Death Spa (1989) – It’s Actually Just A Death Gym

Release Date
December 1, 1989
Genre
Horror, Gore
Runtime
1hr 28m
Rated
R
Our Score
3.5

 

Death Spa can really be boiled down as Jurassic Park but if the dinosaurs were instead exercise equipment, and also haunted.

What?

That’s exactly the reaction I had sitting through the hour and a half monstrosity. I’ll try to whittle down the plot as succinctly as possible:

Michael owns a state of the art, futuristic and completely automated Starbody Health Spa. His wife, Catherine, gives birth to a stillborn baby, but ends up paralyzed, so she lights herself on fire and kills herself so she can haunt the health spa. I think?

Already shaping up to be a solid bad movie. 

Our “Death Spa” is Starbody Health Spa is (apparently) a state of the art facility, with it’s own control room straight out of cold-war era propaganda films.

There’s giant consoles with lots of little blinking lights. The person who mans the control center is the twin brother of the self-immolated wife of our lead… but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

 

Convenient that the name of the gym has just enough letters to spell out the title of the film.

The film starts out with immediate nudity (heh, nice) as a woman, after gym hours, gets naked in the sauna. She’s super sweaty and the film spends excessive time panning over her body as if being in a sauna is just the sexiest thing ever.

Unfortunately for her, chlorine gas is piped into the room and kills her. But not exactly. We find out later she survived and is just blinded by the chlorine gas. Enter our hero, who we’re introduced to sleeping on a couch with a TV.

Our “hero” is the widower owner of the health club, Michael. The woman injured in the sauna turns out to be his new girlfriend. Soon enough, things really go south and people are injured or killed left and right throughout the high-tech gym. David runs the control center, and he’s the emotional twin of Catherine, distraught she killed herself and blames Michael. The success of the health club skyrockets Michael’s business so that the club is brimming with women who want to bang Michael.

You need a keycard to use any exercise equipmentYou need a keycard to use any exercise equipment
Literally the entirety of the workout room.Literally the entirety of the workout room.
Women in the 1980s also exercise in swimwear?Women in the 1980s also exercise in swimwear?

Here’s where the film starts putting down too many threads and potential red herrings. The film is so disjointed that it forces you to ask so many stupid, ridiculous questions. Questions like, is the health spa TOO futuristic and has a mind of its own like Skynet or HAL and kills the patrons? Is it the ghost of dead wife Catherine who is haunting her husbands club and killing it’s members? Or is it David, distraight and dressing up in Catherine’s clothes and killing people like Norman Bates in Psycho? Or is Catherine possessing David who’s dressed up as her and killing people through him? The answer, oddly enough, is “all of the above.”

There’s too many moving parts, and too many moments in the film that require forgiveness or straight up being ignored in order to chug toward the sloppy ending. David refuses to believe that his scientific systems are not foolproof (even though he’s one of the murderous culprits), every other character reveals too much personal information at the drop of a hat (because they talk like they’re in a movie), but Death Spa did manage to achieve close-quarters catch with a football over a decade before Tommy Wiseau popularized it.

At least we’re treated to chummy homoerotic splashing.

Things get a little harrier at the health club after MANY things malfunction due to the automated nature of the gym. Things that should not be automated, apparently are with some notable examples being: the diving board at the pool. The diving board unscrews itself from it’s platform and breaks apart, nearly killing a woman trying to do a totally sick gainer. Also the women’s showers are completely automated, and we see a bunch of naked women terrorized.

How, might you ask? Was it through the water overheating and burning people alive? Only a little. The electricity being introduce to the water and electrocuting them? No. Instead, the shower tiles fly off the walls to pummel, smash and stab at the beautiful naked 1980s women.

Michael finally takes the hint and wants to do something to save his health club and protect his members. So naturally, he hires a bald Paranormal Investigator because this movie didn’t have enough ham in it already. The PI agrees, for a fee, to spend time at the spa to see if he can find the source of the haunted debauchery.

He has to do it soon, too, because even though members are dropping left and right, the health club remains open, and Michael has a huge Halloween bash planned. Suffice to say, things do not go well for the PI.

The P.I. holding up some blinking bullshit. The P.I. holding up some blinking bullshit.
Blending in with the regulars at the bottom-lit crystal makeshift wrestling ring?Blending in with the regulars at the bottom-lit crystal makeshift wrestling ring?
Oh, yeah. He also legit pulled a gun on the ghost. Oh, yeah. He also legit pulled a gun on the ghost.

