Harold’s Going Stiff (2010)
A zombie-based comedy from writer-director Keith Wright, it’s worth mentioning from the off that this could prove to be as contentious as 28 Days Later among fans as it doesn’t technically, by the director’s own admission, feature any of the classical, undead type of zombies that we’re used to.
ORD (Onset Rigors Disease) is a new problem in the UK and one that is causing a lot of pain and upset to both its victims and the victim’s loved ones. The cure may lie with elderly Harold Gimble (Stan Rowe), one of the first to contract the disease and also someone who has spent the longest amount of time dealing with it without going into the final, violent stages of it. It looks like he could actually be making progress with the help of his carer, Penny (Sarah Spencer), and a close friendship also develops between the two of them. Other victims just keep getting worse, however, and when they turn violent and run off they are taken down by a trio of baseball bat-wielding vigilantes who believe that they’re doing the right thing.
Shot in an astonishingly short amount of time (the director specified that it was about 8-9 days before going on to amuse the audience at Edinburgh’s Dead By Dawn festival with tales of forced improvisation and frozen mice . . . . . . . . . . . you have to see the film to find out about that) and with a budget that would get you a very nice second-hand car (again, according to Mr. Wright), Harold’s Going Stiff is both a wonderful film and a brilliantly different spin on the zombie subgenre.
It’s not scary from a conventional viewpoint, let’s be quite honest about that, but there is something to consider here that’s quite worrying for all of us – those twilight years lying ahead of us that may see us lose our physical health, our ability to fend for ourselves and our mental faculties. Nobody wants to get to a certain age in life and have weekly appointments being poked and prodded and provided with physical therapy just to be able to hang out the laundry.
For the first hour of its runtime, Harold’s Going Stiff is frequently hilarious but it remains consistently worthwhile even after the laughs have faded (though they don’t disappear altogether) thanks to the sympathy you have for main characters that are a pleasure to spend time with.
Stan Rowe is great as Harold, there’s a real weary sadness about him and a sense that he just wants to get back to something approaching a normal state even if he’s never going to be the fit young man he once was. Sarah Spencer is great as Penny, a caring and lovely woman who also has the spontaneity and sense of fun that separates her from those in her chosen field who may remain cold and clinical. The friendship between the two is beautifully sketched and never too heavy handed. Then we have those vigilantes (played by Andy Pandini, Lee Thompson and scene-stealing amateur Richard Harrison) getting their share of screentime, three people who do bad things but also provide most of the film’s best comedy moments. Phil Gascoyne is the other main player, Dr. Shuttleworth, and is great with his portrayal of a professional who appears to care for one particular patient but has a much bigger picture to deal with.
Yet another great low-budget movie that proves that money isn’t necessary to make something captivating, unique and entertaining, a major thumbs up to Keith Wright for providing horror fans with this real gem. My one gripe with the film is just the inconsistency of the look of the thing – some scenes have a sparse beauty to them while others simply highlight the low budget – but it’s a minor minus in a film full of many positives.
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DIRECTOR: KEITH WRIGHT
STARS: STAN ROWE, SARAH SPENCER, ANDY PANDINI, LEE THOMPSON, RICHARD HARRISON, PHIL GASCOYNE
RUNTIME: 77 MINS APPROX