Feeling the Burn: Death Spa (1989, directed by Michael Fischa)


Michael (William Bumiller) owns the hottest health club in Los Angeles but that may not stay true if he can’t do something about all the guests dying.  Members get baked alive in the sauna.  Another is killed when a malfunctioning workout machine pulls back his arms and causes a rib to burst out of one side of his body.  Shower tiles fly off the wall and panic a bunch of naked women.  A woman loses her arm in a blender and a man is somehow killed by a frozen fish.  Strangely, all of the deaths don’t seem to hurt business as people still keep coming to the gym.  Surely, there are other, safer health clubs in Los Angeles.

Michael suspects that his brother-in-law, David (Merritt Butrick), might be to blame for all of the trouble.  David is good with computers and since this movie is from 1989, that means that he can do anything.  (David is described as being a “hacker,” which may be the first time that overused term was used in a film.)  Michael feels that David has never forgiven him for the suicide of his sister.  Two useless cops show up to investigate the murders while the spa gets ready for Mardi Gras night.

This incredibly cheesy horror movie used to be a mainstay on HBO, where young viewers like me appreciated all of the gore and slightly older viewers appreciated all of the nudity.  Viewed today, Death Spa is a real nostalgia trip.  From the leg warmers to the bulky computers to the choreographed workout routines, this is a movie that could only have been made in the 80s.  The plot is beyond stupid but some of the gore effects were well-executed and that scene where the frozen fish comes to life continues to amaze.  Sadly, this was Merritt Butrick’s last film.  The actor, who was best known for playing Captain’s Kirk’s son in The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock, died the same year that Death Spa was released.

A Movie A Day #149: The All-American Boy (1973, directed by Charles Eastman)


Vic “The Bomber” Bealer is an amateur boxer who appears to be poised to escape from life in his dreary hometown.  He is such a good fighter that he is on the verge of making the U.S. Olympic Team and he is so good-looking that everyone, from his teenage girlfriend (Anne Archer) to his gay manager (Ned Glass) to a woman he meets at a gas station, automatically falls in love with him.  However, after his girlfriend tells him that she is pregnant, Vic abandons both her and boxing.  When she leaves town to have an abortion, Vic starts boxing again but then he learns that she may not have actually had an abortion and Vic leaves for Los Angeles, to see both her and his son.

Sadly, there is something about boxing that has always brought out the pretentious side of some filmmakers and that is the case with The All-American Boy.  This episodic film (which claims to portray “The Manly Art In Six Rounds”) tries to present Vic as being an anti-hero but mostly, he just seems to be vacant loser.  Vic sulks through the entire film, despite not really having much to sulk about.  When one of his conquests asks him what he is thinking, Vic replies, “I ain’t thinkin'” and the movie provides no reason to doubt him on this point.  I was not surprised to learn that The All-American Boy was filmed in 1969 and was deemed unreleasable until the combined success of Midnight Cowboy and Deliverance made Voight into a star.  On the plus side, when he made the film, Jon Voight looked like he could actually step inside the ring and throw a few punches.  On the negative side, the boxing scenes go heavy on the slow motion which, when overused, just looks stupid.  Raging Bull, this film is not.

When it comes to The All-American Boy, Duke has the right idea:

I Am Legend: THE OMEGA MAN (Warner Brothers 1971)


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When I was a lad of 13, back in the Stone Age, I saw THE OMEGA MAN on the big screen during it’s first run. I remember thinking it was real cool, with Charlton Heston mowing down a bunch of mutant bad guys with his sub-machine gun, some funny one-liners, and a few semi-naked scenes with Rosalind Cash. What more could an adolescent kid ask for in a movie? Now that I’m (ahem!) slightly older, I recently re-watched the film, wondering just how well, if at all, it would hold up.

I’m happy to report THE OMEGA MAN, despite some flaws in logic, stands the test of time as a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action/adventure, with a touch of Gothic horror thrown in. The film is the second of three based on Richard Matheson’s novel I AM LEGEND, the first written by Matheson himself (under the pseudonym Logan Swanson) as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, a 1964…

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A Movie A Day #15: Special Bulletin (1983, directed by Ed Zwick)


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“We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a special report…”

Led by veteran anchor John Woodley, the RBS news team is providing continuing coverage of a developing crisis in Charleston, South Carolina, where terrorists are holding several members of the coast guard, a local new reporter, and his cameraman hostage on a small tugboat.  These are not typical terrorists, though.  Two of them are nuclear scientists.  One of them is a social worker.  Another one is a nationally-renowned poet.  The final terrorist is a former banker robber who was just recently released from prison.  This unlikely group has only two demands: that the U.S. government hand over every single nuclear trigger device at the U.S. Naval Base and that RBS give them a live television feed so that they can explain their actions to the nation.  If either of those demands are not met, a nuclear bomb will be detonated and will destroy Charleston.

