Uncle Peckerhead. 2020.
Directed by Matthew John Lawrence.
Starring David Littleton, Greg Maness, Ruby McCollister, Jeff Riddle, Shannon O’Neill, and Chet Siegel.
When a punk band scores their first tour, life on the road proves tough when they are joined by a man-eating demon as a roadie.
Demons? New Jersey? Punk rock? Matthew John Lawrence’s Uncle Peckerhead knows the interstate to my heart (as a genre-loving Jerseyite headbanger). It’s a horror-comedy, which translates via the suggestive title, and an unsuspectingly tender one based on what the title might cause you to prematurely judge (not talking about the flesh munching, either). A movie about selling your soul for rock and roll, when your roadie morphs into something carnivorous shortly after two minutes to midnight.
Judy (Chet Siegel) is the enthusiastic bassist in a struggling alt-punk band called ‘Duh,’ with the same story as most. Between herself, guitarist Max (Jeff Riddle), and drummer Mel (Ruby McCollister), they’ve amassed more eviction notices than album reviews. Even worse, their car just got repossessed the day their first road tour is supposed to kickoff. After canvassing parking lots with fliers asking strangers to be their chauffeur, a man known only as Peckerhead (David Littleton) offers his more than spacious vehicle and services. The band thinks they’ve hit the jackpot until Judy walks in on “Peck” devouring a sleazebag venue promoter on their behalf.
The concept of risking “it all” for fame is familiar to musical horror tales. From Rob Stefaniuk’s Canadian rock odyssey Suck to Grady Hendrix’s novel We Sold Our Souls, and *many* titles adjacent or in between, rockstars are the most willing to enlist the devil’s help. Uncle Peckerhead customizes these narratives with a nightly transformation twist, as Peck becomes Duh’s guardian ghoul. His feeding-frenzy sins are also Duh’s, who consciously permit mutilation and digestion as their stock skyrockets (on an indie scale). It’s a fresh take on an otherwise decades-old storyboard, but what makes the film stand apart is how Judy, Max, and Mel react to their newfound business partner. A sweet older man whose promotional abilities work wonders, with the tradeoff of innocent lives.
Preconceptions around the title might suggest something more lowbrow than what Uncle Peckerhead strives to present. Matthew John Lawrence’s screenplay invests in Duh as a representation of the forever-hard-working artist more than throwaway raunchiness. Chet Siegel’s performance as Judy is the charisma jolt that not only pulls her bandmate actors together but imbues Uncle Peckerhead with a do-or-die spirit that’s musically proficient. They enhance Max’s awkward quirkiness a bit much for my liking at parts (ok, a quick boner gag lives up to the title’s expectancies). However, he’s still lovable in a timid way while Judy annoys promoters while kicking industry ass and Mel is their high-key cynical theorist, low-key trio psychopath who whips out a concealed knife on multiple occasions.
I like Duh, would support Duh as real-life artists, and applaud the bond they create with Peck while simultaneously wrestling their collective consciousness and reacting to unspeakably violent acts of demonic brutality.
Speaking of Peckerhead’s midnight snacking! David Littleton’s portrayal of a half-man, half-thing (his preferred terminology) could be what some consider hokey. He’s always playing up this “who, me?!” naivety to mask any possible deception at hand. Uncle Peckerhead aims to make audiences wonder if Peck is a genuine, supportive friend (who eats humans) or someone Duh should keep at a distance (like, seventy thousand arm’s lengths). Those viewers who don’t care for chummy slapstick goofs may find Peck an unfavorable titular terrorizer, but others who are here to see Peck chow down on metalheads who won’t dial their stereo volume down? Special effects keep things practical, rip hearts from chests, and get a wee bit too gross for comfort (Peck’s intestinal problem in a particular sequence).
What I enjoy about Uncle Peckerhead is not what I rave about in most horror comedies. You can take or leave the gore here. It’s sleazily zany and drenches scenes in approvable bloody redecorations, but I’m more impressed by Matthew John Lawrence’s character work within Duh. They’re a scrappy, energetic, easy-to-root-for trifecta of aspiring dreamers who happen to befriend a shapeshifting creature from beyond. How they handle that scenario, and other rival/co-headlining bands is where Lawrence’s film blares its catchiest rhythms. In terms of concerts, Uncle Peckerhead is that opening band you’ve never heard of but leave Googling their discography, won over by passion-sweaty attitudes and performative spunk.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).