Bass player and co-vocalist Judy (Chet Siegel), guitarist and lead vocalist Max (Jeff Riddle), and drummer Mel (Ruby McCollister), are struggling members of three-piece punk band Duh. After putting together their first cross-country tour, things seem to finally be coming together for the group, but when their rental van is repossessed, their dreams lie in tatters. Then they meet eccentric Southerner, Peck (David Littleton), who offers them the use of his van, with one caveat – he does the driving. The trio reluctantly agree, but when Peck’s real identity as a demon who must feed each night at midnight is unveiled, the group find themselves dealing with a lot more than they initially bargained for.
Writer and director Matthew John Lawrence works hard to ensure that you care about our core group, Peck included. Typically demon’s are vilified, but here Peck is entirely humanised, offering a new perspective on demonic beings, and in doing so imbues the film with a slew of originality. Playing Peckerhead is newcomer David Littleton, an actor who makes his feature debut in the title role and shows a lot of potential for a bright future in the horror arena. His performance as Peck is wonderfully complex. Thanks in part to Lawrence’s clever writing, Littleton is able to deviate from the expected behaviour of a demon on film. Peck isn’t the scary and menacing monster that one would usually expect. In fact, he’s very much the polite and respectful Southern gentleman, more concerned with folks being nice to one another than unleashing Hell on Earth. Just how true this facade is, forms the backbone of the story, and Lawrence takes great delight in keeping the viewer guessing about his real intentions.
Road movies are always entertaining and Uncle Peckerhead is no exception; the ever changing scenery works well to keep the narrative moving forwards. Lawrence perfectly captures the essence of being a travelling band, keeping the locations within the budget – or lack thereof – of our characters and presenting the stark realities of life on tour. Instead of the fantasy of high-end hotels or super buses, we get dirt-ridden motels, borrowed sofas, and claustrophobic vans. Their nomadic existence helps tie them to one another and draws the viewer in and along for the ride. By sticking to the no-frills lifestyle, Lawrence can milk the indie budget for each and every penny, the lines occasionally blurring as to how much is stylised and how much was just there when they shot. These blurring lines inject a tangible documentary feel to proceedings that disorientate and delight.
Uncle Peckerhead revolves around a band, and so music is an important component and one that isn’t squandered; the progression of Duh’s songs and performances are treated as equally important as everything else. As the band comes into their own, there’s an energy that takes over and our trio of actors follow the Green Room pattern and make for a very believable and charismatic band. The songs and music also retain the humourful tone, the style and performance of Duh’s rival band being a clear parody and blend of several high profile ‘alternative’ acts. All combine together in a blistering meld of audio that provides excellent support to all Lawrence’s work. Packed full of punk rock vibes, this is one soundtrack destined to become a must-own amongst fans.
Much like the band themselves, the gore literally sings, spurting forth unto the screen at every opportune moment. The work on these moments has been approached in a thoughtful manner and seeks to give those with a bloody appetite exactly what they want. There’s plenty of expected splatter sequences, with the occasional unexpected instance that sets Uncle Peckerhead out as its own creature and not just a string of homages.
For a film with the word Pecker in its title, Uncle Peckerhead has a surprising amount of heart and warmth. Its humorous moniker points to a rather infantile movie that would only appeal to a small minority, yet it’s actually a well-rounded and entertaining horror comedy that embraces its silly side without sacrificing story or character work. There’s still plenty of crassness within – explosive diarrhoea anyone? – but it’s buried within the framework of a more accessible story. A punk-rock story with an ever present heart of gory gold, Uncle Peckerhead is a strangely emotive tale of friendship, trust, and the undying spirit of the punk movement.
For a film named Uncle Peckerhead, it’s not quite as crass as one might expect. Granted there is the occasional bout of explosive diarrhoea, but there’s also a great amount of heart.
Uncle Peckerhead is out to own now.
This review first appeared on THN.