1988’s ‘Death Spa’ is Objectively Terrible, But I Still Kinda Love It

The Starbody Health Spa: where athletic folks come to sweat, socialize…and die! A vengeful spirit is using the computerized gym equipment to murder patrons, and it’s up to owner Michael (William Bumiller) to stop it before all his members are killed, in increasingly gruesome ways.

That is one bored ghost

Oh, where to begin? I first became aware of this movie because of a Cracked article, “The 7 Most Half-Assed Monsters in Movie History“. I read it years ago, but I was unable to find Death Spa until recently, since it’s pretty obscure. Half-assed indeed! The writers run out of methods to do away with people really fast and resort to utter nonsense. Ask yourself: Do gyms have freezers? And if they do, why do they contain the shrieking eels from The Princess Bride? We’re talking acid from ceiling pipes, a butterfly press crushing a dude’s internal organs, exploding mirrors, tiles flying off shower walls (the ghost is also really good at sort of injuring people). The movie is violent as fuck, but logical (or scary) it is not.

The only deadly thing here is those killer abs. Bwa ha ha!

Buuuut, it’s not all torture to watch. As a millennial, I am required to be highly nostalgic. This movie is thus supremely satisfying, as it’s 1980s to the max! We have fitness-crazed folks in Spandex aerobics-ing it up, we have have a girl shouting “This isn’t funny, Michael!” We have, to steal a phrase from Quora, the trope of the “bacchanalian soirée”. Seriously, watch this clip. It’s bodacious!

I was surprised at the diversity of the movie. Ya know, for the ’80s. (Or in general.) There are no fewer than five Black characters, all of whom have dialogue, four of whom have names, and most of whom live to the end of the damn movie. There’s Vanessa Bell Calloway and a teeny tiny Karyn Parsons (in her bigscreen debut) as gym patrons, the peppy aerobics instructor, the legendary Ken Foree as staff member Marv, and national treasure Rosalind Cash as Stone, a no-nonsense detective investigating the deaths. When a suspect reluctantly hands her his computer printouts and sighs, “I’d like those back when you’re done, miss,” she snaps back, “Sergeant.” There are no Sacrificial Negro characters, and even the first death is a white white whitie.

Marv is without a doubt the smoothest, coolest cat in the movie. This guy refuses his help spotting, and when he can’t keep holding the barbell, Marv scoops it up in one hand while barely even looking.

Michael’s brother-in-law and resident computer expert David (Merritt Butrick) is an interesting character. It’s possible to read him as gay, in a subtextual, dated way. While pranking gym members, he stops to watch a super muscular guy and says, “Now there’s something even I can’t improve on.” He’s majorly prissy and scoffs at Michael for threatening him with “jock violence.” As he tells the detectives, “Assaulting women isn’t my style.” When Catherine, his dead twin sister, takes over his body, he wears her clothing and later morphs into her. There may be one overtly gay character, brief though he may be; in response to a woman hitting on him, a gym member replies, “I’m beta, you’re VHS.” Speaking of dated.

He’s really kind of adorable

I can’t figure out a deeper meaning for the movie. It’s actually fun how gleefully pointless and disjointed it is, with one gory or smutty event thrown in front of the next. I might theorize that a film taking place at a gym full of appearance-obsessed patrons might be saying something about shallowness, but that’s definitely not true. Within the first five minutes, we have a lady stripping down, and by the 23-minute mark, we have a whole troop of naked gals.

This is what passes for subtlety here

Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something silly but bloody. And full frontal nudity!

Published by GhoulieJoe

I wuvs the horror movies and like to write snarky reviews about them. I also included some pretentious as hell microfiction (don't worry, it's at the bottom).

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