Review: Thospol Siriwiwat and Piraphan Laoyont’s “Sick Nurses”

The tired conventions of East Asian horror films are given a few clever and satirical twists in Thospol Siriwiwat and Piraphan Laoyont’s Sick Nurses (2007), a hospital-set flick that is essentially a series of murderous set pieces executed with an impressive flair for luridly-colored visuals and sharp editing. The titular nurses surround an apparently bisexual doctor, Dr. Tah (Vichaya Jarujinda), who has a lucrative side gig harvesting organs on the black market. At the film’s start, one of the nurses, Tahwaan (Chol Wajananont), is being held down and murdered by the doctor and other nurses for threatening to expose the scheme after she catches him two-timing her with one of the other nurses, who happens to be her sister Nook (Chidjun Rujiphan). Tahwaan’s body has to be kept for a week because Dr. Tah’s supplier isn’t yet ready for it, which forms the basis for the film’s main conceit, the belief that a dead person returns for their loved ones within a week. The time frame of the film, peppered with flashbacks filling in the relationships between the characters, is the final half-hour leading up to midnight on the seventh day. Tahwaan, now a green-skinned, long-haired ghoul, returns to wreak vengeance on the other nurses, viciously exploiting their vanities and turning their obsessions with beauty, body image, and materialistic pursuits against them in ever more vicious and cleverly staged ways.

The oddly empty hospital corridors are the stage for a series of deaths that in their lurid pink and blood-red color schemes recall Dario Argento’s giallo horror films. Some are the most memorable here are the deaths by handbag, cell phone, and a particularly nasty bit of business wherein one of the nurses’ lower part of her face is shredded by razors, topped off with her cat nibbling at her severed tongue. Also, an elaborate dismemberment befalls one of a pair of incestuous lesbian twin sisters, Am and Orn (Amipairut and Ampaivan Techapoowapat). Sick Nurses is as lurid and titillating as it possibly can be without running afoul of Thai censors, focusing on these alluring nurses in anatomical close-ups but being careful to shy away from nudity, resulting in an odd scene where one of the nurses showers with her clothes on. All of this leads up to an ending that recalls Takashi Miike’s Gozu.

Sick Nurses surprisingly finds new variations on the clichéd J-horror conventions of long-haired, vengeful ghosts, sustaining maximum tension and concisely rendering its very simple story. The far inferior Hollywood version should be arriving any day now.