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The Sickhouse (2007)

New Line Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/18/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: No extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/7/2008

What sort of reactions do you have to movies? When I see a good movie, I'm happy. When I see a bad movie, I'm either irritated that I've wasted my time, or I'm bemused by the fact that the movie was so bad that I was able to make fun of it and at least enjoy myself. It's when a movie shows wasted potential that I actually get angry. Considering the true lack of good movies out there, a film that's a missed opportunity is not only a knock against the filmmakers, but a slight on the audience as well. The British horror entry The Sickhouse could have been an interesting addition to the genre. but it misses by a mile (or a kilometer in this case).

The Sickhouse is set in London, where we meet archaeologist Anna (Gina Philips), who is studying the Plague of the 17th Century. While searching in a children's hospital, she finds evidence of the plague, despite the fact that maps show that the disease never reached that part of town. She also finds evidence that Plague Doctors, physicians who worked with patients and retrieved the dead, were active in the building. She asks to do more research, but she's told that due to the fact that the building may be a health hazard, it's being demolished the next day. Anxious to learn more, Anna sneaks past the security guards, makes her way to the basement, and resumes her digging. Meanwhile, four youths -- Nick (Alex Hassell), Joolz (Kellie Shirley), Steve (Andrew Knott), and Clive (Jack Bailey) -- are joyriding in a stolen car. They are driving past the hospital just as Anna finds a box which contains an eerie, ancient doll. The car which Nick is driving wrecks at this moment. Fearing that the police will soon be there, the group makes there way into the hospital and bolts the door behind them. Anna soon finds the hoodlums and they realize that they're trapped. This is unfortunate, for Anna's discovery has released a ghostly evil into the hospital which causes violent hallucinations and is intent on re-creating atrocities from the past.

In my recent review for August Rush, I wrote about the lack of original ideas in movies today. Essentially, most everything has been done. A way to get around this is to take an old concept and place a new main idea into it, and this is exactly what is happening in The Sickhouse. The film's concept about a group of people being trapped in a building with something evil is hardly original, and certainly borders on cliche. The new addition here is the inclusion of the Plague and the Plague Doctors. Sure, we've all heard of the Plague, but other than Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I don't recall seeing it in a movie. The notion that this terrible time in human history could create evil is an ingenuous one. The movie then goes a step further with the introduction of the Plague Doctor. We learn that these men wore masks, which looked like bird beaks, which were intended to filter out the disease. The Plague Doctor appears as the main ghost (?) in the film and along with his beak-like mask, he wears a long, black garb, and appears to be unusually tall. This is a very unique and creepy villain.

Unfortunately, after these ideas, the originality in The Sickhouse comes to a screeching halt, and the rest of the movie is a redundant, familiar, and decidedly cheap affair. Once the group gets locked in the hospital, the movie becomes very similar to Thirteen Ghosts or House on Haunted Hill (1999) (with the carload of joyriding punks suddenly arriving on the scene feeling as if it were lifted directly from Demons.). The film turns into a series of frightened characters running down dimly-lit corridors, arguing with one another, and encountering spectral images. These ghosts are shot in the now overly familiar slightly out-of-focus, rapid editing style which has become a stand-by of these movies. After the initial ideas are introduced, there is no effort made to further develop the plot or the characters. This is where the movie truly disappoints, as I wanted learn more about the Plague Doctor and his victims. Director Curtis Radclyffe has ample time to expand upon this story, but he and writer Romla Walker instead opt to give us scene after scene of the group roaming the hospital and Nick saying something insulting. Although the movie attempts to bring in some new ideas towards the end, the entire thing is an exercise in tedium.

There's also questions about the overall tone of the film. At the outset, I had the impression that this would be a somewhat stoic ghost movie. But, these ideas were shattered about half-way through when the gore arrived. Blood violence is to be expected in a horror film, but there is one scene here which reminded me o the Italian shocker Creatures from the Abyss, and it's a scene where many viewers will give up on the film. This scene, and some of the other violent deaths, didn't really gel with the rest of the movie.

I'm a sucker for a good haunted house movie, and The Sickhouse looked as if it were going to be a good haunted hospital movie. But, despite a promising premise, the movie shed any pretense of being original and fell into very familiar territory. The ending felt very tacked on and was reminiscent of Donnie Darko (!). If you are interested in seeing a good movie about a haunted hospital, check out Boo instead.

The Sickhouse brings out its dead on DVD courtesy of New Line Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame version of the movie. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fine at first. The image is sharp and clear, and free from any overly distracting grain or defects from the source material. However, once the lights go out, things change. The movie was shot on HD and the transfer has given us an image which is riddled with distortion and video noise. The character's skin takes on a grey pallor and it's riddled with pixels. The video during the second half of the movie looks so odd that it's distracting. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. There is a nice sound design here and we're treated to some enticing stereo and surround sound effects as the group travels through the haunted hospital. The film contains several "boom" sound effects which keep the subwoofer active.

There are no bonus features on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long