How Did This Get Made: Death Spa (An Oral History)

Death Spa

Stunt man for the climax of the film, dressed as the witch

Part 4: In Which Women on Fire are Burnt Out

Jamie Beardsley: What were my expectations for the film when we finished shooting? Hmmm….that’s a good question. I guess the first I should say is that even when you’re “done,” you’re never really done. After production ended, I heard that they wanted to do re-shoots. I was like what? Okay, well what is it? They just needed some bits and bobs.

Michael Fischa: You always sit there afterwards and say, “I should have done that, I should have done that.” Whatever it is. You always think what you could have done different. Sometimes there is money to do such things, but usually there is not. So you’re never really happy with the film. Which is not the right attitude, of course, but it is the truth.

Jamie Beardsley: And then even after you have all the shots you need, or at least know all the shots that you’re going to have, the editing can just be…by the way, we ended up editing the whole thing in Michael’s living room. [referring to editor Michael Kewley]. That’s what we could afford. So, you know, it just…those were the days, my friend.

Mitch Paradise: I sat with Walter in the editing bay, once, when we went over it. You know, suggested a change or two. But I was not really involved in the production or editing part. I was the writer, I got paid, and I took my credit such as it was. And off it went. I think it went straight to video. I don’t think it ever had a feature release.

Jamie Beardsley: I thought for sure we would…well, back then, you sold your movie. And we did. We actually did. It wasn’t a lot. I think we made like $350,000 was our advance. But I guess I was hoping to have a little more of a homerun, you know?

Arledge Armenaki: It’s a tough business. It’s a tough, tough business.

Jamie Beardsley: If not a homerun, I at least kind of expected that we would hit it somewhere. Get to third base, or something.

Michael Fischa: I don’t know about the financial outcome of the whole thing. But, I mean, it must have done something or they would not have re-release it.

David Shaughnessy: I don’t even think Death Spa went to movie theaters. Did it?

Elijah Drenner: I think Death Spa had a limited theatrical run in the United States. A small theatrical screening probably just to satisfy SAG requirements and that was it. And then it played theatrically in Europe as a movie called Witch Bitch.

Jamie Beardsley: Looking back, I don’t know, sometimes I blame myself for not being better at making a deal. Like really selling the film. And well, you know, I must say that…by the end of it all…I kind of lost steam. By the end of making a film like this…you’re just dead. You’re done, you’re cooked, you’re over, it’s finished. You’re like: oh my god, I never want to see this film or any of these people again in my whole life. You know? After a while you just run screaming from the room. And yeah, it was a rough. So I don’t know that I fought for it as much as I should have. You know? I mean, I wasn’t the only person, but I don’t think I did very well in that part of the movie. And I kind of, I don’t know, I kind of feel sad and kind of blame myself a bit now that you mention it. Thanks! Now I’m all depressed.

Death Spa: Sheri Shattuck in make-up, pre burn

Sheri Shattuck in make-up, pre burn

Part 5: Midnight Madness

After watching Elijah Drenner’s An Exercise in Terror: The Making of Death Spa—his 51 minute documentary included on the film’s 2014 Blu-Ray release—I sent an e-mail to the director. In addition to letting him know how much I enjoyed his short film, I also asked him a question: Did he think that MPI ever would have re-released Death Spa if not for his pushing them to do so? 

From: elijah drenner
Date: Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 12:57 AM
Subject: Re: hey
To: Blake Harris

Hey Blake –

Glad you liked it the making-of.

I did pester Todd Wieneke at MPI to release DEATH SPA over the course of at least 5 years. I can’t say it was my idea, since it was an asset that I’m sure they fully intended to exploit, it was just a matter of how and when. But yes, I would say that I was an outside force that nudged Todd, to nudge his bosses. I know Todd wanted it back out there, but the higher-ups perhaps didn’t consider it in the same class as their other titles. He was able to get a budget for proper restoration, scan the elements (thats a whole other story) and ensure the new presentation was top-notch.

I’d say that it was a joint effort between the two of us.

Personally, I think that Elijah’s being modest. But, based on the short time that I’ve known him, I wouldn’t expect any less. I first reached out to him a couple weeks ago when starting on this piece and, it should be noted, he was incredibly helpful throughout.  

Jamie Beardsley on the right and editor Michael Kewley's wife on the left (there cameo is discovering the exploading woman in the bathroom)

Jamie Beardsley on the right and editor Michael Kewley’s wife on the left (there cameo is discovering the exploading woman in the bathroom)

Jamie Beardsley: I’ll tell you something, I’m so impressed with him.

