Sunday, January 16

Some quick thoughts on Death Spa (Witch Bitch) (1987)

Michael (William Bumiller) runs the Starbody Health Spa; a cutting-edge fitness center completely controlled by a HAL-like computer overseeing all particulars of the exercise equipment and facility. After the near death of Michael's girlfriend in a steam room, a detective (Rosalind Cash) and her constantly eating partner step in to investigate the increasingly troubling going-ons of the spa. Under their careful eye is Tom (Robert Lipton), the brash techie who designed the program, but as aerobicizing masses continue to befall the wraith of the altar at which they worship, Michael must find the root of this mayhem. Be it by man, machine, or something more insidious from his past...

Michael Fischa's Death Spa is a cheeseball supernatural slasher in badly edited three-act structure. The sleaze is quickly solidified barely five minutes in with full womanly nudity gasping for oxygen in a locked, ammonia-filled sauna. Shortly afterward, an unfortunate coiffed hair Betamax fan suffers massive torso restructuring from an unruly pec deck and more nubile girlies have shower tiles hurled at their steamy genitalia while washing off. Primo loudly color-splashed trash from the decade that threw copious amounts of dove white yayo upon brutally toned hardbodies.

Then the whodunit aspect settles in with the arrival of the detectives and Michael trying to find the roots of the disastrous happenings at his spa. Tom is suspect being standoffish toward both the investigators and Michael's chemically-blinded new love (after the horrific suicide of his handicapped wife a year prior). Meanwhile, Michael enlists the help of a psychiatrist/medium who inevitably becomes another victim along with a stream of others. This middle portion does overpower the more exploitative attention grabbers earlier, but honestly, the slowdown isn't too off-putting. Despite being a bit soapy, the acting by Bumiller, Lipton, and love interest Brenda Bakke actually excel past the questionable expectations that arrive with a movie entitled "Death Spa" or "Witch Bitch" depending on your territory. You actually start to question who the killer could least a little.

That said, no one pops in a movie entitled "Death Spa" or "Witch Bitch" expecting a future showcase on Inside the Actors Studio. The furious final act is when the identity of the murderer is revealed and the premise wildly sways through a protracted gory climax. Heads explode from vibrating mirror, faces melt by dripping acid and/or suddenly explode a la Fulci's The Beyond, death by maniac blender, death by frozen barracuda, terrified boobies surrounded by fire, mystic burnt corpses, and a useless Ken Foree surviving like a boss. Sure, none of these zany delights reach the technical level of a Savini, but one can't help but feel that Fischa, crew, and cast are genuinely trying to deliver exactly what us undemanding horror dorks want.

And sometimes, like in the case of Death Spa, that's enough to sheen over the many rough areas. In his own probably unintentional way, Fischa imparts a longevity far beyond his film's immediate moment with this giving nature. A little something that all memorable horror films, or at least memorable horror film moments, share. Although this one certainly isn't an obscure classic, but easily one of the more deserving pieces of '80s fun as of yet officially unreleased on DVD. Just cuz, check out the cover scans of the two editions pictured above, MPI's U.S. VHS and Tokuma's Japanese VHS, over at The Scandy Factory's cover gallery.


Eric Cotenas said...

I believe the trailer is on ZOMBI 3.

DrunkethWizerd said...

Despite your review of this 'lackluster' film... I'm madly jealous that you get to watch it. I've, as I have told you probably before, been wanting to see this forever!

The Goodkind said...

Well said. Of all the VHS only flicks out there this is probably one of my favorites although I do feel Linda Blair would have made it better. No shit, I'm screening it at my birthday party tonight!

Unknown said...

Excellent review, though I'm a bit mystified by the alt-title of "Witch Bitch." Great/horrible heavy metal band name but for a horror film about people being killed in a spa? Most peculiar momma.

Jesse Thomas said...

I remember seeing this listed in the TV times way back in 1991. Alas, we didn't have Cinemax so I wouldn't see it until 2004 when I found it at a Mom and Pop rental place. Not bad, and somewhat worth the wait. you dare tread upon the staircase?

Basement of Ghoulish Decadence, Basement of Ghoulish Archive, and all original material Copyright © 2009-present by Jayson Kennedy. All rights reserved.