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Although the modern Asian ghost genre continues to languish in the creative doldrums, it does throw up the occasional gem, such as the delirious “Sick Nurses” from Thai directors Thospol Siriwiwat and Piraphan Laoyont. A truly whacked-out and imaginatively grotesque variation on the tired old themes, the film has been gathering somewhat of a cult reputation, playing at festivals and having already earned itself an international DVD release.
The basic set up sounds depressingly familiar – a group of nurses at a hospital are haunted and killed by the vengeful ghost of Tahwan (Chol Wajananont), a colleague they murdered after she discovered their black market organ trading. Making matters even more tragic is the fact that the killing was masterminded by her own sister Nook (Chol Wajananont) as a means of stealing her man, the suave doctor and head of the cadaver selling operation, Tah (Vichaya Jarujinda). According to local legend, a ghost has until midnight to return and visit her loved ones, and sure enough Tahwan appears and starts taking bloody revenge in a variety of increasingly bizarre ways.
Although the above synopsis may be enough to discourage understandably jaded genre fans, “Sick Nurses” delivers the goods in a most unexpected and refreshingly unrestrained manner. Rather than the usual investigative structure and melodrama, the film instead follows the slasher mentality of victims being bumped off one by one, with very little in the way of pointless filler material or unnecessary chat. Indeed, it works mainly as a series of long, drawn out death scenes that fit together in a fractured timeline, leaping backwards and forwards in a way which allows the film to take place in a short fifteen minute time span. Siriwiwat and Laoyont manage to pull this off very well, and although chaotic the narrative just about hangs together, even managing to survive a frankly insane (though oddly touching) final twist.
This is not to suggest that “Sick Nurses” is a sensible or coherent film – far, far from it. From pretty much the first frame it is made clear that logic and realism were way down the directors’ list of concerns, and the film is a determinedly surreal affair, coming across like “A Nightmare on Elm St” on a bad acid trip. The death scenes are incredibly creative and bizarre, with some truly jaw-dropping moments of ghoulish madness and some excellent use of special effects. Also in its favour is the fact the film is fiercely visceral and bloody, with lots of severed limbs, surgical saws and squirm inducing scenes. Of course, given the notorious strictness of the Thai censors there is no real nudity to speak of, though the film has a definite sleazy and perverse streak, with lots of shots of the gorgeous nurses in their underwear and with the camera often lingering on cleavages and other choice parts of their anatomies.
The gore and skin play an important thematic part in the film and are not simply for cheap thrills, with Siriwiwat and Laoyont savagely attacking the vanity and material obsessions of the nurses. All of the characters are bitchy and unpleasant, and as such the film at times takes on the feel of an off-kilter satire on modern morality. Certainly, although not comical it has a definite streak of cruel humour, with the ghost lurking around as a sardonic presence who in a departure from the usual glum ghouls seems to really get a kick out of her actions and who even manages to crack a mean smile or two.
Siriwiwat and Laoyont’s direction is excellent throughout, with a wild use of colour that firmly locates the hospital set in another dimension. Recalling “Inferno” and other works of the Italian maestro Dario Argento, the lurid greens, pinks and blues provide a constant assault on the senses and generate a distinctly unsettling atmosphere. The film is packed with imaginative camera work that also helps to keep the viewer on edge and trying to work out what next piece of nastiness will be unleashed next. The pace is fast and unrelenting, and clocking in at just an hour and twenty minutes, the film never wastes time or outstays its welcome.
As a result, “Sick Nurses” is the perfect antidote for tired genre fans, packing in more excitement and far out thrills than a dozen of its erstwhile peers. Hugely entertaining and slickly directed, it will hopefully find its audience on DVD around the world, as well as providing proof that Asian horror still has plenty to offer in the right hands.
Piraphan Laoyont, Thodsapol Siriwiwat (director)
CAST: Dollaros Dachapratumwan … Jo
Wichan Jarujinda … Dr. Taa
Kanya Rattapetch … Ae
Chidjan Rujiphun … Nook
Chon Wachananon … Tawan
Ase Wang … Yim