Arledge Armenaki: I’ve seen a lot of these Making Of films, even been in a few myself, and I have to say that Elijah’s was one of the best I’ve seen.

Elijah Drenner: The pleasure is all mine. Really. It took a lot of emails, a lot of pestering to get the film released, but I just knew that there was an audience for this.

And, as luck would have it, Elijah as well as a few others involved in this piece, would actually get the chance to meet that audience. 

Elijah Drenner: You know, we did a midnight screening of it here at CineFamily;

Jamie Beardsley: I don’t know if Elijah told you, but I didn’t even invite anyone to the screening. I didn’t think that anyone was going to show up. But Elijah came to my house and picked me up and I remember, as we pulled up to the theater, I saw a whole bunch of people and there was this line wrapped around the street. I said to Elijah “That must just be a bunch of homeless people.” And then we get closer to the theater and, by god, there is a line going down the block of the, what do you call it, the standby. It had been sold out for two weeks apparently. And these are just people who were hoping that those other people didn’t show up. I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned. I was stunned.

Elijah Drenner: Jamie just about shit her pants.

Mitch Paradise: You know, when I saw it last year—at this midnight showing—it was funny. I hadn’t seen it in, I don’t know, thirty years. It was funny to see how camp it was. How it really comes off as funny in places that, I think, were supposed to be serious. And everyone’s wearing the tight-tight shorts. It’s very funny. It got a lot of laughs and I was happy to sit there and bask in the laughs at this point in time. It really is, like, kind of a camp, classic at this point. Like a little camp jewel. And I’m proud of it. What the heck?

Jamie Beardsley: You know I was so, I kind of just, I was so…disappointed at how it had gone all those years ago…we had made this movie that was almost exactly what we waned to make but nobody ever saw it. Or maybe they did but just didn’t feel the same way that we did. And when that happens, you start doubting yourself. You go: maybe this really sucks and maybe I suck and maybe I should just kill myself now and get it over with, you know?

Mitch Paradise: But the idea, I think, actually holds up. The ghost in the machine idea actually holds up. And I think that I came up with the idea of, you know, computer-run machines where you could get stuck to the machine. Where the machine controls you, you don’t control the machine. I mean, you can read metaphors into that if you want to. You can take it all the way back to Metropolis, but I wouldn’t be so…what’s the right word…I would not…you know, make a case that that’s what I was trying to do. Was it ahead of its time in a goofy way that I didn’t foresee? Maybe.

Jamie Beardsley: I just…I don’t know of any other film like this film. Now maybe there is, but honestly this is quite it’s own little island this movie. It’s just such a bizarre, strange little animal.

Michael Fischa: I think, at the time, the people we were making fun of were too involved with themselves to see what was going in. But I think today they can watch it and be amused. Or not.

Elijah Drenner: I think Death Spa was either ahead of its time, or late to the game. Whatever the case, it was just bad timing. But I think the movie they made was exactly what they intended to do. They were ambitious. And you can see the fruits of their labor. It’s a little cheesy, but they were okay with it then, and they’re definitely okay with it now. You ask the screenwriter, Mitch Paradise, he’s proud of it. Jamie’s proud of it. Everybody I spoke to was proud of making Death Spa.

Jamie Beardsley: So we get out of the car and walk into the theater where there’s this big crowd. I’m still stunned, by the way. And then, not until after I’m already there—and it’s a midnight screening, remember?—they say, “You’re going to stay for a Q&A afterwards, right?” And I’m thinking: yeah, right. Who would possibly want to hear what I have to say. Nobody’s gonna wanna stick around here that late at night. Well, we were there ‘til 4 o’clock in the morning! Signing DVDs, telling stories, laughing…the audience was out of their mind. It was just so cool. And so gratifying. And I’m so glad that Michael [Kewley] and Mitch were there because nobody would have ever believed me. I had witnesses, you know what I mean? I was so glad to have some witnesses because I could hardly believe it myself.

death spa oral history

If you’re interested in learning more about this film, check out Elijah Drenner’s An Exercise in Terror: The Making of Death Spa. 

In addition, I highly recommend one of Drenner’s new films: That Guy Dick Miller, which chronicles the life and career of a great character actor whose career spanned over six decades and nearly 200 films.

Or, if you’re more interested in making films than watching them, you may want to consider the film program at Western Carolina University where Arledge Armenaki serves as an Associate Producer of Cinematography. 

Pages: Previous page 1 2 3

Cool Posts From Around the Web: