Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Sick House (2008)

Usually I feel a certain dread when approaching a review of a direct-to-DVD flick, especially if it’s a big studio release. Let’s be honest here, most of these releases suck. They get unceremoniously dumped to DVD because there is no way they would fare well in theaters. Most feature the same rehashed plot with some laughable killer who’s returned from the grave to stalk and kill a group of big-breasted women for some flimsy reason.

These kinds of horror movies are the ones that give the genre a bad name and put such a stigma on the “direct-to-DVD” label. Recently, though, direct-to-DVD films seem to be getting better, even the ones from big studios.

How does The Sick House compare? Read on to find out…

An American archaeologist named Anna (Gina Phillips of Jeepers Creepers) is working at a dig in a 17th century plague hospital. During her research, she has encountered stories about a plague doctor who would viciously torture those in his care rather than help them, including children. She has traced the plague doctor to this specific location and is looking for clues to prove his existence. Trouble is, the Department of Public Health has deemed the hospital unsafe due to the threat of contamination by the plague and have slated it for demolition the following day. Anna sneaks into the condemned building that night for a last ditch effort to recover any artifacts linked to the plague doctor. She finds a badly decomposed doll and inadvertently releases the malevolent spirit of the plague doctor.

Meanwhile, four kids seek refuge in the building after they hit something (or someone) with their stolen car. When Anna and the group meet, they realize they are trapped in the building…along with the malicious plague doctor, who begins recreating his vicious killings.

I was extremely surprised at how much I enjoyed The Sick House. I didn’t have high hopes for the film and it certainly wasn’t the best horror film I’ve ever seen, but for an hour and a half I was pleasantly entertained.

First and foremost, credit must be given to the actors for their performances. Gina Phillips really carried the film with her portrayal as the hard-nosed Anna, but the other actors also did a fantastic job as well. Alex Hassell, Kellie Shirley, Andrew Knott and Jack Bailey were all great in their roles as the teens stuck in the hospital. They did not play their characters like the annoying stereotypical teens you see in so many horror flicks; they were actually likable and could actually act!! Shirley and Hassell easily stood out as the strongest, though everyone did a fine job. I can’t forget John Lebar who played the plague doctor and created a very ominous figure!

The story, written by Curtis Radclyffe (who also directed), Romla Walker, Matthew James Wilkinson and Marc Zakian, was a nice spin on the typical ghost or haunting story. The setting and the back story of the plague were brilliant and created a very eerie atmosphere. There were some problems with the script, though. It didn’t quite delve into the plague as much as I hoped, things were a bit confusing at times and the how’s and why’s of the plague doctor’s return were never addressed. The middle of the film was a bit convoluted and things should have been explained better. I did, however, enjoy the ending, which put a nice twist on the story.

The direction by Curtis Radclyffe was decent, but there were just too many times when the lighting was too dark or the camera movement too fast to make out what was happening on screen. Some scenes just left me scratching my head as to what had just happened. Also, the editing was a bit jumpy at times, though I did enjoy the jerky movements of the plague doctor.

For the most part, though, the film was pretty enjoyable! I liked how the plague doctor creatively recreated the deaths of his victims from the plague era with Anna and the teens. One gets slashed across the stomach, another stabbed in the shoulder, one is hanged, another burned alive, etc. The gore in The Sick House wasn’t excessive, but there was plenty of the red, sticky stuff to go around! As for the plague doctor, he was downright scary!! Wearing black robes and a spooky long-beaked bird mask (an outfit typical of doctors at the time to protect them from the plague) and towering over the other characters, he created a startling image. I’m surprised plague doctors haven’t been featured in horror movies more often because they are downright spooky!

Overall, The Sick House was a pleasant addition to the world of direct-to-DVD horror movies. The film has its problems, but for the most part I was able to overlook these and enjoy the film.

Available from Amazon!

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