Jump Cuts: “Death Spa”
May 25, 2014 , 1:00 pm | By Bryan Reesman
“Jump Cuts” reveals the thoughts that swirl through my head as I watch famous (or infamous) movies. This time it’s Death Spa, a late ’80s horror flick about a health club that may be stalked by a murderous killer or haunted by a sinister spectre with crazy powers. Either way, loads of people die. And the ghost, if she is a ghost, is pretty sexy. But hey, she’s a spirit of the ’80s.
1. The script was written and revised between 1983 and 1985. The movie has a copyright date of 1987 but was reportedly released in 1989. B-movie camp really needs time to ferment.
2. What’s scarier than the fact that this low-budget gorefest got an HD transfer is the fact that they recorded a full-length commentary and made a 51-minute behind-the-scenes documentary about its creation. Then again, I always wondered what went through people’s heads when they made movies like this. Now I know. I actually watched it all. And learned a lot. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
3. The death by biting from the animated corpse of a dead fish in a freezer is lame. But the woman whose head explodes and body gets shredded by a shattering mirror, pretty good.
4. An uncredited producer on this film, Walter Shenson, produced two Beatles films: A Hard Day’s Night and Help! No wonder he kept his name off of this. Look out for the former movie to crop up in a TV in the background of one Death Spa scene.
5. Funny rejection line from a gay man to an unwitting straight woman: “I’m Beta, you’re VHS.” (And it was ad libbed too.)
6. Star William Bumiller actually ran a spa in real life. Apropos casting.
7. Low budget ’80s horror hallmarks: Creative cinematography, mediocre acting, cheesy gore, inexplicable character motivation, forgotten corpses, eye-popping colors, and big hair. Ah, the ’80s.
8. A spa where all the gym equipment is computerized? I hope people seriously consider the ramifications of such foolishness after watching this.
9. Beware of those flying shower tiles! And don’t blame the master computer. “The computer doesn’t control tiles, for Christ’s sake!”
10. So they found the women for the big shower scene from a porn casting agency. Makes sense. As did the many “retakes” needed on set.
11. A paranormal investigator armed with a gun — so he acknowledges he’s somewhat of a BS artist and figures the gym is “haunted” by one.
12. The opening shot, which starts on a stormy night outside the spa, kicks into high gear when lightning strikes the Starbody Health Spa sign. The surviving letters form the movie’s title, then we slowly glide into the club as it’s being shut down for the night and lights go off. Not quite the horror equivalent of the intro to A Touch Of Evil, but it’s pretty good. Knowing now that steadicam operator Elizabeth Zeigler, who later worked on Eyes Wide Shut, only got one take, I’m quite impressed.
13. I dig Peter Kaye’s dark Death Spa synth score. It is of its time, but I dig it nonetheless. The closing song “Killer Groove” is fun too. Beware, it’s coming to your neighborhood.
14. Director Michael Fishka was also responsible for My Mom’s A Werewolf, Delta Heat, and a couple of the segments in the recent Deadtime Stories series. Producer Jamie Beardsley later worked on Xtro 3: Watch The Skies, Wicked, and Secretary.
15. This was the final film of actor Merritt Butrick, whom I best remember as Captain Kirk’s son David in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. What a way to go. (Sadly, in real life, he died of complications from AIDS.)
16. You might recognize Ken Foree from Dawn Of The Dead, Brenda Bakke from Hot Shots! Part Deux, and Shari Shattuck from On Deadly Ground and the April 1980 cover of Playboy.
17. Man, people wore some awful, pastel colored clothes to the gym in the ’80s. But they did look hot. Wait, that’s because these people were in shape. I do miss leg warmers, although they have kind of come back.
18. This movie was known overseas as Witch Bitch. Meh, Death Spa was better.
19. There are a lot of bare breasts in this movie. Not a complaint, just an observation.
20. They totally cribbed the concept for that ending from Carrie.