Being in a band seems like one of the coolest things you could do. You get to write music in hole-in-the-wall studios, play on stages with fog machines and glowing lights, and sometimes you even get to hear yourself on the radio.
While all of that is true, here’s what they don’t tell you. The studio’s leaky roof has a 30-gallon drum in the ceiling collecting rainwater right above your pedal board, the fog machine is blasting chemicals into your drummer’s face, and every time you get a text that your song is on the radio, you’re pouring lattes at your crappy day job.
I’m not making any of this up.
In my near-decade as a professional musician, I’ve seen some pretty cool highs and some astronomically comical lows (sleeping on a couch in a house with no heat while a stranger used my ass as a pillow comes to mind, but I digress). But for all the surreal, ugly, wonderful things that happen when you’re in a band, most musicians wouldn’t trade it for the world.
And that passion for the musician’s life, warts and all are what’s driving Judy (Chet Siegel) at the beginning of UNCLE PECKERHEAD, which premiered at Panic Fest January 25.
In the film, Judy is the driving force behind the punk band DUH. They’re about to go on their first tour (yay!). They’ve quit their day jobs (yay!). But the van they bought to carry them away into their new gig life just got repo’d (lame).
With no time to lose, Judy, along with guitarist Max (Jeff Riddle) and drummer Mel (Ruby McCollister), print up some signs that say “Can we borrow your van?” and start sticking them under the windshield wipers of potential tour vehicles.
As Judy and Max drop the last wiper back into place and head off, an older man jumps out of the back. “That is my property,” he tells them in a thick southern drawl. “You are soliciting on private property.” He’s aggressive, and more than a little intimidating, but his ire quickly turns to admiration when he learns that the subjects of his wrath are in a band. Unfortunately, he can’t let them borrow the van because he’s living in it at the moment.
The potential van out of the question, Judy and Max walk off, only to find the man following them a moment later. He has a solution. He’ll drive DUH and act as a roadie of sorts. All they have to do is pay for gas and throw him a couple of bucks now and again.
When something is too good to be true, it probably is, but with no other prospects on the horizon, the band decides to take this funny fellow up on the offer.
As the unlikely group make their way to their first gig, Judy starts to grow suspicious of their new friend. His name, he tells them is Peckerhead (David Littleton), or at least that’s what his daddy called him. Weird, but OK. He seems nice enough, but at the first stop, Judy notices blood on the back bumper. Just what is up with Uncle Peckerhead?
Fortunately, Judy doesn’t have long to wait. After receiving a payout of three dollars at the end of their first gig, Peck heads back into the venue to use the bathroom. Still wary of their new companion, Judy follows him inside to discover the good ol’ boy eating the stingy promoter alive. Yummy.
Turns out something happened to Peck, and now every night at midnight, he turns into a ravenous man-eating Thing for exactly thirteen minutes. Repulsed, Judy wants nothing to do with him. But cooler heads prevail, and the band and the monster form a wary truce. After all, if they crush this tour, there’s a chance they can snag the coveted opening spot at The Queef Queens show when they return home.
That is if they can stay alive long enough to get there.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go into this film with trepidation. Having no former knowledge of the director, all I had was the title to fill my mind with worrisome imaginings of penile noggins and the unsavory kills they might contain.
So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Matthew John Lawrence’s UNCLE PECKERHEAD was an enjoyable horror comedy with heart.
At its core, what I liked about this film is that it’s essentially a hangout movie. Sure, there are stakes, but just like in real band life, there is a lot of time to kill. (Just for the 40-minute high of playing on stage, you have 23 hours of waiting: waiting to get there, waiting for the venue to open, waiting to soundcheck, waiting through that pretentious band’s overlong set). All that waiting gives the film the space to have solid scenes that let us learn more about the characters and get to like them. Sure, it drags at times, but I’d take a slower-paced movie with actual scenes over the hyper-fast hack-and-slash jobs mainstream editors employ to try to make films mean something that they don’t.
There are some lovely performances here too. Chet Siegel and David Littleton feel especially well rounded as Judy and Peckerhead, respectively. Littleton’s southern “good ol’ boy” characterization of Peck is as charming as it is intimidating, a perfect combination for a character that would just as soon eat your face as mosh in the pit.
With UNCLE PECKERHEAD, Matthew John Lawrence has created a fun film full of outrageous gore and genuine heart. While real bands may never have to contend with man-eating monsters, anyone familiar with the music scene will be pleased to see a little bit of their own experience up there on the screen.