Death Spa

You'll sweat blood!

Year of Release: 1989
Also Known As: Witch Bitch
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
Running Time: 87 minutes (1:27)
Director: Michael Fischa


William Bumiller ... Michael Evans
Brenda Bakke ... Laura Danvers
Merritt Butrick ... David Avery
Robert Lipton ... Tom
Alexa Hamilton ... Priscilla Wayne
Ken Foree ... Marvin
Rosalind Cash ... Sgt. Stone
Francis X. McCarthy ... Lt. Fletcher (as Frank McCarthy)
Shari Shattuck ... Catherine
Hank Cheyne ... Robert
Chelsea Field ... Darla
Joseph Whipp ... Dr. Lido Moray


Hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn. This one is shapely, beautiful, demonic - and dead. She's also insanely jealous - and one by one, the beautiful people of her husband's health club become victims possessed by her evil spirit... and each meets a grisly death.


Death Spa, remindin' all my fellow couch potatoes that we may die fat, ugly, and alone, surrounded by KFC buckets and porno tapes - but at least we'll be safe from all the jealous, over-attached zombie ex-wives of health spa franchisees with computer programmin' degrees from ITT Tech.

Speakin' of power-hungry shrews though, every time I start thinkin' maybe this governor of ours is an alright broad she goes and stuffs a potato right up my tailpipe. Like last year she got a law passed allowin' us to hunt big game with our pickups like God intended, but next thing you know she turns around and shuts down Walleye's Topless Dancin' & Bait Shop and has the audacity to claim it ain't an "essential service." You'd think a bisexual tomato like her'd understand the importance of regular exposure to bunker buster mammary missiles, but no - she claims visitin' strip clubs right now could lead to an explosion of boobonic plague cases, and so we all have to suffer. And right after I finally finished payin' off the damages my game of Light Socket Darts caused to the place's electrical system, too.

Fortunately Wade Sawyer, the old fart who owns the place, had a plan. Course it was exactly the kinda plan you'd expect from somebody old enough to remember sneakin' into nudie cuties to get his jollies, but Wade figured he could try stayin' afloat by goin' on public access cable and havin' the dancers perform custom made routines requested by pathetic shut-ins willin' to pony up enough scratch, which, let's face it, is just about all of us ever since the bowlin' alley closed up.

I tried explainin' the concept of the cam girl to Wade, but he just scrunched his face up like a constipated bulldog and said: "Son, I been in the titty game longer'n you've known you wanted 'em - I think I know what I'm doin'." Which is no skin off my soup, cause tryna stream hooter-cize videos on dial-up ain't much better'n tryin' to make out whether you're lookin' at an ass or an elbow through a scrambled pay-per-view image anyway, but I think Wade may've upset some folks when he had Mandi Tuggles go up on stage wearin' nothin' but a surgical mask and dance to Weird Al's "Like a Surgeon." Wade never would divulge who paid for that or how much, but if you ask me that routine had Sadie Bonebreak written all over it.

I think what finally got the FCC involved though was when Chastity Dollarhide came out in an Easter Bunny suit sufferin' from the worst case of moths I'd ever seen. Apparently her pop, Reverend Dollarhide, just happened to be channel surfin' at the time and caught sight of her cottontail, and that was pretty much the final straw.

We been tryin' to get Wade outta jail for the last two weeks, but it's been tough comin' up with the jack since mosta his patrons blew all their Trump stimulus bucks gettin' the strippers to perform tasteful acts of debauchery before the Fun Crushers Cooperative called the station and demanded they pull the plug. I got my lawyer, Cletus Rubenstein, on the case and he thinks he can get Wade released on bond if we can prove to Judge Wrathis that the airing was educational programming intended to help disadvantaged high school girls learn a trade they can jump into after graduation, but we've got our work cut out for us.

Meantime though, if anybody wants to make a donation to the "Free the Chickawalka Knockas" initiative, just stick it in an envelope and drop it through the mail slot at Walleyes and our treasurer, Tetnis, will graciously accept your contributions. Just don't go bangin' on the door before 9 or he's liable to socially distance your teeth from the resta your face.

