Michael Evans (William Bumiller) is the hip young owner of the Super Body Health Spa. He seems to have it all: wealth, women, a slick car, a sweet pad, and a personal assistant in the form of Marvin (Ken Foree of Dawn Of The Dead). Life should be pretty happening for old Mike Evans, right? This is the eighties, fitness clubs are all the rage and he's got the hottest one in town.
Well, you'd think so but sadly, The Super Body Health Spa is plagued by an ongoing series of bizarre murders. It all starts when a fine young lady is burned while gallivanting around the sauna in her birthday suit. At first, Mike suspects that the computer that controls all of the spa's equipment may be at fault and that it somehow turned up the heat on the unfortunate lass. Upon further investigation, it may in fact be the programmer, Tom (Robert Lipton), who is behind it all. After all, he is the brother of Michael's recently deceased wife, Catharine (Shari Shattuck), who committed suicide after going insane a while back. She couldn't live being confined in a wheelchair and so she lit herself on fire and took her own life. Her brother hasn't forgotten this and might just hold a grudge.
In fact, it seems that his dead wife's brother holds Michael responsible for what happened to her and just might be up to some no good tricks of his own. But then, it seems that Catharine may just have come back and is haunting the health club. Is it all in Michael's imagination? Or is there something going on behind his back at the club? As the bodies start piling up, two cops are called in to investigate: Lieutenant Fletcher (Francis X. McCarthy) and Sargent Stone (Rosalind Cash) but no matter what, Michael has to ensure that the club's Mardi Gras party goes off without a hitch.
Death Spa, also known as Witch Bitch, starts off with a pretty great tracking shot in which some of the letters in the ‘Super Body Health Spa' neon sign hanging out front go out, conveniently spelling the movie's titles and serving as foreshadowing for the events to come. From here, we get the opening murder scene in the tanning bed… and then things slow down. The middle portion of the movie is definitely filled with more eighties eye candy than you can shake a stick at, be it a plethora of naked ladies in the obligatory shower scene or just the completely goofy looking spandex outfits that everyone in the workout room sports, but not a whole lot happens. As we move toward the finish, however, the kid gloves come off and Michael's Mardi Gras party (where attentive viewers will probably giggle at Ken Foree wearing an extremely goofy Arabian Nights costume) turns into a nightmare of bad costumes and fantastic gore.
Michael Fischa, who directed such classics as My Mom's A Werewolf (starring John Saxon and Ruth Buzzi!) and Crackhouse, doesn't do much with the film from a stylistic point in terms of movement, though that opening steadicam shot with the neon sign is pretty cool. There is a lot of bold, gaudy color to admire here in the wardrobe and set decorations, however, the kind that screams eighties as loudly as it can. The gore effects are handled well here, be it a melting body or a guy working out and getting his arms cracked off by the weight machine. There's lots of goop and splatter in the big finish as the supernatural element of the film ramps up alongside the obligatory murder set pieces. Performances aren't really a strong point here. Bumiller is more than a little wooden and Foree for whatever reason can't bring nearly the screen presence he had in some of his better roles to this picture. Shari Shattuck is gorgeous and does alright in her part while most of us will be left wondering how Rosalind Cash wound up in this one in the first place. There are definitely better horror movies out there than this one but as far as goofy, stupid eighties low budget gore films go, you could definitely do worse. If nothing else, it's entertaining, even if sometimes it's for the wrong reasons.
Death Spa arrives on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.781.1 widescreen. Though the fact that the bit rate is on the low side means we get some compression artifacts here and there, the source used for the transfer is clean and colorful. In fact, color reproduction is excellent here. Black levels are decent too. Detail never hits reference quality but this movie, like a lot of low budget pictures made around the same time, has some softness that would seem to be inherent in the original photography. Skin tones look good and texture and depth are both improved over what standard definition can provide. There are no issues with noise reduction or edge enhancement and all in all, the movie actually looks pretty good on this Blu-ray release.
Audio chores are handled by a DTS-HD 2.0 track with no alternate language or subtitle options provided. There are, however, optional English closed captions available. The audio quality is decent enough as the levels are properly balanced and the score sounds alright. Dialogue never gets buried in the mix and the sound effects used during certain scenes have some noticeable punch to them.
Surprisingly enough, this one gets a legitimate special edition release and turns out to contain some great extras starting with a commentary track featuring director Michael Fischa (who calls in from his native Austria), producer Jamie Beardsley and editor Michael Kewley. Beardsley has the most to say about the movie, talking about how the script evolved, securing the locations, working on a low budget, casting the movie and more. Kewley chimes in where he can and offers up his thoughts on what he did on the picture while Fischa makes some interesting and sometimes humorous observations about the movie and offers up some stories of his involvement in the picture as well. It's a well-paced commentary that offers up quite a bit of information about the film's genesis and history.
From there, we get a nearly hour long featurette on the making of the film called An Exercise in Terror: The Making of Death Spa . Beardsley pops up here again as well, as do many of the cast members including Bumiller and Shattuck (no Ken Foree though). We also hear from the woman who pulled off that aforementioned steadicam shot in the opening of the movie about how she had to walk off of a crane and head through the parking lot into the building while explosions from the sign were going off above here! We also learn about the evolution of the script, how it was more or less completely re-written and more. The documentary does cover some of the same ground as the commentary but it's very thorough and contains a load of behind the scenes photos and a few clips as well, making it quite worthwhile if you're a fan of the movie. Rounding out the extras on the disc are two trailers for the feature, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release you also get a DVD version of the movie included inside the case.
Death Spa is goofy, often nonsensical, but you can have some fun with it if you're in the right frame of mind particularly if you have an affinity for the eighties and for low budget, trashy horror pictures. The Blu-ray release from Dark Sky Films is a good one, offering up the movie uncut with a fairly nice transfer, decent audio, a good commentary and an excellent and very thorough documentary. It's hard to imagine much more being done than what's been provided. Not a movie for everyone, but if you fall into the niche audience, it definitely comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.