When the 31 Days of Halloween series began on Under The Gun Review back in 2012, my friend Justin Proper wrote 9 of that year’s 31 features. Justin was the de-facto “head” of what we called the UTG Film Department at the time and incredibly passionate about the sort of movies that populate this horrific tradition. He passed away just two years later. It’s fitting that my return to the series after a few years off discusses a movie I think he would have really liked. This one’s for you, JP.
Uncle Peckerhead is a horror-comedy written and directed by Matthew John Lawrence which follows a punk trio called DUH who enlist a 50+-year-old van-owning balding man in flannel to be their roadie. The film stars Chet Siegel, Ruby McCollister, Jeff Riddle, and David Littleton as the titular Peckerhead.
The movie starts with the grotesque image of a dismembered man being nonchalantly devoured by streetlight. The title screen flashes as his killer drives away in a large white van. What follows is an introduction to our band, Judy, Mel, and Max, as they quit their respective jobs to prepare for a regional tour. It’s during Judy’s farewell at the bakery that we get a short-but-sweet appearance from David Bluvband, a UCB New York comic known for inhabiting the form of the Human Fish on The Chris Gethard Show for seven years.
It isn’t long after that our newly evicted trio find their van has been reposed. By fate’s chance, they stumble upon Peckerhead, a middle-aged homeless dude with a lovable accent and eagerness to belong. Now a foursome, the group loads up and hits the road, arriving at their first show hours early only to play to two or three uninterested drunkards. After getting ripped off by the promoter, Peck heads back in to get what the group is owed. Thus begins a rampage that follows the band to every stop of the tour, muddled by a fucked-up symbiosis you can only reach when your roadie becomes a bloodthirsty monster at midnight.
Peck tells the band he’s got it managed, thanks to some insulin-like medicine (and the band really wants to believe him!), but it becomes increasingly clear over time that the situation is out of control. It all comes to a head after DUH meets up with bill-battling tour mates Dominion Rising, led by uber-uncharismatic lead vocalist Shiloh. (cringes). After a few sporadic killings along the tour route, a mass murder, and two kidnappings, the band gets to the last gig where label-head Jen Jennings (played by another TCGS and UCB alum, Shannon O’Neill) is looking to sign them.
Unfortunately, their past catches up with them and all three are arrested on numerous murder charges while Peck disappears. A few months later, the group gets out of prison and plays a late “Fresh Off Acquittal” show. It’s during the last song they realize, all too late, that Peck has returned to exact his revenge on the friends that kicked him to the curb.
Uncle Peckerhead is great for a lot of reasons. It’s witty as all get out, with snappy one-liners and moments of understated comedic brilliance like when the band is seen walking together discussing set-banter and Max takes a hard fall straight to the pavement, busting his nose with a comical level of harm. When the camera pans to his colleagues, you notice Judy wearing a t-shirt that says “Help! I’ve fallen… (and I can’t reach my beer!).” What’s more, it really nails the subtleties of a local band’s first tour. Low attendance, shitty tourmates, shitty promoters, and supremely awkward crashes on a fan’s floor. There’s also the never-ending slew of crazy band names like Shark Dick, The Queef Queens, Brain Busters, Acid Cat, Turd Toilet. Dominion Rising sucks, but I’d totally buy a DUH demo.
Like Green Room in 2015, I really think JP would have enjoyed this movie. The humor is smart, the horror effects are solid and used with great care to punctuate the film with a healthy dose of drama, and the cast is varied—nailing the weird personalities one is sure to find at a show like any seen in this film. Uncle Peckerhead is a movie made by punks for punks. It’s also extremely earnest. Like punk music, this whole movie is about finding your people and the sense of belonging that comes with that.
Peck’s sickness isn’t his nightly transformation. It’s his desire for friendship and purpose beyond the bloodshed. It’s impossible not to like Peck. He’s charismatic and lovable in a morbid way. It’s just that his misdeeds are too much for three relatively normal twenty-somethings to take. The ultimate downfall of the band, whatever their fate off-screen may be, is not that they crossed Mr. Hyde, but Dr. Jekyll in his twenty-three and three-quarter hours of humanity.