Fortunately I had the good sense to tape Wade's foray into the world of scripted, local entertainment, so I've been supplementin' my unemployment with a few on-the-side video sales until this Corona Borealis business peters out. Thing is, after watchin' it about three or four times your eyes begin to wander and you start seein' things about Walleye's that you've never noticed before - like Trixie Willager's dip can, and this big stain on the curtain that I think might be blood from that time Arvin Spickle climbed up on stage and tried lickin' Tanya Bibbens' feet back in '94 where she roundhouse kicked 'im so hard that he went face-first into speaker. Stuff like that. Walleye's is pretty disgustin' now that I think about it.

But the point is eventually you get so grossed out that you feel like you need a shower, and since I'd already had one a few days before I decided to watch Death Spa instead, which is the next best thing since just about every woman in the cast besides Karyn Parsons takes a shower in it. Death Spa's a lot like Killer Workout cept it has a harder time keepin' the microphone outta frame, but other'n that it's in the upper echelons of Personal Fitness Horror, which is definitely one of your more neglected subgenres. You're prolly still skeptical, and that's okay, but if you'll just take a look at this sampling of the knowledge you stand to gain by basking in its glorious, neon wisdom, I'm confident you'll come around. First, never, ever look at another woman for longer than it takes to say: "I'll have the meatloaf," cause not only is your girlfriend gonna remember it for the rest of 'er life - she's also gonna remember it in her vengeful, psycho-kinetic afterlife. Second, when all the locker doors in the dressin' room start swingin' open under their own power and gaspin' for air, it's prolly time to wash your unmentionables. And third, if your Mardi Gras party has less topless women than an average workday, the punch ain't strong enough.

The movie begins in the world's only health spa with an aerobic dance studio lit to accommodate both the Jane Fonda Workout and the developing of film, where this slice of cheesecake (Laura) is practicin' 'er Flashdance routine until Ken Foree comes in and tells 'er to lock up once she's finished slidin' around in her stocking feet like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Cept first she hasta shuck off 'er yoga pants and glisten in the steam room a little bit and next thing you know the thermoregulator on the sauna engine gives out and steams 'er clam and she ends up havin' to go to the E.R. so they can iron out all 'er wrinkles. The next day, two agitators from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Spandex show up at the spa to inspect the HAL unit that controls all the workout equipment and interrogate Captain Kirk's son (David) who's supposed to be makin' sure nobody gets Aerobicized to death. They think he mighta had somethin' to do with the accident, but he's got an air tight alibi cause he has AOL chat logs provin' he was up all night pretendin' to be a teenage girl on instant messenger. Only while that's goin' on, the vengeful spirit of Ryan Lochte's swimmin' career unscrews the bolts on the bottom of the high dive while this fox named Darla with built-in life preservers is practicin' can openers and purt'near gets 'er brain caved in when it snaps off.

As you can imagine, all this wanton destruction of the female form is bad for business, and if left unchecked, could result in a precipitous drop in membership renewals by pasty, under-developed wimps who only come in to watch the girls do toe-touches in their see-through leotards. Unfortunately, the boss (Michael) has problems of his own, and he ends up passin' out on his desk and finds 'imself on the receivin' end of some pretty heavy symbolism in the form of a dream where his dead wife is standin' next to a burnin' wheelchair at sunset, which if I know my Jungian Psychology, represents his subconscious tryin' to remind 'im it's his turn to bring the hot wings to the annual charity softball tournament. Then a buncha gals in neon cling wrap audition as background dancers for a Janet Jackson video and go to hose off in the shower, only some sadist goes and flushes every single toilet in Los Angeles and all the faucets start blastin' scalding hot water til everyone's buns get seared. That ain't even the worst of it though, cause while that's happenin' this guy who looks like he tells drunk women at the bar he's John Stamos is tryin' to Soloflex his pecs, when all the sudden the machine switches itself over to the Hulk Hogan setting and makes 'im strain so hard that his abs split open like he's givin' birth to twin spiral hams and he ends up bleedin' out all over the Nautilus equipment. Course by now Mike's startin' to think maybe David forgot a period in Cobol or somethin', but nobody wants to close the spa down for repairs cause it's almost time for the big Mardi Gras party and they're anticipatin' a whole lotta Danskin malfunctions, so they just shrug and decide to roll with it.

