The opening text to Matthew John Lawrence’s Uncle Peckerhead simply reads, “Based on a true story.” I did some research for this review to see if there was a similar real-life event that happened, and while I can’t say I found any news story or urban legend that featured a roadie demon hillbilly that ate people, I choose to believe that this is based on a true story and here’s why:
Uncle Peckerhead follows a New Jersey punk band called Duh!, made up of members Max (Jeff Riddle), Mel (Ruby McCollister), and the main character of the film, Judy (Chet Siegel). They have scheduled their first tour in hopes that this will be what gets them noticed by their area’s most famous punk band, The Queef Queens. After their van gets repossessed, an old man, the titular Uncle Peckerhead (David Littleton), offers to drive them to their tour destinations as long as they pay for gas. They soon discover that Peck transforms into a demon at midnight, hungry for human flesh, and eating any random stranger that crosses him.
On the surface, Uncle Peckerhead is a horror movie, more specifically, a horror comedy. It is a silly film, a bloody, goofy homage to the violent R-rated slashers and midnight movies of the genre’s past, particularly those of the 1980s. The opening shot of the movie shows a face with the outer layer of skin peeled off, and Peck breaking open the fresh corpse’s jaw and eating it before he steals the corpse’s van. There are further moments of over-the-top gory goodness, with limbs flying everywhere, heads getting bitten off, chewed, and swallowed whole, blood spraying all across the room similar to the squibs in a ‘70s Japanese action flick like Lady Snowblood, and even a moment where fecal matter is drizzling across our main characters. Yes, it manages to get that disgusting, and as a fan of when charming horror films can reach that level of repulsion through its violence.
The chemistry between the band is there, with Chet Siegel being the standout of this film on a performance level. She brings a lot of charm, intelligence and energy to the role of Judy, as do Jeff Riddle & Ruby McCollister to Max and Mel. Judy and Mel are the ones who are the most quiet, and in Max’s case, he is the most nervous in the band, leading to a good contrast between all three characters. David Littleton is simultaneously adorable and creepy as Peckerhead, who starts off as a sweet old man – and is only kind of suspicious – but his threatening aura only grows stronger as the film continues. Because Peck was mysterious before, and the film’s opening scene shows him murdering and consuming a human, his own dip into a more chaotic villain by the end of the film is completely believable.
Watching the side characters they had met while on their tour, such as Nick, the attractive long-haired punk who is the object of both Max and Judy’s desires is also one of the delights of this film. He’s a charming himbo, and his scene ends on a climax that will not be spoiled here, but it is hilariously done. The douchiness of Dominion Rising is one of the more entertaining parts as well. They seem to be a Midwest emo band because of the twinkling sound of the guitar and the mix of poorly sung vocals and screaming. But unlike the great MW emo bands, these guys are the worst.
The film’s overall atmosphere could have been worked on more. The cinematography and direction in the clubs really stood out as being some of the best parts of the film, as it would be showing how little attention Duh! was getting in terms of audience, as the first concert never showed the audience in the pit, because there seemed to be none at all. The intentionally overlit lighting on the band was also spot on as this was a club that wouldn’t put time and effort into lighting a small band like Duh! properly. But this, the film’s opening, and the closing scenes were the three cases where the atmosphere had truly stood out. As great as the violence can be, the setting around the acts of killing, mainly in terms of cinematography, just felt bland. There weren’t many colors, shadows, or cool lighting techniques to latch onto that would increase any feeling of dread or mystery while watching the film.
Once the film is more closely examined, we begin to see that this is based on a true story of sorts, because in some way, this is the story of every punk band. A band that struggles, one that is soon to be evicted from their home if they aren’t able to pay the rent. A band that attracts no audience on their first show with the club having the worst sound equipment and stage lighting imaginable. A band that gets screwed out of money by their promoter after they play a gig. A band that has to ask their audience if they can crash at one of their houses. And one could say that Peckerhead, to an extent, can represent a record executive looking to exploit a young, hungry band like Duh!. An old man who is out of touch with the scene, but he offers encouragement, and even an audience. There’s a scene in the film’s second act where Peckerhead starts dancing to the music that’s being played, and the audience that was hardly engaged with Duh!’s music begin to realize that this band is actually good and start moshing and slam-dancing themselves. During their next shows, Duh! begin to develop a small audience because of Peckerhead, and he ends up using his charisma to sell some copies of their demo to an eager audience. As the film progresses though, and his killings begin to become out of control, he wants to have more to do with the band, referring to himself as a member, and not just a roadie. And if we take the film’s ending into consideration, it seems that the band has no choice but to accept this. Accept the music industry slowly taking away their soul and their passion out of playing. And watching this in 2020, where punk is not a genre that sells anymore, and artists have to cater to the whims of an industry that is abusive, and allows abuse to happen, tour to make money, and cannot even do that at this moment due to the coronavirus pandemic, only makes the film more tragic as a result.
So, yes, I fully believe that Uncle Peckerhead is based on a true story.