1989 was inarguably a big year for movies. Tim Burton’s Batman, Back to the Future 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade…uhhh…Tango and Cash? There were a lot of blockbusters and the final year of the 80’s managed to leave a sizeable dent in film history. One movie, though, that seems to have slipped under the radar was a delightful little haunted spa romp named “Death Spa”. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. You were probably too busy watching Murtaugh and Riggs take on some entitled South African mofos tryin’ to claim “DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY” in Lethal Weapon 2 to have noticed that there was a movie about a HAUNTED SPA. It’s called Death Spa, because of course it’s called Death Spa.
Sometimes when I watch a movie, I like to imagine what the pitch process was like to get it made. In the case of Death Spa (a movie about a HAUNTED SPA), it probably went something like this:
Producer: “HEY. You know what I like? *snorts meter stick long rail of cocaine* GOING TO THE GYM.”
Director: *rubbing cocaine all over gums* “OH MY GOD TOTALLY.”
Producer: “You know what else I like?”
Director and Producer in Unison: “FUGGIN’ BOOBS, BRO.”
*Director and Producer high five, sending a plume of cocaine into the air*
Producer: “We should….we should totally make a movie.”
Director: “BRO, it could be about GYMS and BOOBS!”
Producer: “I like where your head’s at, man. But follow me for here for a second. What if there’s a gym, and BOOBS….AND A FUCKING GHOST.”
Director: “Wait wait wait. Are you telling me that the gym is HAUNTED?!” *nose turns into a cartoon vacuum and he vacuums up a Scarface-esque pile of cocaine*
Producer: *veins bulging in neck and forehead* “I’M SAYING THERE IS A MOTHERFUCKING HAUNTED GYM FULL OF BOOBS!!”
Then they probably ordered some high end prostitutes, had an orgy, and then ended their 47 hour no sleep cocaine and hooker bender by banging out the script for Death Spa in an hour and a half.
I don’t mean to insult the film, because let me make it very clear as early as possible that I really enjoy this film, but it could not have taken more than an hour and a half to write it. The concepts are kind of all over the place in this one. I think to get into the right headspace to break down this movie, I’m going to have to get into the headspace of the creators. The Robots Pajamas in no way advocates doing this, but to write this piece I’ve decided to invest the writing stipend I’ve been paid into an eightball of cocaine. As I write this, I’m just going to bomb through this eightball and channel other famous writers who indulged in the “devil’s dandruff”. I did google famous writers who were addicted to illicit substances to make this connection, like Burroughs and Kerouac, but let’s be honest, I’m just doing this BECAUSE I FEEL AMAZING AND I’M NEVER GOING TO DIE.
What were we talking about? Oh, right. DEATH SPA!!
Right away, with the opening of the film, we’re introduced to the Starbody Health Spa. It’s raining, and there’s lightning flashing in the background as we crane in over the spa. Suddenly, lightning strikes the neon sign, knocking out some of the letters in a shower of sparks, and the sign now (cocaine binge cleverly) says “DEATH SPA.”
A little on the nose, right? Or up the nose? Is my nose bleeding? My nose is definitely bleeding.
As the newly christened Death Spa is closing up for the night, we the viewer are treated to a spandex clad young woman dancing her goddamn heart out. Her solo choreography is akin to the wonder of Kelly’s dance studio scene in 1984’s Breakin’. It’s all passion, and spandex, and butts, and man this cocaine smells delicious. One of the spa’s trainers, Marvin (played by genre favorite Ken Foree) let’s Laura know that he’s locking up for the night, so she takes this opportunity to inconvenience the maintenance staff by taking an after hours naked laydown in the steam room. She’s doing a bit of maxing, relaxing, and topless sweating, even going so far as to sensually rub her post-dance aching thighs. Just about when she’s clearly going to rub one out, the steam valve in the ceiling starts blasting steam, and as my handwritten notes say:
“Uh oh, she’s almost gonna touch her persnickity! But she’s trapped, and the heat and steam be pumpin’, and she be screamin’!”
She runs to the door to escape being steamed to death, but it’s GOT. DAMN. LOCKED. She pounds on the door, desperately screaming for help, and finally decides the only way she is going to survive this human rice cooker is to throw herself through the plate glass window of the steamroom door. Death spa tried to claim its first victim, but it won’t be Laura.
The movie then cuts to a quick dream sequence of a lady in a wheelchair engulfed in flames. I think that jarring no-context moment is the first of many throughout this film that makes you say “…the fuck?…”, but it’s also how we’re introduced to the film’s dreamy beau-hunk lead Michael, played by William Bumiller, who I can only described as Michael Landon and David Hasslehoff’s much less charismatic bastard offspring. He rushes to the hospital in his sexy 80’s Porsche to find his girlfriend Laura in their burn unit, eyes bandaged, draped in gauze, having sustained significant burns on her eyes and body, lucky to have survived at all. NOT THIS TIME, DEATH SPA. I can’t feel my face.