Then Mike picks up Laura from the burn ward and takes 'er home so they can get romantic listenin' to this instrumental Time Life Music cassette that sounds like there's about to be a shootout in 1860s Mexico, and he invites 'er to move in with him even though 'er eyes melted into Cadbury egg fillin' in the steam room. Back at the club though, all the locker doors're bangin' around like somebody just lost every ounce of dignity they had on The Gong Show, and makin' this fox so nervous that you could give 'er a breast cancer screenin' just by starin' at 'er top while she hyperventilates, until somethin' gnarly comes flyin' outta one of the lockers and gives 'er a tracheotomy. Then Mike's computer starts sendin' 'im clingy diagnostic reports and he keeps dreamin' about his ex-wife bathin' in unleaded and settin' 'erself on fire like Richard Pryor til he's convinced she's back from the dead and still P.O.'d about that time he got 'er a vacuum cleaner for 'er birthday. So he decides to go see this weirdo with an office that looks like he bought a Sylvia Browne parapsychology starter kit over the phone, and hires him to exorcise the spa and figure out whose bikini bottoms keep cloggin' the pool filter. Then this other bimbo goes rootin' around in the basement lookin' for nookie and the sprinkler system kicks on and starts sprayin' acid all over 'er face til she turns into a spokesmodel for Gore-eal cosmetics. Unfortunately, the Astrology course the geek investigator took at the community college didn't cover what to do in the event of hostile undead spouses in slinky negligees, and the Ghost of Bitchmas Past basically makes like the Pinball Wizard and batters the guy all over the basement until his skull caves in like a rusty septic tank.

Then Mike and Ken finally get wise to the Ghostluster and go investigate David's pad, only they can't help but notice how the place looks like Dee Snyder used it for a changin' room and decide they'd better hire a bouncer to handle any drag queens tryna crash their Mardi Gras party. Cause how big a job could *that* be, right? Don't work though, cause the shrew shows up at the party and all attempts at taming prove ineffective as she squeezes the security guard's head til it makes a noise like a milk jug bein' run over by a dump truck. Then she stuffs Laura in a tannin' booth and forces us to look at the 5 'o clock shadow in Laura's armpit five or six times and threatens to crank it up to the Strom Thurmond setting if Mike don't commit suicide so she'll have somebody to take 'er to all the great parties she's been missin' out on at Walt Disney's beachfront property on the River Styx. Course Mike's cup pretty much runneth over with aerobic dance instructors, so even after the ex starts faxin' over harassing dot matrix printouts he's really not sure Laura's life is worth an eternity of sharin' a bed with Alex Forrest from Fatal Attraction, and that makes 'er so mad that she hasta use 'er brainwaves to ram a 2x4 through the face of some dork who's tryin' to goose his date in the sauna and make pink slime pour out all over the place until the bamboo flooring gets warped. I don't wanna spoil the ending, but after bein' spurned by Mike for about the 8th time in the span of 15 minutes, undead wifey starts losin' control of 'erself and havin' a gender identity crisis in mission control as David tries reclaimin' his possessed husk from 'er kung fu grip, so you might wanna stick around for that part.