This made-for-TV movie was shot on video tape, to specifically make it look like an actual news broadcast.  Though much of the movie seems dated when compared to today’s slick, 24-hour media circus, Special Bulletin was convincing enough that, when it was originally broadcast in 1983, it caused a mini-panic among viewers who missed the opening disclaimer:

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Because the movie deals with the threat of nuclear terrorism instead of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war, it still feels relevant in a way that many of the atomic disaster films of the 1980s do not.  Beyond making an anti-nuclear statement, Special Bulletin is also a critical look at how the news media sensationalizes every crisis, with the RBS news team going from smug complacency to outright horror as the situation continues to deteriorate.  David Clennon and David Rasche are memorable as the two most outspoken of the terrorists and Ed Flanders is perfectly cast as a veteran news anchor struggling to maintain control in the middle of an uncontrollable situation.  Special Bulletin won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Special and can be currently be found on YouTube.

Keep an eye out for Michael Madsen, who shows up 57 minutes in and gets the movie’s best line: “That guy’s a total psycho ward.”

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Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #40: Melinda (dir by Hugh A. Robertson)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only had about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of 2017!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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I recorded Melinda off of TCM on November 13th.

First released in 1972, Melinda is technically a murder mystery.  Frankie J. Parker (Calvin Lockhart, giving a brilliant performance) is a popular radio DJ in Los Angeles.  When we first see Frankie, he’s driving his expensive sportscar through a poor neighborhood.  It’s a neighborhood that he knows well but, as opposed to those around him, he’s made it out.  He’s handsome, slick, and more than a little arrogant.  When he arrives at a local gym, he looks at himself in a mirror and says, “I shouldn’t say it … but I am a pretty motherfucker.”  Frankie’s a student in a taekwondo class taught by Charles Atkins (Jim Kelly).  Charles gives Frankie a hard time about not giving back to the community.  Frankie blows off his concerns.  To be honest, we really should dislike Frankie but he’s so damn charming.  As played by Calvin Lockhart, Frankie has one of those irresistible smirks, the type of the lights up the screen.

One night, Frankie meets the mysterious Melinda (Vonetta McGee) and spends the night with her.  He thinks that it’s just going to be another one night stand but Melinda tells Frankie that he has the potential to be more than he realizes.  Touched, Frankie goes to work and resolves to be a better person.  Then he returns home and discovers that Melinda has been murdered!

The rest of the film deals with Frankie’s attempts to discover who murdered Melinda.  It turns out that Melinda had underworld connections and mob boss Mitch (Paul Stevens) is desperate to recover something that Melinda had in her possession when she died.  But honestly, the whole murder subplot is a MacGuffin (if you want to get all Hitchcockian about it).  Ultimately, Melinda is a character study of Frankie Parker and how, over the course of solving Melinda’s murder, he learns that there’s more to life than just looking out for himself.

Though Melinda was obviously made to capitalize on the blaxploitation craze of the early 70s, it’s actually far more low-key than most of the better known films in the genre.  (Or, at least it is until the karate-filled finale.)  Perhaps because it was directed by a black man and written by noted black playwright Lonne Elder III, Melinda is far more interested in exploring what makes its characters who they are, as opposed to just putting a gun in their hand and having them shoot up the screen.  Frankie Parker emerges as a fascinating character.

Mention should also be made of the performance of Rosalind Cash, who plays Terry, Frankie’s ex.  Cash gets an absolutely amazing scene where, while attempting to convince a bank employee that she’s Melinda so that she can get into Melinda’s safe deposit box, she tells off a rude teller.  It’s such a good scene and Cash delivers her lines with such fury that you find yourself forgetting that the teller was actually correct in her suspicion that Terry wasn’t actually who she said she was.

Melinda is probably one of the best films that hardly anyone has ever heard of.  Keep an eye out for it.