For most of the remainder of the movie, we’re treated to a character that has bandages covering her eyes, and a boyfriend that really doesn’t seem to be very sympathetic of the fact that she’s been blinded and burned by the gym he owns. But I’m going to be honest with you, this leads to one of the most sensual scenes I have ever seen in a film.
I’m sorry for that not safe for work image with no warning, but hot damn, are you seeing what I’m seeing? That’s Michael using some limp steamed asparagus to stand in for his wanger, sensuously feeding his blind burn victim girlfriend, whom he made dress up in a formal gown, makeup, and jewelry, shortly after her traumatic near-death chemical/steam burn. Good guy, right?
We’re also, shortly thereafter, introduced to the wide variety of plots that run through this film, including an investigation that LAPD is conducting on the Starbody Health Spa (because someone got burned in a steam room, so two detectives need to investigate), Michael’s lawyer and his spa manager trying to sabotage the spa so that they can steal it from Michael, an upcoming Mardi Gras themed party at the spa (you know, a spa party), and the fact that MICHAEL’S WHEELCHAIR BOUND GODDAMN WIFE MISCARRIED THEIR BABY, FELL INTO A DEPRESSION, SET HERSELF ON FIRE WITH GASOLINE, AND DIED SCREAMING, BURNING HERSELF TO “UNRECOGNIZABLE ASHES”.. I know what you’re thinking…Michael’s wife? But you’ve been talking about his girlfriend Laura (remember, the one with the ridiculous eye bandages), he has a wife? No, no. His wife Catherine died screaming a year ago. He’s back on the market, twelve short months later, and making his moves on Hottie McNo-Vision. Good guy, right?
But I guess the most important plot point, and what makes the Starbody Health Spa a Death Spa, is that Catherine is not only haunting Michael’s dreams, but she’s also haunting his spa! Because reasons!
During the cocaine binge writing sesh, the creators of this film came up with fun ways for people to find harm in a spa like:
- Diving board becomes unmounted and makes a lady fall in the pool! (she doesn’t even die….pffff…)
- Tiles blast off of the walls into naked lady wet boobs! (nobody even friggin’ dies…pffff)
- Gym bro inexplicably explodes his ribs when the tension is turned up on the weight lifting machine he’s trying to get his pump on with. (I mean…he dies…but why/how?)
- Locker spear impales lady in the women’s locker room (“But Matty, what is a locker spear?” you ask….*Matty shrugs and bumps some more yeyo*)
- Basement sprinklers melt a lady into goo (classic spa related death)
- Two people randomly explode (…like…they just sort of blow up)
- A sushi fish tears out someone’s jugular (darn spa sushi fish)
- A lady gets her hand stuck in a blender which somehow results in her death (gonna need Matlock to solve that one)
- As if Laura hasn’t been through enough with the steam room incident, she gets tied up in a tanning bed and gets chapped lips! (Hmmm…I guess that’s kinda spa related)
So, I mean, some people died. And they were there at the spa. But come on, there are a lot more creative ways for people to die in a spa, right? I’m just going to spend the next thirty seconds spitballing here:
Head crushed by weights
Hung by jumprope
Eaten by a velociraptor
Tornado full of Venus lady razors
Okay, this is harder than I thought.
OH, I almost forgot another plot point that is introduced! I must have forgotten because there are already so many things going on, or it’s the ¾ of this eightball I’ve already consumed, but the automation technology and security system that runs the club is controlled by Michael’s dead wife’s twin brother David (who I lovingly call “low-rent Fassbender), who may or may not be crossdressing as his sister, and perpetrating these incidents at the spa, but is definitely fucking his dead sister’s ghost.
OH, and there’s a paranormal investigator!
So, this movie pretty much has everything. A really cogent/cohesive plot, likeable characters, incredible effects, clear motivations, and once again I can’t stress enough how great this cocaine smells.
I won’t ruin the ending, but these pioneers of filmmaking even left it kind of open ended. Like, DID Michael defeat the ghost of his dead wife with a gym shoe, or not? I know I can’t wait to find out in Death Spa 2: Spa’get About It.
Treat yourself to some good ol’ haunted spa fun and give this one a watch. I guarantee you won’t regret it. It’s streaming right now on Amazon Prime, and there’s actually a Bluray out there somewhere. If this review hasn’t sold you, maybe Ken Foree’s technicolor dreamcoat will.
Matty Field is a standup comic from Wisconsin who enjoys bankrupting his family to support his fun new booger-sugar habit.