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The Sickhouse (2007)

Director: Curtis Radclyffe
Starring: Gina Phillips, Kellie Shirley, Alex Hassell, Andrew Knott
Unrated Running time: 100 minutes
Released by New Line Home Video

How is this for a scenario: a group of snot-nosed thirty-year-old punks are out joyriding around in a stolen car. After running over someone in an alley, this group of very unsympathetic characters take refuge in the nearest available building: an abandoned orphanage. Unknown to them, an ambitious, yet extraordinarily dumb, archaeologist has already broken in to the very same building, which is slated for demolition the following morning. It seems this suddenly popular orphanage is the site of some very cloudy happenings during the time of the bubonic plague, and our plucky archaeologist is hell-bent on collecting evidence and investigating the joint before the wrecking ball comes a-swinging. The two parties eventually meet, but they don't get much chance to socialize because the spooky happenings have begun. The characters start developing weird lesions, having hallucinations, and generally just start freaking out. Pretty soon the group finds themselves being stalked by the bird-headed plague doctors and their army of albino midgets.

Oops. I think I just made The Sickhouse sound much better than it actually is. The screenplay by Romla Walker is about as boneheaded as they come. Walker was not content with just having her characters do some incredibly stupid things (casually breaking in to a site known to be infected by the bubonic plague sans facemask or other protective measures; abandoning a very pregnant girl not once, but twice, immediately after something frightening happens; splitting up to explore the building when it has been established that something is killing them one by one), she wraps it all up in an incomprehensible story about the plague, some child murders, and something called "The Cult of the Black Priest", whatever that is. None of it amounts to much, as a large chunk of the movie is little more than people wandering around in the dark while insulting each other. Walker can't shoulder all of the blame, because director Curtis Radclyffe has no desire whatsoever to film the proceedings with anything resembling originality. Radclyffe follows the "Modern Horror Movie Guidebook" to the letter - lots of irritating noises on the soundtrack, jump scares, shaky photography with spastic editing, and lighting so low that it was a wonder that the camera even picked anything up. These days tension equals loud noises and headache-inducing visuals; you won't feel very frightened but you will need to take some dramamine and lay down in a quiet room.

It's not all bad; the actors do the best they can with what they have to work with, and when you can actually see them, the creature make-up is pretty good. Neither can save The Sickhouse from the its place near the bottom of the heap.

2 out of 5.

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