As the first “official” review on the new Oddball Update, we’ll be taking a look at the 2007 Thai horror film Sick Nurses, better known in Thailand as สวยลากไส้ (Suay Laak Sai). Apple and I recently checked this out thanks to Netflix’s Instant Streaming feature, whereby you can pick any movie that’s available instantly and watch it right in your browser (or on your Netflix-enabled set-top device, like a TiVo HD or Xbox 360). I have to say, it was one of the weirdest, most anachronistic Asian horror films I’ve seen — yet it was strangely charming, and the memory of it stuck with me for a long time after watching.
In Thailand, Sick Nurses was billed from the get-go as a horror/comedy, and knowing that up-front, the film makes a whole lot more sense. Whereas the Thai movie posters and artwork featured whimsical portraits of smiling nurses about to be grabbed by malevolent hands, the U.S. DVD cover chooses to dial up the gore, making the film out to be another spine-tingling Asian thriller. It’s not. It’s actually a macabre comedy about a bunch of obsessive-compulsive nurses, wrapped around a wanton gorefest straight out of 1970s exploitation horror. Aside from a few moments of unbelievably disturbing graphic violence, this is mostly a pretty amusing film.
The movie opens at a hospital somewhere in Thailand, where a doctor named Tar and his seven young nurse colleagues are up to no good. Specifically, they’re selling body parts on the black market. At least that’s what we’re led to believe by the screams of Nurse Tawan, who threatens to go to the police with this information just before the others tie her down and shut her mouth permanently by stabbing her to death. Doctor Tar then apparently dumps her body into the trunk of his Volvo, packs it with dry ice and calls up his “body buyers” to see if they’d like to take her off his hands. (She’s got very low mileage, honest.)
We’re then treated to the ominous opening question, printed on a title card across the screen: “Did you know that the dead always return to the one they love on the seventh day?” (Strangely, on the Netflix Instant Streaming version of the film, the subtitle on the screen at this point was completely and utterly wrong. Apple set me straight with the correct translation.) You see, Tawan was wronged in more ways than one: She was head-over-heels in love with Doctor Tar and intended to marry him, but after getting her little sister Nook a job on the nursing staff, Doctor Tar wound up seducing Nook instead — even getting her pregnant in the process. Hell hath no fury, and all that.
After the abrupt death of Tawan, the film jumps forward in time, to less than an hour before that ill-fated seventh day is about to expire. It’s the night shift, and Doctor Tar’s sultry nurses (who all look less like medical professionals than swimsuit models, which shouldn’t be a surprise, because at least one of them actually is one) are all congregating in the break room. Someone brings up the seventh-day curse, and the others dismiss the prospect in fits of girly cackling, spitting food at each other and other high-school-level horsing around. Besides, they say, the seven-day window will be closed in half an hour, after which that ghost is SOL. Of course, you know this means that the ghost of the murdered Tawan is, indeed, about to make her presence felt.
But first, the movie delves into these bizarre little vignettes, wherein it demonstrates just how screwed up all of these nurses are. There’s the junk food-scarfing Jo, who apparently maintains her lean figure by guzzling homemade emetics. There’s the dour and impatient Yim, who can’t seem to stop working out on company time. Aeh has an unhealthy obsession with glamor and fashion. Nook can’t think about anything but marrying Doctor Tar. And then there are the other two sisters, Am and Orn, who play silly kindergarten games and actually have a Narcissus lampshade in their room. Yes, by the time you learn what makes these young ladies tick, you probably won’t mind if the filmmakers invent creative ways for them to meet their ends.
Alone at the front desk, Aeh is the first to come face-to-face with what’s left of her former co-worker. She’s busy cutting fancy necklaces out of magazine ads and taping them onto her body (yeah, no kidding) when she’s suddenly snuck up on by Tawan’s ghost, which I would describe as “inverted.” (It has black skin, blonde hair and hazel eyes.) The ghost toys around with Aeh and then disappears, leading the frenzied young nurse to run screaming from the room. Meanwhile, Aeh has had lipstick smeared all over her face for about 10 minutes now and we’re all wondering when she’s going to, y’know, notice.
