Harold's Going Stiff: Film Review

"Harold's Going Stiff"
Humane vision of a zombie scenario is undercut by off-key comedy

Keith Wright offers a gentler take on the zombie flick.

Central to contemporary zombie films is rapid infection: If your buddy gets bitten, you probably have only a couple of scenes (maybe mere seconds) to say goodbye. In Keith Wright's Harold's Going Stiff, zombification is a slow killer, one sometimes hard to distinguish from the normal frailties of aging. The notion is rich with potential for metaphor and pathos, and Wright comes closer to making it work than one might expect in a genre where one filmmaker plays four central creative roles. But he stumbles by trying to incorporate mock-doc humor and in failing to see some themes through, resulting in a sincere but confused picture with little commercial potential.

Stan Rowe plays the titular Harold Gimble, who was the first man to be infected with "Onset Rigors Disease" and, for unexplained reasons, has remained longer than anyone else in the ailment's earliest stage. While other men in rural England (sufferers are always male) move through phases of mental disorientation to eventual violence, Harold still just has what resembles a bad case of arthritis.

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A caring new nurse (Sarah Spencer's Penny) seems to be reversing even that problem, helping the elderly man stretch and guarding his interests as scientists make him a guinea pig for possible cures. The two form a bond that borders on romance, and this relationship is the picture's most successful element.

But in laying groundwork for a threat to their friendship, Wright introduces a trio of bumbling vigilantes -- "Protectors," whose hooliganistic campaign of bludgeoning stray O.R.D. sufferers calls to mind the efforts of those in the U.S. Southwest bent on safeguarding us from scary Mexican immigrants. Scenes featuring these three only once come close to provoking fear ("action" really doesn't describe anything in the film, and compared to other zombie flicks the gore factor is nil), and as comedy they're both underperforming and needlessly mean-spirited.

One sees where the film might have gone in this direction. But any scene making light of the disease undercuts both the movie's interest in its parallels with real-world aging and our own investment in the well-being of Harold -- who, as played by Rowe, is a decent old chap hardly deserving to be the butt of violent yokels' jokes.

Production Company: Frisson Film

Cast: Stan Rowe, Sarah Spencer, Andy Pandini, Phil Gascoyne, Lee Thompson, Richard Harrison, Liz Simmons

Director-Screenwriter-Director of photography-Editor: Keith Wright

Producer: Richard Guy

Music: Tom Kane

No rating, 79 minutes