Friday, December 7, 2012

DEATH SPA (1989)

O, DEATH SPA, how many times have we passed each other on VHS racks.  I must have been tempted by that classy cover, not sure how I managed to resist.

I do love the idea of a killer spa, but "killer inanimate objects" is a pretty underwhelming subgenre, CHRISTINE aside (and I haven't even seen that in forever, so don't take my word for it).  I already got burned by DEATH BED and only occasionally enjoyed RAPE STOVE.

But it turns out that DEATH SPA isn't even about a spa killing people, really.  There is a spa and death, but there are also three possible explanations which get played out through the movie's longer-seeming 86 minutes.  Widower Mike owns the spa/gym, which is completely computerized, the IT department being Mike's bitter, dead-sister-obsessed brother-in-law.  So maybe the IT nerd guy (who spends his time "hacking"—don't worry, this strange term is explained at length) is responsible for the deaths, but maybe it's the dead sister's ghost, too.  Or maybe it's something else!  A comedy detective and his lady cop partner are here to find out, but also a parapsychologist is here to find out, too.  Plus Ken Foree is Mike's friend!  And there's a comedy fat guy and also a love object who was temporarily blinded in the Death Spa.  This movie has A LOT of plot.

Too much, really.  It plays out like a whodunit, but that kind of mystery only works if the buildup is engaging and DEATH SPA kind of isn't.  It throws a bunch of characters and plot twists at you, but the results are generally not that compelling.  At times, I thought the filmmakers were better than the tepid script, as they managed to do more with it than it probably deserved.  One of the best scenes is the very first, in which we see a girl dancing as if we're peeping through a window.  She's obviously dancing to Paula Abdul or Jody Watley or some such, but the soundtrack keeps piping this menacing classical music and it's really jarring and cool.  

My fave scenes were the interactions between Mike and Marvin, Ken Foree's character, because for once DEATH SPA feels like a movie populated by real people with real relationships.  These are really simple scenes (tossing a football in an office, etc.), but they work because they're surrounded by so much unconvincing interaction, because the script is sucks.  Plus Ken Foree looks like the happy version of Elliot Spitzer when he smiles in this.

Even the kills are kind of dull until DEATH SPA reaches its climactic party-massacre scene, which is admittedly pretty well done.  I like the surreal deaths in this one, especially the PLANKTON-esque killer fish!

Mostly, though, this one was a chore to sit through.  It's professionally-rendered, but the limitations of the script are just too much for it to succeed.  If you're a big gym/spa-horror enthusiast, though, maybe rent this after you finish AEROBICIDE and the first part of DEMONS 2.

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