Thursday, May 17, 2012

Death Spa (1989) [filmed in 1987]

... aka: Witch Bitch

Directed by:
Michael Fischa

Few movies encapsulate everything that is 80s tacky better than this one. After a strenuous Flashdance-style workout, Laura (Brenda Bakke) decides to relax in the steam room and ends up receiving chlorine (!!) chemical burns over portions of her body that "nearly dissolves her, like an Alka Seltzer." Yes, something evil is afoot at Starbody Health Spa, which will soon earn its nickname "Death Spa." The place is a state-of-the-art facility and everything - including all of the machinery - is operated with a sophisticated computer system. Starbody owner Michael Evans (William Bumiller) - who lost his wife a year ago but is now dating Laura - will have some serious explaining to do to Sgt. Stone (Rosalind Cash) and Lt. Fletcher (Francis X. McCarthy) when more supernatural "accidents" occur and people start dying or turning up missing. A diving board comes loose and almost hits a girl on the head as she falls, shower tiles fly around and pelt a gaggle of nude women in the shower room and a man's torso is ripped apart when a resistance machine malfunctions. Close the place down? Hell no! They've still got a lucrative Mardi Gras party to throw!

Death Spa rather ineptly attempts to function as a mystery and sets up various possible suspects in the killings. Club manager Priscilla Wayne (Alexa Hamilton) discovered Laura after her accident, but what was she doing in the club after hours? And is she conspiring with Michael's lawyer Tom (Robert Lipton) to sabotage the club so they can buy him out? Michael's former brother-in-law David (Merritt Buttrick), who created and controls the sophisticated computer system, is a cross-dressing weird-o who blames Michael for his twin sister's death. But the real culprit appears to be the vengeful ghost of Michael's former wife Catherine (Shari Shattuck). After having a miscarriage and being confined to a wheelchair because of a spine injury, Catherine decided to end it all by covering herself with gasoline and torching herself. Michael is haunted by nightmares of the incident and begins seeing signs that she is haunting the place (messages from her on the computer, hearing her voice, etc.) He hires a parapsychologist to get to the bottom of things but he - as well as several others - vanish without a trace. Or as Lt. Fletcher says ""Fantastic weight reduction program: People get so thin they disappear."

Delivering a generous helping of both gore and female nudity (lots of beauties in this one) is only half of the battle. The other half is defeated by an overly complicated plot, poor lighting, terrible acting and ridiculously awful dialogue, which turn this into a laughable mess in no short time. Death is caused by acid meltdown, impalement, a shard of wood (which splits a head in two) and an exploding mirror (which blows someone apart). During one sequence, a man becomes trapped in a freezer and has his throat ripped out by a reanimated tuna (!!!) and in another scene a woman dies getting her hand stuck in a blender. Threre's an attempt to tan someone to death, a hilariously icky candlelit love scene where a woman seductively bites the tip off an asparagus, lots of shower and sauna scenes and several silly choreographed aerobics dance sequences. The finale features the killer laying waste to the club during the fundraiser party. There's really a lot of potentially entertaining stuff going on here but the film isn't as much fun as it should have been, though it does have its fans.

Ken (DAWN OF THE DEAD) Foree has a supporting role as a personal trainer, Tane McClure (daughter of actor Doug McClure) gets some practice at her later career as a soft porn star and Karyn Parsons (before her stint on the hit TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) has a small part as does the very lovely Chelsea Field. Director Fischa went on to make the teen horror-comedy MY MOM IS A WEREWOLF (1989).

MPI originally issued the film on VHS in both R and unrated versions. The alternate title Witch Bitch is apparently the slightly cut (though still adequately gory) version, which is also the version released on DVD by the German company Dragon Film Entertainment.



spookyx3 said...

should have loved it. wanted to love it. mostly just felt bad for ken foree wasting prime years as the owner's buddy. you already pointed out the scene where, right after failing to save a woman from having her arm puréed in a blender ("the fuckin' thing is unplugged!"), some guy gets _sucked_ into a walk-in freezer, and a thawed out fish leaps off the shelf and rips his throat open. DEATH SPA is no KILLER WORKOUT.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Nope, nowhere near as fun as Killer Workout. I still find it funny that this probably stole its title from KW, which features some vandals spray painting "Death Spa" on the gym!

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