The Sickly One is an upcoming stop-motion animation short.
In a dilapidated house that stands in the rubble of a ruined city, a vaguely humanoid, almost skeletal creature is stricken by a debilitating malady. Bedridden and growing weaker by the day, this ‘boy’; Horace, is tended to by his sole companion; a hulking, grunting, grotesque abomination that he refers to as ‘Mother’. Incapable of speech as we know it and apparently blind, it seems her sole purpose in life is to regulate Horace’s fever-dream punctuated sleep and abate his constant pain with a combination of medications, namely sleeping tablets and ‘Special Cream’.
Horace is the film’s titular ‘Sickly One’. He is a pink, emaciated, skull-faced creature. Although possessing the temperament of a young child, Horace’s actual age is ambiguous. He is bed-bound, stricken with a mysterious illness, the only symptoms of which to be made explicit are debilitating weakness and a painful rash. Although his illness and pain is genuine, Horace is nonetheless portrayed as being somewhat hypochondriac, and ‘wallowing’ in his affliction. He is also shown to be somewhat cruel and unappreciative in regards to his mother, who serves as his carer and only sentient companion.
The character of Horace is in part inspired from King Edward VI of England, the only male heir of Henry VIII who died of tuberculosis aged just 15. Having studied the Tudors repeatedly due to moving school as a child, I built up a vivid mental image of Edward as a sickly, bedridden, yet privileged and entitled individual. Another inspiration for Horace is Prince Herbert, the fey, pale acned prince portrayed by Terry Jones in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The name Horace is in fact a reference to a poem by Jones concerning a child who devours himself in front of his parents;
Much to his Mum and Dad’s dismay
Horace ate himself one day.
He didn’t stop to say his grace
He just sit down and ate his face.
“We can’t have this!” his Dad declared,
”If that lad’s ate, he should be shared.”
Horace’s mother is a large, heavily set, hunchbacked creature. Her head is a grey misshapen lump, she possesses no visible nose and has crude stitches where one might expect her eyes to be. She dresses in a manner reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, only her clothing is dusty and shabby, and accessorised with an apron. She is not capable of speech as such, and instead communicates in grunts and growls. Mother has little discernible personality traits other than clumsiness and a seemingly unconditional devotion to Horace.
Horace’s mother is envisioned as a cross between ‘Nanny’ from the 1980s Cosgrove Hall cartoon Count Duckula, and the monstrous animatronic abomination that serves as Mark Heap’s long lost mother in the sketch show Big Train.
Influence and Tone
The Sickly One draws inspiration from a number of sources, both fictional and historical.
An obvious point of reference would be Dave Firth’s Salad Fingers. There are numerous similarities between The Sickly One and Salad Fingers; both live in isolated buildings situated in otherwise barren landscapes, both suffer from a mysterious illness, both deliver monologues or soliloquies to themselves/the audience. Despite this apparent common ground, Salad Fingers is not a direct influence and I see The Sickly One as having a visual style and anarchic sense of humour that is very distinct from Dave Firth’s work.
Key visual influences on The Sickly One’s world are the post-environmental apocalypse wasteland depicted in Dr Seuss’ book The Lorax, as well as the ruined Los Angeles as shown in the future war scenes of James Cameron’s The Terminator. The interior of Horace’s house draws inspiration from David Fincher’s Fight Club, Bruce Robinson’s Withnail and I and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead.