Retro Review: ‘Death Spa’
The 1980’s saw an explosion in people looking to don bright colored spandex and start working out. Of course in an era when filmmakers were putting slashers into every conceivable place one of the many health clubs springing up at the time was just as good of a place as any. In 1989 the responsibility of turning such a place into a house of horrors fell to director Michael Fischa with the horror movie Death Spa.
At the Starbody Health Spa there is something going on that is definitely not best for owner Michael’s business. It begins when one of his employee suffers horrible burns in a sauna and things escalate from there. The blame seems to lie with the computer system integrated into the gym and controlled by the shifty David, Michael’s former brother-in-law. As those seeking to pump iron and get fit end up meeting gruesome deaths Michael is forced to turn to something more paranormal in nature as a solution as it could be the spirit of his vengeful wife coming back from beyond the grave.
While Mike Fischa’s filmography is far from expansive Death Spa proves he does have a talent for creating a striking visual language for a film. He creates a strange balance of moody lighting and obnoxious pastel colors leading something truly fun to look at. That being said other aspects of filmmaking he does not truly seem to have a grasp on like creating suspense or tension and most importantly keeping the flow going of an already disjointed script. Far too often he relies on montages of people working out to obnoxious music to pad for time as the movie tries to figure out what to do next. Let us be honest though, one does not watch Death Spa expecting a film school lesson, on watches Death Spa for the kills. While it is a shame gym equipment as a means to kill poor saps is not used more the violence is gruesomely fun and ridiculous. Standouts include a woman showered with acid in a utility room and a cop who gets his throat torn out by a frozen fish. That being said with a title like Death Spa you would expect more people being bent in half by an ab cruncher or having their face shaved off by a fast moving treadmill. We already have the kind of horror flick where we as an audience do not care about a single one of these unlikable characters (except for the always awesome Ken Foree playing one of the gym employees) so let them meet their fates by way of athleticism
It is by no stretch of the imagination a masterpiece but Death Spa is still the kind of movie you can turn on and have fun for an hour and a half. It has all the hallmarks of 80’s horror but without anything to truly make it standout from the pack. It is a shame because there is plenty of potential here but none of it truly ever comes to the surface. But it is a bonkers flick with plenty of great and ridiculous kills courtesy of an evil spirit looking to get revenge while teaching others the meaning of staying physically fit.