Sunday, June 11, 2017

Death Spa (1989)

Terrible things are happening at the health spa of hunky – so says the script, at least - Michael Evans (William Bumiller): first his girlfriend Laura (Brenda Bakke) suffers burns and temporary blindness from a steam room accident (or was it?). Then all hell really breaks loose, with health spa goers not only tortured by aerobics but also hit by levitating tiles, murdered by fitness apertures running amok despite (or because of) the spa’s automated control systems, stabbed by stabby things and later on exploded and mutilated in many different ways when things come to a head on the place’s annual Mardi Gras bash.

Has the spa’s computer turned evil? Is the ghost of Michael’s dead wife (Sharri Shattuck) responsible? Or is her computer nerd brother out for vengeance? All of it? Something different?

Well, there’s only one way to find out, and that’s inflicting Michael Fischa’s mind-boggling Death Spa (the spa that kills?) on your unsuspecting brains. It’s candy-coloured like the 80s themselves! It’s sleazy with many a scene of female nudity that would be absolutely gratuitous if it weren’t the point of the film apart from the gore! It has a plot way too complicated for anyone involved to keep under control that tries its hardest to pull a Carnacki on the audience with a “natural” and a supernatural threat theoretically kinda-sorta happening at the same time (but don’t ask me which parts of the wild happenings are the responsibility of the ghost and which ones that of the other threat?)!

If that’s not enough to set the eyes of the kind of person (for example me) this thing was probably made for all a-glow, there’s much more to add, for this one is probably the most successful attempt (conscious or unconscious or through sheer incompetence) of a US horror film at becoming exactly like an 80s Italian horror film. So the plot makes no sense whatsoever: try the plan of the human bad guy that consists of making the spa so horrible Michael will lose it, so that bad guy and his partners then can easily acquire a spa nobody in his or her right mind would ever want to visit. Characters like psychic investigator (with a noir private eye sort of office) Dr. (of psychometry, I assume) Lido Moray are introduced with great fanfare, to then have nothing to do but to die. The dialogue sounds exactly like the sort of thing Italian dubbing studios would have come up with, full of non-sequiturs, bizarre phrasings and absurd declarations.

There’s also a case of possession that leads to in turns transvestism and bodily transformation into the other gender (twins, the film “explains”), smallish roles for Ken Foree, Rosalind Cash and Chelsea Field, and so much of treacly, sometimes rubbery gore I can only assume the influence of Fulci. However, to make that clear, Death Spa has little in common with the nightmarish atmosphere of the maestro’s best films – it’s much more like a hallucination induced by a bad combination of different kinds of alcohol and indigestion.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but Death Spa’s a horrible film by the standards of most sane people (though even they’d probably admit that some of the lighting is pretty rad in its way). By my standards, on the other hand, it is pretty darn awesome, mixing awkwardness, stupidity, and overambition with an increasingly hysterical tone that reaches the point of glorious absurdity once the Mardi Gras bash full of blind and deaf people who have their troubles seeing and hearing horrible deaths happening right next to them (which means they miss out on the undead fish that kill one of the cop characters, among many other things). I am convinced Death Spa is a major achievement; I’m just not sure what it achieves beyond blowing minds.

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