Uncle Peckerhead (2020)

I was never in a band growing up, but if I had been, I probably wouldn’t have found a weird monster to drive me around in a van.

But if I had, I definitely would have written a song about it.

Uncle Peckerhead is the tale of one such band, joyfully named Duh, that does indeed need a van to drive them around for their first short tour as they chase the ever elusive tail of success. While putting out fliers, they meet Peckerhead, or Peck for short, an unassuming older guy with a soft spot for fellow travelers down on their luck and a terrible secret: for thirteen minutes every midnight, he mutates into a cannibalistic monster with super strength and no social graces whatsoever. All this, and he makes damn good scones.

While most of the band is fine with Peck once they learn his secret, band leader Judy isn’t so trustworthy. She spends her time trying her best to keep Peck from committing brutal acts of bloody murder, and her happy-go-lucky nature quickly gives way to despair until she learns to trust…not that it’s easy when the world appears full of asshole promoters, dickish metalheads, and the pretentious and narcissistic lead singer of what is quite possibly the world’s worst screamo band. You read that right, it’s possible for there to be a worst screamo band.

While the band is the set of key players, it’s Judy’s journey we’re following, played by the delightful Chet Siegel. She does a fantastic job of taking Judy from the highs of seeing her band’s first possible glimpse of success to the lows of poverty-stricken reality and the what the fuck nature of discovering your roadie eating some dude..who in all fairness was a jerk. The script tends to sling Judy’s emotions back and forth a lot, as she ends up both the down to earth audience foil and the ever peppy and excited team cheerleader until she’s not. Siegel handles the fluctuations with skill and grace, but I do wish the script hadn’t forced her to waffle so often. It’s her emotional journey, but man, each scene may well slingshot her into a new emotion.

Of course, Siegel’s acting chops and skill were honed through training with the Upright Citizens Brigade, which shouldn’t come as a surprise; most of the cast is made up of UCB graduates and performers with years of experience. It’s a testament to the quality of performers that continue to go through their program and grace their teams. This is the kind of thing that comedy studios aspire to, and this movie is a gory reminder of what great work they can do. All credit to comedians.

Also, I gotta say, I love the design of Peckerhead. His transformation is never shown on screen (a great way to save a buck!), but is instead conveyed through cuts that reveal he is now the monster. It’s the kind of sudden transition one would see in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, only updated for the modern era. In truth, the monster version of Peck is just a more hideous version of his usual self, with a nasty pallor, yellowed fanged teeth and claws, and grotesque eyebrow ridges. Cover him in a ridiculous amount of blood and gore, and you’ve got the making of a fantastic monster…with super strength, of course, which further adds to the Mr. Hyde connection.

A key difference (beyond the Dr. Jekyll side of Peck being a kindly man of the people who lives in a van) is that the monster is never explained. There is no scientific experiment at the center of why Peckerhead transforms, no mystical reasoning, nor even an attempt at a medical explanation; Peck simply becomes the monster. Perhaps there is a lesson here, about the average people we meet and talk to holding something terrible behind the veneer, something they can’t explain but simply is…or maybe I’m overthinking this, and there’s not some kind of deeper meaning about politics or the human experience or some mess. Besides, by all accounts his scones are pretty great.

There is one scene in particular that I appreciate, which involves what happened with a couple of metalheads one night while Judy is asleep. She wakes up to find her bandmates hosing all the blood and gore off of Peck and demands to know what happened. They then inform her about what happened with the metalheads, complete with a title card and possibly ridiculous levels of exaggeration, considering this is a representation brought to you by the two band members who happen to be possibly not all there.

Basically, metalheads show up, play music too loud, act like drunken assholes, and assault bandmember Max. Peck breaks their stereo and then goes something between Ichi the Killer and Mortal Kombat on them. I don’t know if these were direct inspirations, but one of the two poor bastards throws a bunch into Peck’s open mouth and is rewarded with not getting his hand back. This is much like a scene that happens in Ichi the Killer involving another poor bastard trying to punch the extra-wide-mouthed Kakihara in the face, only for Kakihara to scrape off the top layer of flesh and muscle of this guy’s hand with his teeth. A stump or exposed hand bones, which do you find worse? I love Ichi the Killer, so for me to make a direct comparison is me happily praising Uncle Peckerhead.

The end of the film results in another over the top bloodbath (complete with a completely unnecessary fecal spray. Way to pull no punches, movie!), a betrayal, and a montage, coming to a finale with a terrified look on Judy’s face on stage at a celebratory concert as the audience’s cheers turns to screaming. The heartwarming friendship and dreams of obtaining the rock star life are completely gone. Instead, we’re given over to a violent reality.

This leads me to a question I have to ponder, which is why the title is Uncle Peckerhead. Is this a statement on that one person who is described as your “crazy uncle,” the one who has a kindly veneer and then turns around to post some God awful racist or anti-science diatribe on Facebook? Is it to emphasize the connections we build with the people around us, people who might inwardly be the absolute worst? Am I overthinking it again?

I just watched a monster rip a dude’s heart out and then ass blast all over him. I’m definitely overthinking it.

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