Matthew John Lawrence’s Uncle Peckerhead has a title that’s much more crass and juvenile than the fairly grown up and tender film we actually get – a blood-soaked romp through the indie music scene as a trio of bandmates sell their soul to the devil, or rather a fairly charming old man who also happens to eat people and wants to be called a thing not a monster.
Chet Siegel plays Judy, our enigmatic lead and struggling bassist in the alt-punk band Duh, with Jeff Riddle’s Max and Ruby McCollister’s Mel rounding out the group. As a trio they have a surprising amount of chemistry, when you take away the stereotypical comedy moments, like Max’s boner-raising awkwardness or Mel’s penchant for pulling out a flick-blade. Their friendship is definitely one of the driving forces of the movie.
The down-on-their-luck band are about to embark on a tour that could change everything for them, but through misfortune they find themselves needing new transport, which is where David Littleton’s titular Uncle Peckerhead comes in, a mysterious man with a van who offers to be the bands roadie.
Of course, as is revealed in the film’s gory opening scene in which a monstrous Peckerhead rips off a dead faceless man’s jaw and chews on it, this affable ‘aww shucks’ gentle old man is hiding a monstrous secret, he turns into a bloodthirsty thing at the stroke of midnight. Littleton is spot on as both the viscera spraying and spine ripping monster and the lovable and incredibly supportive roadie in terms of creating this clear, and comedic, shift between the two.
The film really kicks in when Judy stumbles on Peckerhead devouring a manipulative promoter who screwed the band over and from there what follows is the classic musical horror trope of the band willingly putting Peckerhead’s murderous tendencies to the back of their mind in order to progress on their tour. In short they benefit from their association with him so they excuse his blood-soaked rampages.
We all have that often misunderstood friend who deep-down is incredibly supporting and incredibly good at helping people but ultimately can’t help themselves or hold back their self-destructive tendencies. That’s what Littleton captures here with his performance. He doesn’t want to be a monster, he just wants to fit in and be useful and his charm wins over the audience just as much as it wins over the reluctant Judy.
But then the film pulls a narrative trick with the rule it introduced that allowed the band to feel okay about Peckerhead’s killings and think that they were in control, Namely that the fact they could sedate him for the thirteen minutes he is due to turn into a supernatural killing machine, is revealed to be a lie. As much as the band was using him to advance their goals, Peckerhead was manipulating them to believe he was in control, but in reality he was killing people the whole time. A timely metaphor for how the immoral things we do for fame can quickly spiral out of control.
The gore throughout is plentiful and the reliance on practical effects over CGI really pays off when it comes to blood and guts, although Peckerhead’s monster transformation is a little ropey. The musical score, some of which is sung by the band throughout the film, is also really good and definitely made me want the soundtrack.
There are moments of schlock to go along with the rock though, as Peckerhead does deliver on its title slightly. There’s the aforementioned boner gag when Max finds himself attracted to another band member and there’s the digestion gag towards the end where Peckerhead gets a bad belly whilst in the middle of devouring a particularly egregious rival band and decides to relieve his bowels then and there. These moments were fine but honestly, I could’ve done without them.
Whilst Peckerhead walks a fine line in balancing its horror and comedy elements, sometimes veering away from that line slightly, I feel it loses its way a little in the final third. The dramatic conclusion as the band prepares to finally play ‘the big one’ feels a bit rushed and the final scene reveal, although well done, didn’t feel impactful enough given the narrative before it.
Overall Uncle Peckerhead is a fun little road-movie with characters that are likable and satisfying gore so it should be more than enough to keep people entertained for its relatively short run-time. But just like Duh who are okay on the independent music circuit, Uncle Peckerhead probably won’t amount to much more.