Alrighty, I trust everyone enjoyed that opening sequence where poorly superimposed lightning partially knocks out the power to the "STARBODY HEALTH SPA" sign on the building, leaving only the letters necessary to spell out "DEATH SPA," cause that's about as clever as this flick ever gets. Kinda lacks the subtlety of the missing "o" at the end of the Motel Hell sign, but I liked it. Death Spa was ridin' the tiny, tiny coattails of Killer Workout at a time when there were approximately 58,000 aerobic workout shows on daytime TV all competing to melt the cellulite off your shiftless, unemployed hinder, and in fact, there's a scene in Killer Workout where you see the words "Death Spa" spray-painted in graffiti below "Aerobicide" (the vastly superior European title) on a window, so there ya go. Unfortunately, Death Spa came out at the end of the decade, and even though these days we consider every '80s Horror film to be precious, the decade's best days were behind it. The MPAA'd made it the scapegoat of most of society's ills, there weren't a lot of fresh ideas left, and many of the independent studios had, or were in the process of folding, so there wasn't a whole lotta money out there for these kinds of flicks, and consequently, the production values blow chunks. The script is a mess, and the director either had zero control over his film, or didn't have a clear vision in mind for what it was supposed to be to begin with. Additionally, you've got scenes ending so abruptly as to render them gratuitous, a shot where an entire microphone is visible, and a needlessly complicated subplot involving the spa owner's lawyer/business partner attempting to sabotage the place so it'll fail, allowing him to... I guess, buy the owner out and rule over a failed health spa. The very idea that a movie with a title like Death Spa could have an over-complicated plot runs counter to just about everything you've learned as a student of '80s Horror, but I'm tellin' ya, it's the by-God truth. Apparently the writers weren't content with a script centered around a vindictive, jealous, specter of an ex-wife murdering all the foxy young temptresses shakin' their maracas at her widower ex-husband's place of business, so they added in the treacherous business associate subplot. Which if you haven't seen the flick, might sound like a red herring intended to serve as a possible explanation for all the paranormal happenins, but the angle is resolved too soon for it to work that way, so who the heck knows what these people were thinkin'. Or maybe they weren't thinkin' at all, and to understand the flick's mise-en-scene the viewer ain't supposed to think either. Okay, I just used the term "mise-en-scene" in a review of Death Spa, which means we really, really need to move on.

Don't worry though, we've survived lousier '80s flicks than this one, and any movie that features a demon possessed cross-dressin' computer programmer with psycho-kinetic slasher powers can't be all bad. The plot, as previously mentioned, has gratuitous subplot boggin' it down, although to be fair, that part's actually pretty funny in a "so bad it's good" way. My objection has more to do with the psycho poltergeist broad, and the fact that the movie never explains the rules - I HATE when you don't know the rules where it concerns the monster. Is she ever actually a physical presence? Or is it her brother anytime you see her, even though they don't really look that much alike? And if she can unscrew the bolts on the bottom of the high dive and physically affect the environment, why do we even need her to be possessing her brother's body at all? You might say: "well, the brother is the only one with the expertise to program the computer, which is inexplicably linked to all the fitness equipment through wifi circa 1989," but by the end of the flick she's nukin' everybody in sight with her zombie ex-wife lightnin' bolts of doom and makin' zero effort to hide her presence, so why do we need all this plot muckin' up the story? The spooky ghost chick has psychic voodoo powers - that explains everything, that's all ya need! Cripes almighty, people. The movie's budget looks to've been fished up outta the wishing fountain in front of a nearby mall after dark - so how's about we just keep things simple? The acting ranges from mediocre to downright green, with multiple characters' lines being dubbed over in post production, and there's generally only three reasons to do that: 1) the movie's Italian, 2) some jack wagon lost the audio reel, or 3) the delivery stank. What really baffles me, though, is that they got Ken Foree to be in the flick; he's the only actor anybody's heard of at the time, and they do exactly squat with him. Okay, we know you know Ken's a genre guy, otherwise you wouldn't have hired him - so why in the hell is he bein' pitched through windows while dressed like Aladdin instead of kickin' bleach-blonde zombie behind? How do you people sleep at night? Oh, and Karyn Parsons is basically the only woman in the entire cast who doesn't get nekkid in this thing, ask me if I'm happy about that.

