FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 21, 2023

Day 21 - "Let's die together and live forever in Hell!"

I am fairly ashamed to admit right here in public that before last night, I had never seen Death Spa (1988). The movie is almost 60 years old (close enough), surely I could have found the time to give it a peep? Sigh. Well, at least now I have rectified my lack, thanks to one reader who calls it a favorite. It should be everyone's only favorite based on the famously bitchin' poster art alone. 

PS, the Japanese VHS and chirashi art not only go just as hard, they feature its alternate/original/German title Witch Bitch.

I will never be able to say enough good things about Death Spa. Death Spa rules. There is so much in this movie that you should really witness with your own two/one/four/however many eyes--especially when things get really nuts towards the end. (It probably took me 25 minutes to get through the last 15 minutes because I kept rewinding moments to savor repeatedly.) But there are still plenty of specific things I want to mention:
  • This cast! Fresh Prince's Karyn Parsons appears in a small role, as does Chelsea Field, who was EXCUSE ME Teela in Masters of the Universe, be still my heart. The cast also includes the one and only Ken Foree, who wears this outfit sometimes: well as gay icon, the late Merritt Butrick of EXCUSE ME Square Pegs.

  • The sign for STARBODY HEALTH SPA burns out and becomes DEATH SPA. This is one of my favorite horror movie devices, like when MOTEL HELLO become MOTEL HELL, or at the end of Psycho when MASTUR burns out on the sign for BATES MOTEL. (nyuk nyuk!)

  • There is erotic, suggestive asparagus play:

  • Yeah you could just say this is a computerized health spa where people die, but Death Spa is a matryoshka doll of red herring plot lines, none of which make any sense. You will not care!
  • Death Spa feels like a Google translate error. I don't mean the dialogue (although we'll get to that in the next point), I mean the way it's constructed. The filmmaking feels like the equivalent of translating an English sentence to another language, then translating it back to English. Scenes never seemed to go on long enough, things happen and people are there and as a viewer, you feel like you're supposed to know more than you do. While the proceedings are simple on the surface, you will feel lost, somehow.
  • For example, here is the entire conversation from a scene where the conversation is the only thing that happens: 
            "What is it?"
            "What's wrong? You're upset."
            "Saw a parapsychologist today."
  • Here is another conversation...
            "How many reps can you do?"
            "Eh, 15 or 20. More if I'm showing off."
            "Why don't you show off for me?"
            "I never waste effort in the gym. Besides, I'm Beta. You're VHS."
  , I bet the person who slung that last insult is really embarrassed now! (And maybe they should have been at the time? Beta was already virtually dead by 1988. Although it was technically the "superior" format...? I am going to stop trying to figure this out now. Death Spa can never be figured out!)
  • There is some really crazy gore and a lot of nudity!
  • There is more dance happening at Starbody Health Spa than there is exercising, and I am so thankful for it.
  • I know it is every woman's dream to one day set herself on fire and then somehow possess someone and also possess a computer system to take revenge on her enemies, but after watching Death Spa I am already dousing myself in gasoline and learning how to hack (well, learning how to hack more) to ensure it will happen.  

Late in the movie, a band performs at the spa during the Mardi Gras party. (Los Angeles is famous for Mardi Gras celebrations, especially the LA fitness studios.) A line during one of the songs says "bless this mess," and I have never concurred harder with a song lyric in all my life. 

Okay, yes, except for "let me see that thong." But I say bless this mess that is Death Spa! It is weird in so many ways. There is a whiff of the perhaps-problematique at times. It is so much fun. I've said it before (in this post): Death Spa rules!


James Lewis said...

The artwork alone places Death Spa pretty high up in the "VHS boxes I Stole Glances at in the Videostore" sweepstakes. It's a pretty darn good movie, too.

P. K. Nail said...

God, I love Death Spa! Got to see a beautiful print of it several years ago and the late-80s sheen of it all is breathtaking. I love the Scooby-Doo subplot of prospective buyers trying to scare people away from the spa so they can buy it cheap.

Steve said...

In the scene where Michael confronts his two coworkers who are conspiring against him, there's a very obvious boom mike that appears on the left side of the screen, and the actor playing the lawyer steps right in front of it without breaking character, and I thought, now there's a professional.

Stacie Ponder said...

Ha I didn't even notice! Oh no, guess I have to watch Death Spa again...