Harold’s Going Stiff (2011)

Harold’s Going Stiff (2011)

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Given the size of her, she'd probably win this fight.
Given the size of her, she’d probably win this fight.

Twitter Plot Summary: Harold suffers from Onset Rigors Disease and is helped by carer Penny to limit the disease’s impact on his daily activities.

Genre: Comedy/Horror

Director: Keith Wright

Key Cast: Stan Rowe, Sarah Spencer, Andy Pandini, Phil Gascoyne, Richard Atkinson, Lee Thompson, Richard Harrison.

Five Point Summary:

1. Hah, the zombies run like they’ve had a toilet-related accident.
2. A realistic portrayal of elderly illness. Perhaps a first for a zombie film?
3. Oh look, another shot of the moors.
4. And the reason why they’re becoming zombies is… funny.
5. It’s an inevitable end, but a powerful one all the same.

I am a self-confessed zombie movie obsessive, so I will watch just about anything under the sun (and beyond, in fact) that covers the genre, more so when the film covers new territory. Don’t get me wrong, I love the films that follow the typical zombie outbreak formula as there’s plenty of scope to branch out into a number of different stories from that initial premise. Harold Goes Stiff is a perfect example of taking that core concept and expanding on it with an original premise. To call it a horror would perhaps be going a step too far. Yes it deals with zombies but for me it’s more a comedy drama than anything else.

The film uses a documentary style and includes a number of talking heads interview-style segments with all of the core cast. We discover through these segments that a growing number of men are suffering from Onset Rigors Disease, a disease that resembles rigor mortis, then later confusion and violence and slowly turns those afflicted into zombies. The explanation for why these men (and only men) are becoming zombies is a stroke of genius, but rather than go into detail here I’ll let you discover it for yourself – suffice to say it’s related to food. Making a comment on the effects of media panic and questioning what goes into processed food is always a fertile place to take your story, and with recent scares regarding horse meat it remains a pertinent issue.

Harold was having such a bad day, he didn't notice he'd spilled ketchup all down his face.
Harold was having such a bad day, he didn’t notice he’d spilled ketchup all down his face.

The key to the story is the relationship between Harold and his carer, Penny. As the film progresses their relationship develops from carer/patient to a genuine friendship. What’s more is that the transition is believable, and is really sold by Stan Rowe and Sarah Spencer. Both of them are in essence society’s outcasts and are subsequently rather lonely people. He’s a pensioner with no family and an illness that most would not care to think about, whereas she’s an overweight nurse trying to find the right man and facing ridicule from most of the people she meets, just because she doesn’t have the right “look”. Intercutting the Harold/Penny story are a trio of zombie hunters who spend most of their time standing around in fields talking to the camera. These sequences, whilst occasionally amusing, take away from the core story and emphasise the fact it was made on a shoestring budget. Having these three guys do something other than standing around in the middle of nowhere would have helped immensely.

Okay, so there’s almost no budget to speak of and very little really happens, but it’s an interesting twist as far as the zombie genre goes and it’s nice to see something a little bit different. I’d be interested to see more stories within this world, although I feel the idea does actually run its course within the somewhat brief 77 minute running time, so a sequel would probably not be a good idea. It just goes to show that budget can only take you so far – a good script and compelling performances are king.

Favourite scene: Where Harold’s rehabilitation starts to work, and the friendship between Penny and Harold starts to develop in full.

Quote: “If it walks like a zombie, looks like a zombie and acts like a zombie – it’s a zombie, isn’t it?”

Silly Moment:  When some of the zombies break free from their care home and run away with stiff limbs.

Score: 3.5/5

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