Here's who matters and why (cept Ken Foree): William Burmiller (Species, The Dark Mist), Brenda Bakke (Demon Knight, Groom Lake, Trucks, Solar Crisis), Merritt Butrick (Star Trek II - III, Fright Night 2, Wired to Kill), Robert Lipton (Morella), Alexa Hamilton (Trash Fire, Dragonfight, The Invisible Woman 1983), Rosalind Cash (The Omega Man, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension, From a Whisper to a Scream, The Watts Monster, Tales from the Hood), Francis X. McCarthy (Interstellar, The Man with Two Brains, The Relic, Alien Nation, Altered States), Shari Shattuck (Scream at the Devil, Arena, Desert Warrior, Uninvited, Chelsea Field (Masters of the Universe, The Birds II, The Dark Half, Dust Devil, Prison), Joseph Whipp (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, World's End, The Hidden, Amazons), Karen Michaels (Witchcraft), Tane McClure (Revamped, Death House, Crawlspace), David Shaughnessy (voiced Sir Didimus in Labyrinth), Ed Hooks (Raising Cain), Lyle Howry (Interview with Terror), Helen Kelly (They Live, Amazon Women on the Moon, Dudes, Munchies, Real Genius, Night of the Comet, Trancers, Dreamscape, Testament, Halloween II 1981).

It's silly how many of these folks managed borderline successful careers after this flick, and while I have no explanation for how it happened, I can at least tell you that the following credits are somehow real: William Bumiller (Sean McCulloch on Guiding Light), Brenda Bakke (Selena Coombs on American Gothic, Michelle Rodham Huddleston in Hot Shots Part Deux), Merritt Butrick (Johnny Slash on Square Pegs), Rosalind Cash (Mary Mae Ward on General Hospital) Shari Shattuck (Ashley Abbott Howard on The Young and the Restless), Hank Cheyne (Anton Vargas on Saints & Sinners, Ricardo Torres on Sunset Beach), Vanessa Bell Calloway (Carol Fisher on Shameless, Lady Ella on Saints & Sinners), Karyn Parsons (Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).

The special effects are atrocious, but for a low budget cheese-fest like this, that's where all the entertainment value comes from, so I'm givin' 'em my blessing. Basically when there's no money for effects you've got two choices: 1) don't bother until you absolutely have to and put the audience into a coma for the sake of your personal dignity in the process, or 2) say "the hell with it" and let the ketchup fly. These guys went with option two, and that's exactly what the doctor ordered - we got super runny blood that borders on Pepto Bismol at times, a gooey melting mannequin face with foaming Alka Seltzer tablets, a mystery projectile tracheotomy from nowhere, abdominal muscles literally ripped to shreds, and they're all pitiful, yet utterly without shame, so they totally made the right call with their gore. The fire suit sequence was pretty good though, for what it's worth. The shooting locations are surprisingly good, with the bulk of the film being shot in a shuttered dance studio the crew was able to successfully retrofit. The place is absolutely believable as a health spa, and they were able to build all the major fixtures an audience expects from a movie set in such a location, complete with glorious '80s decor, costuming, and atmosphere. Beyond the spa, there's the brief hospital scene which looks to be a reasonable facsimile of, if not a real hospital (note the "Dr. Davis, telephone please" line that comes out of the speaker, which is pulled from the Queensryche song "Eyes of a Stranger"), as well as a few residences likely owned by crew members or their friends. So a nice job there. The soundtrack, while nowhere near the high standards of its sister film, Killer Workout, is okay. It's got a low-rent feel about it, but it's unmistakably '80s both in its instrumentals and goofy pop/rock songs, and despite not being especially memorable, it fits well tonally with the special effects and the set, particularly the mega-cheesy "Killer Groove" tune that plays during the closing credits. That said, the numbers don't add up to a passing score. The flick's just a bit too chintzy for me, even though there are things I like about it. Still, you could do a lot worse, and if your bar for fun is even a fraction of an inch lower than mine, you may find a new favorite schlockfest in this one, cause it's straddling a very fine line between trash and treasure.

Rating: 52%