REVIEW: Uncle Peckerhead (2020)

dir. Matthew John Lawrence.

Judy (Chet Siegel) is having a tough time. Despite quitting her job to go on tour with band mates Max (Jeff Riddle) and Mel (Ruby McCollister) she can’t get the local promoter to listen to their demo, and before they can even leave town their van is repossessed. Desperate – and with a thirst to fulfill their punk rock dreams – the trio bum a ride from a vagrant redneck named “Peckerhead” – or Peck to his pals. All he wants in exchange is gas money. And food.

The kind of food which Peck desires, however, is a little off menu. For in the opening scene it’s clear that some sort of monster is prowling the highways at night, chewing through townsfolk to gruey effect. Small surprise then that after their disappointing first gig Judy discovers Peck, now transformed into the nocturnal ghoul, chowing down on the organiser for a midnight snack.

There’s a punk-rock vitality coursing through the veins of Lawrence’s sophomore outing. Just as Judy, Max and Mel (performing collectively as DUH) thrash out energetic anthems, so too the film is positively ebullient, moshing gleefully from beat to beat, undignified but full of life. Punk has always fit well with comedy-horror [Return of the Living Dead (1985)] or even horror in general [Green Room (2015)], the anti-establishment ideologies and confrontational aesthetic proving a natural overlap. So too here the hapless band mates prove a foil for outrageous splatter as Peck tries to control his animalistic appetites.

But there’s a second chord struck which also resonates with the rigours of band life: group membership. As DUH struggle on – playing venues that would make Spinal Tap blush – the natural bond between the friends shines, a joy of collaborative endeavour as they chase down their dreams together. Peck sees that too – wants to be part of it – and who can blame him? He may be a flesh-eating man-beast, but that thrill of belonging to something bigger than oneself, bound together in sweat and toil and music, is a need all can identify with.

If the final act makes choices which are bold – and not entirely successful – the ride is still wild. And perhaps that’s the point: a tour isn’t just about getting signed, it’s a journey where friendships are made – and lost – along the way.

Tim Coleman

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