Death Spa Spoiler Alert: The paranormal investigator dies. There’s so much insanity that’s peppered throughout this film that constantly has you asking “WTF?” and not in the good way. For most of the film we’re left in the dark about the actual villain, and led to believe it’s “just” an ethereal ghost. So it becomes super strange when Catherine’s ghost walks by the full women’s changing room, in the middle of the day, and says aloud to a woman: “Here’s a note for you” and hands over a physical note. From a ghost.

note1
note2
note3

Just to re-fucking-iterate: A ghost hands off a false-flag note, with a map. We’re led to believe a ghost drew a map of the basement by hand in order to lure down this woman to kill her. It’s absurd. The truth is a little more… bizarre. Turns out Catherine’s ghost is able to possess the body of her twin, David. When she does, she actually looks like herself. As in, David straight up transforms into Catherine.

Einhorn is FinkleEinhorn is Finkle
Finkle is EinhornFinkle is Einhorn

All this time, Catherine has been killing people in the gym with the intent for Michael to kill himself, so he can join her in hell. Because she really misses her hubby. No lie, while watching this explanation on screen, I was in a daze. I literally repeated under my breath “This is a weird reveal” several times and had to be told I was doing so. It’s like I was in a mental fetal position.

But this “weird reveal” begs the question: if she can just possess David’s body but still be herself… why doesn’t she just do that forever? If she really wants Michael, just… forget about David. Michael seems progressive enough to get over that mental hurdle of banging his possessed brother in law. Or Catherine could possess Michael’s new girlfriend. That’s too happy of an ending for this film.

There’s one moment in Death Spa, which I think encapsulates the entire tone, feeling, and emotional response to Death Spa, and it’s so subtly glorious. At one point the police are eating as they talk about the case. There’s a prominent sign promoting Coca-Cola in the background, but our actor is instead drinking Shasta Cola. Shasta.

Actual Quotes:

– “Die with me and live together in hell!”
– “Besides, I’m Beta, you’re VHS.”

Other Notable Moments:

  • The cops get involved early on after the first chlorine gas accident. The cops find everything about the gym immediately suspicious.
  • I really like the scene where a woman offers a man a cup of coffee, and we stop all the action and dialogue to watch her walk to get the pot of coffee, pour a cup, and walk back to hand it to him. Instead of using any sort of cuts to imply action.
  • These people live in a universe where they have pasta sauce instead of blood.
  • I wrote down in my notes “I don’t know what the ruck is going on” three different times. I was so taken aback I couldn’t even swear.
    If Catherine is paralyzed then WHY DOES SHE STAND WHEN SHE SELF-IMMOLATES?

Prominent Death/Gore Scenes:

  • A man has his face just… squished by a woman’s palm.
  • A man has his ribs break through his skin after a haunted “Pec Deck” he’s strapped to goes rogue.
  • A cop is sucked into a walk-in freezer and killed by a haunted frozen fish, in a scene that needs to be seen to be believed:
    Click here to watch this scene in all it’s gory… I mean, glory. 
  • A woman is stabbed through the neck by… a… gym locker? The locker room lighting is so poor it’s hard to tell.
  • Another woman is generally melted by acid pouring out of the basement fire sprinklers.
  • The Paranormal Investigator gets his hand blown off (somehow) and thrown around like a ragdoll until he dies.
  • A woman is cooked to death in the only tanning bed in the entire facility.
  • While making out in the sauna, a…. nondescript thing pierces a man’s entire head to show that his brains are made of peach yogurt.
  • Woman dies after a blender secures itself over her arm. Apparently the automated gym controls that too.
  • One woman just straight up… explodes for some reason.
  • Most of the gym burns down and it’s not clear how many people died from that.
  • The film literally ends with David/Catherine’s burnt and smoldering husk screaming, followed by his eye popping and exploding. Roll Credits.
A must-see for fans of 80's Horror. Probably literally nobody else.
GORE7.8
NUMBER OF SPAS0.3
TIMES I WANTED TO DIE6.1
SHASTA COLA PRODUCT PLACEMENTS0.7
RECOMMEND?6.2
Positives
Fun use of practical effects
Most of the unlikable characters die
Negatives
Terrible Lighting
Oh, terrible everything else, too
3.5

Watch the trailer for Death Spa:

 

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