"Death Spa" (1989) Review
Yes, this is really called Death Spa (and if you were in West Germany, it was called Witch Bitch). In case you couldn't tell, this is going to be a schlocky horror film review, so strap in.
When you decide to watch a movie called Death Spa, you already know what you're in for, especially when you know that it's from the late 1980s. You go in getting ready to grade the movie on a curve, but I have to give credit where credit is due: Despite its absurd and borderline insane premise, I think I might really love Death Spa. Of all the ridiculous concepts in film to be this weirdly well-made, the concept of "a health club that's run by future tech that's killing people because it may or may not be possessed by the owner's dead wife" might be the most improbably awesome horror movie I've seen in a long time.
That part in quotes above is more or less the plot. A high end health club in Los Angeles is run by a complex computer system (or, a late 1980s version of a complex computer system) and a string of malfunctions threaten to close down the club that almost kill its customers. That's a bizarre premise to start with, but Death Spa ramps it up to eleven by involving the ghost of the health club owner's deceased wife. His wife committed suicide by pouring gasoline on herself while she was in a wheelchair, which is one of the movie's most striking visuals.
The visuals are Death Spa's most surprising part. Even beyond the standards of schlock horror, the cinematography is exceptional and impressive. The film's opening shot is a long tracking shot that starts on the L.A. skyline and moves through the parking lot of the health club, and into the club itself. The film heavily uses red and blue lights to style the film up, looking like a hybrid of Italian giallo films with American late 1980s horror films. The cinematographer, Arledge Armenaki, did the most work on this film and elevates the final product. What could have been a fairly forgettable horror film suddenly leaps to life, despite the constant absurdity.
Even a few of the actors are quirky and weird enough on their own to keep interest throughout. A paranormal investigator chews on scenery like no one's business, but he's nothing compared to the two detectives investigating the incidents at the health club. They have an intentionally dry sense of humor that caught me off guard. Some of the jokes don't land, but most of their jokes do, and that's the last thing I expected from a movie called Death Spa. I can't stop emphasizing how kneecapped this film is right out of the gate by its completely stupid premise, but it feels as if several pieces of the production decided to fight back and make the movie into something loveably weird.
Death Spa is technically not a good movie, but for fans of schlock horror, it's a surprising entry with a distinct madness all its own. The film constantly tops itself during the third act for gratuitous and nonsensical violence, and that's usually the most you can ask for from films like this, but the fact that it's so damn stylish and fun makes it worth seeking out.
Again, that's assuming you're into movies like this. If you're not, this isn't the schlocky horror film that's going to suddenly convert you over.