed out and fuzzy. It's a bit of a crap shoot as the movie goes on. Still, considering Death Spa hasn't seen the light of day in decades, fans will be thrilled with what they get. The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is very center-heavy, sans directional effects and surround sounds. Overall the dialogue, music, and effects are all easily distinguishable. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Bonus features include a commentary track with director Michael Fischa, producer Jamie Beardsley, and editor Michael Kewley, a fairly thorough documentary titled "An Exercise in Terror: The Making of Death Spa", a theatrical trailer, a video trailer, and a DVD copy of the film.
There is no redeeming value to Death Spa. No intrinsic message or moral we can take away from it, unless you count "don't use workout machines tied to Skynet" as good advice. Is the movie any good? Not really, although as an hour and a half time waster you could do much worse. I give the filmmakers high marks for trying to do something different with the horror genre even if they don't always succeed. Then again, there's only so much you can do with a movie about man-eating treadmills.
Junk food for your soul, which is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.
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