Gina Phillips headlines The Sickhouse, a direct-to-video horror flick filmed in London and released here in the United States by New Line Home Entertainment. Phillips, a likeable actress with a nice screen presence, has had an inconsistent track record in the horror genre: Jeepers Creepers was a fun creature feature flick, but Ring Around the Rosie was a train wreck of a motion picture (co-starring Tom Sizemore no less). The Sickhouse stands somewhere in the middle of these two films; it's not a complete dud but it's not all that fun either.
In this fright flick, Phillips plays Anna, who's described as an archaeologist on the DVD cover art. From the way she talks to a professor at the start of the film ("Hey professor, wait up!"), however, I'd guess she's a graduate student with a teaching fellowship, but I guess that's splitting hairs. In any case, Anna is interested in the 17th Century plague, and she's found a dig site where a plague doctor may have done some harm to little children. The bad news is that soil samples, she's told by her professor, have come back as biologically hazardous and the entire site is scheduled for demolition the next morning.
Of course, this being a horror movie, Anna does something really dumb, even by obsessed graduate student standards. She takes advantage of a negligent security guard who doesn't lock the site up, and then cuts through a plastic Biohazard sheet to continue her research. Unfortunately, four punks with a digital camera break into a car, run someone over, and take refuge at the site. The five of them are then locked in and are terrorized by the spirit of the plague doctor, who wears a cloak and sports a weird beak. A lot of poorly lit corridors and unnecessary herky-jerky cam shots follow.
There really isn't all that much that's new here: The Sickhouse seems to be little more than a mash-up of the far superior Session 9 with the remake of House on Haunted Hill. Some scenes are fairly creepy, others are standard and dull fright flick stuff, and a few are gory and bloody, especially those that deal with one of the punks and her pregnancy.
In sum, Gina Phillips is fairly good, and the ending, while circular in logic, is fairly engaging. However, much of the film just seems derivative. Fright flick fans will find this of minor interest, but the casual viewer would be better off seeing either of the other films I mentioned in the previous paragraph.
The Sickhouse is offered up in an unrated edition. To the best of my knowledge, though, there is no rated edition.
New Line presents The Sickhouse with Widescreen 2.35:1 and Full Screen 1.33:1 options when you press Play in the menu system. Naturally, I opted for the widescreen presentation and found it suitable enough for its purposes, especially given that it's enhanced for widescreen televisions. Since much of the film is underlit to heighten its suspense, a whole lot of detail isn't really needed, but details looked reasonably sharp and well-defined.
The Sickhouse provides two different audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and Stereo Surround Sound. I listened to the first of the two options, which is the default audio setting. It seemed nicely mixed - dialogue was clear and sound effects well-placed. The heavy metal songs during the film's opening and closing tracks sound strong and bass.
Subtitles are also available in English and Spanish.
When the disc is played, trailers automatically begin for Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane, Blade: House of Chthon, Amusement, Return to the House on Haunted Hill, Appleseed Ex Machina, and The Brave One. There's a Sneak Peeks link under the menu system that links back to the start of the trailers.
That's it for extras, folks. No special features are present that are specific to the movie.
There's just enough spookshow hokum in The Sickhouse to keep horror fans moderately entertained; the replay value seems kind of negligent, though, especially considering the lack of special features. Rent it, if you're interested.