Back at the break room, the perpetually-scowling Yim has tired of having her workout interrupted by the childish antics of Am and Orn. After a silent finger-pointing scene in which I believed momentarily that she was literally mute, Yim storms off in a huff, headed for her “sanctum sanctorum” to…work out some more. Yes, they’ve apparently set aside a room in the hospital with a fancy fish tank, nice drapes and a chin-up bar so Yim can get toned instead of doing her job. Here, we learn that the filmmakers clearly appreciate the female figure, because they show us a lot of it. After some creepy OCD-style behavior, Yim goes to take a shower, and you figure that the film is going to suddenly nosedive into softcore porn — until she gets in the shower fully clothed, like it’s apparently a perfectly normal activity. Hey, it’s great opportunity to combine personal hygiene and laundry day, I figure.
Then it gets trippy. Yim goes to pour shampoo out of her bottle, and what actually comes out? Black hair. Comically, she doesn’t seem to notice this until she’s massaged it into her scalp, at which point the Evil Hair takes on a mind of its own and starts wrapping her up like a burrito. It’s stop-motion animated like something straight out of the original Evil Dead, and despite her attempts to fight it, it’s not long before Yim is wrapped up in a veritable cocoon of hair, dangling upside-down from her chin-up bar. The ghost then enjoys a relaxing round of Dunk Yim In The Fishtank, leading to Yim’s drowning death. Oopsie!
While Yim is succumbing to the Hair Follicles of Annihilation, Jo is just coming off her shift and returning to her room to lounge around, still munching on some frozen food crap. She puts on some music, strips down to her lingerie and starts dancing around for apparently no reason other than the bemusement of the men in the audience. She then opens the fridge, and in a massive continuity failure, she’s suddenly wearing a camisole and shorts. Jo makes herself a homemade tomato and egg-white emetic, spews all of her junk food intake into a bag and carefully weighs it. She then picks up the cat (Cat? What cat? There’s a pet cat, I guess), scolds it for eating too much, and then comically throws it across the room. It is seriously one of the most bizarre scenes I’ve ever watched in a horror movie.
Jo goes into the bathroom to brush her teeth (actually pausing in the middle to stuff half a donut in her mouth at complete random) and then is suddenly attacked by — you guessed it — the Hair Monster! It’s the late Nurse Tawan who’s manipulating these malevolent tresses, of course, and in another nod to Evil Dead, she possesses Jo’s hand (turning it black in the process) and forces the woman to brush her teeth with enough murderous strength that blood starts oozing out of the frightened Jo’s mouth.
This isn’t enough for Miss Ghost, though, who apparently has decided to use the obsessions and psychoses of her former colleagues against them in macabre and even ludicrous ways.
It’s only now, some 30-40 minutes into the film, when we start to see some exposition behind the events that led to this moment. Nook, we discover, was apparently not at all sorry for diddling around with Doctor Tar behind her sister Tawan’s back. Nook knows how much Tawan loves Doctor Tar, but doesn’t give a shit. Further, when Tawan catches the two of them playing “sexy time” with medical equipment (uh, eew?) and threatens to reveal the group’s black market body selling as retribution, it’s none other than Nook who plunges the knife into Tawan’s sternum. Wow, that’s sisterly love for you!
Back in the present, the mayhem continues. Now all six of the devious nurses are being haunted by Tawan, who is starting to really turn up the heat. Am and Orn get separated in the lobby, and while Orn is getting tossed around like a rag doll in an elevator, Am checks out the security room and is horrified when she looks at the surveillance monitors and sees all of her nurse buddies in various poses of eternal torment and suffering. Most comical of all is Jo, whom the ghost has malevolently shoved into a garbage can. That’s hardcore horror, friends!
