Saturday, July 13, 2013

Summer Fest 5 (Day Two): Slash-tacular Double Feature - Death Spa and Killer Workout

 For whatever failings Prisoners of the Lost Universe has (and there are many), Death Spa and Killer Workout were the palette cleanser we needed to get back on track for Saturday. While it is rare that I'll program one movie, let alone two, sight unseen*, I had enough faith in the slasher movies of the 1980s not to let me down and went in blind. And I'm glad I did.

 Death Spa is not in the traditional sense what one would call a "slasher" movie, although it shares a similar structure. It also doesn't actually take place in a spa, necessarily, which disappointed one attendee who looked forward to "killer facial peels" and other "spa"' related kills. Nevertheless, while it commits two cardinal sins of "false advertising," the movie is bizarre enough and and of itself to compensate.

 If I were to compare Death Spa to anything, I guess you could call it a spiritual successor to Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. It isn't quite as formless as Death Bed, but amidst the three or four competing plots in Death Spa, there's definitely a "this gym / health center / indoor swimming pool is haunted and is killing people." A ghost is using the totally automated system against people who go there, seemingly at random. To say much more about who the ghost is or what it wants would spoil parts of the movie that generate the most "what the hell?" moments.

 Fortunately, there's a bunch of other crap in Death Spa I can talk about that's just as weird. Like the group shower scene where the spa shoots tiles at naked ladies, or the killer fish (yes, a killer fish in a gym). There's the package loading ramp at the bottom of the stairs in the basement that serves no purpose, or the "Parologist" (I'm assuming he studies haunted rocks) hired by the owner to investigate the haunting. There's the conspiracy to shut down the gym before the big Mardi Gras party (no amount of killings will close this Death Spa!) and the question of whether the place is haunted or if somebody is killing people in order to make it look like it is.

 SPOILER ALERT: It's both. Yes, on top of the ghost, there are people also killing random gym members to make the owner look bad. And the owner's brother-in-law has an, um, "unhealthy" relationship with his dead sister. The dead sister who set herself on fire after a miscarriage left her wheelchair bound (the flashbacks to this are unto themselves strange enough to recommend Death Spa).

 There's so much going on in Death Spa that I can't possibly cover all of it, and yet it manages to hang together well enough that you want to know how the hell it's going to resolve them. And it does. Well, kind of. But even that's fun to watch too. Also, Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead, From Beyond) has an extended cameo where he only has to appear at the beginning and the end of the movie and gets to live (SPOILER).


 Killer Workout (Aerobicide) is, by contrast, a more straightforward slasher movie, but one with its own particular set of charms. It follows an extremely basic structure: a long montage of an aerobics routine featuring some, *ahem*, chesty ladies (sometimes also a morbidly obese guy in overalls riding the exercise bike), then a conversation with owner Rhonda Johnson (Maniac Cop's Marcia Karr), and then somebody being murdered, usually with gym equipment. Although not always: sometimes the killer uses and over-sized safety-pin (shades of Student Bodies).

 There's some procedural work done by Detective Lieutenant Morgan (David James Campbell), and an undercover agent posing as a new employee (Uh, I forgot his character's name and IMDB isn't helping), but mostly it's a slasher movie from the 1980s, which means some creative kills, a twist-y backstory for the killer, and lots of nudity. Actually, not as much nudity as you'd expect, and a lot less than Death Spa, but there's MUCH more time devoted to the aerobics routines Jaimy (Teresa Vander Woude) puts together, many of which appear to offer no exercise value whatsoever. So while you don't get as much nudity, there's a lot more jiggling.

 But don't worry, ladies, there's also a lot of guys in impossibly short shorts too. This unintentional recurring motif of Summer Fest was perhaps never more in evidence than during Killer Workout.

 What really helped Killer Workout as a companion piece to Death Spa was the weird touches, like David James Campbell's unfortunately high-pitched voice, one that in no way matches his imposing physical presence. It made it nearly impossible to take him seriously, all the way up to his final scene that must have, in some abstract way, inspired the series Dexter. There was also the guy we nicknamed "Johnny Pervo" with his pervo mustache that we later realized was two different characters that just looked alike and both happened to be sleazeballs.

 And then there's the "twist" of the film, which the Cap'n will immodestly admit I called twenty minutes in, about who the killer is. What I didn't realize until the "reveal" was it tied into a prologue most of us had forgotten about involving a tanning bed accident. Unlike Death Spa, Killer Workout doesn't have a supernatural angle, but it does have what one viewer described as "pudding tits."

 The two films do share some interesting connections, though: both Death Spa and Killer Workout close on freeze-frames of the villain, implying that both of them secretly won (well, in Killer Workout, it's flat out saying they did). And in Killer Workout, the reputation for murder makes the gym a target for vandals, one of whom spray paints "DEATH SPA" on the window... interesting...

 Up next is a blast from Horror Fest past with the return of Kingdom of the Spiders!

* Not since the Matango / See No Evil debacle at Horror Fest IV.

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