Using Jo’s obsession with binging and purging against her, the ghost of Tawan has decided to stuff the woman’s mouth with anything handy. This is where we’re treated to one of the most disturbing scenes that I’ve ever seen captured on film, next to the infamous eye-puncture scene from Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (ironically, Sick Nurses is often compared to Fulci’s work, so this is probably no coincidence). It involves a mouthful of razor blades, a CG tongue flapping in the wind, a projectile fetus, and another appearance by the pet cat, which shows up to feast on the aforementioned tongue. I don’t think anything else needs to be said here.
Meanwhile, the inseparable duo of Am and Orn comes to an end following some bizarre imagery in which one of them ends up in a black wooden box in the middle of the radiology room. Tawan then gleefully possesses the other nurse into using a gigantic bone saw to reduce the boxed babe to a collection of limbs. The budget must have been blown by the razor blade scene, because the effects here are so incredibly bad that I was laughing throughout nearly the entire scene. Think: A bunch of plastic mannequin limbs in a box that’s holding approximately ten times more blood than the human body contains, and this blood? It looks like Campbell’s tomato soup. (Mm! Mm! Possibilities!) Anyway, after successfully bargaining for mercy from the evil ghost of Tawan, the surviving nurse is so distraught from being forced to kill her friend that she willingly cuts her own throat with the bone saw. So much for those two!
While this is going on, Nook is attempting to simply escape the hospital, hoping the terror doesn’t extend beyond its walls. On the way, she meets the Army of Hair Zombies, and actually engages in a kickass, one-woman zombie fight in the style of Dead Rising. Her egress is finally derailed on the front lawn by Tawan, who summons The Evil Red Cross Sign from the hospital roof to fall and crush the daylights out of her backstabbing (literally) sister. But although the sign appears to kill Nook, we later learn that this is not the end of her. Conveniently, Tawan doesn’t stick around long enough to confirm the kill! (It turns out that the filmmakers intended for Nook to die here, but the Thailand Board of Censors called for this to be altered, as they deemed it a bad association for the medical cross symbol to be seen as a lethal weapon.)
While the film was mostly derivative up until this point, the end contains a real twist. In it, we not only learn the significance of several seemingly pointless interludes we’ve been treated to along the way, but we also learn the true identity of the murdered nurse Tawan. It’s a really creepy and disturbing reveal, which simultaneously makes you go “Ohhhhhhh” as it dawns on you why Nook was so anxious to kill her sister. Then, just when you think it’s over, the movie takes one final screwed up turn that leaves your mouth hanging open. I won’t spoil any of it here, but it saved the film from being an otherwise “me-too” entry in the increasingly popular Asian horror genre.
(Comically, as the end credits roll, some happy bouncy music plays and we’re treated to an ad-hoc sequence of all seven of the film’s actresses mugging in bikinis on some beach somewhere in Thailand. That came out of left field!)
I think what makes Sick Nurses unique is its throwback visual style and its creative ending. Throughout, a vintage 1980s vibe is applied liberally to the film, with elements like stop animation, colored lighting and checkerboard floors conjuring memories of films like Beetlejuice. The quality of the effects varies wildly, from fairly realistic CG gore to colored water-blood and mannequin limbs. But this is largely overshadowed by the general trippiness of the whole production, which is bizarre enough to keep you riveted to your seat throughout, if only to find out how much crazier it’s going to get before it’s over. And the lasting impression its final scenes will leave you with is the most powerful of all.
Sick Nurses started as an MST-worthy, exploitative schlock fest, but turned out interesting and unique enough to warrant my recommendation. If you’re not squeamish, and enjoy throwback horror from Thailand’s unique perspective, get yourself some popcorn and some time to waste, because you might find this one entertaining. Just don’t bring your analytical side, because it will complain too much. As you bear witness to this one, your best bet is to pretend you’re spying on someone else’s nightmare. Then, it makes perfect sense.