Steve Guttenberg is not the major player in Martyn Pick's Heckle, that privilege belongs to Guy Combes, but for sure there's a thrill in seeing the iconically funny Guttenberg in a remarkably dark yet still comical turn as controversial comic Ray Kelly whose death has led to the opportunity of a lifetime for Combes's similarly abrasive up-and-coming comic named Joe who has been cast to play Kelly in a biopic.
Heckle evolves around the world of stand-up comedy, a world that has been and remains ripe for the indie horror scene given the inherent unpredictability of the scene with equal parts alcohol and anger, humor and fierce tension. In the perfect comedy scenario, all of these ingredients peacefully co-exist together and we all go home laughing. When something goes awry, we're either left not laughing or downright volatile.
Kelly's death is portrayed in the film's opening scene, a non-spoiler since the entire film centers around the incident itself and Joe's life that follows. Joe has long idolized Kelly's brand of in-your-face comedy, relishing in owning the stage and owning his audience. All goes well until one night when one particularly aggressive heckler manages to get underneath Joe's skin and Joe's controlled volatility explodes onstage.
Despite the concerns of those around him about this unexpected display, Joe worries naught until suddenly he starts receiving unexpected phone calls and he suspects he may be being followed.
Perhaps, the heckling hasn't stopped.
Heckle travels mostly familiar territory, though does so in a way that capitalizes on Guttenberg's long-standing "guy next door" image and, as well, Combes's almost uncanny resemblance to one Charles Manson. Both of these factors up the anxiety and tension of the film, Guttenberg clearly relishing the opportunity to go dark and Combes masterfully building tension and a psychological edge from beginning to end. When you toss in the late Clark Gable III here in a mysterious, understated role, you have the ingredients of a solid indie horror motion picture.
Heckle doesn't always live into that promise, unfortunately, though it maintains enough of an engaging rhythm that it never completely loses us. A late film 80's themed party offers up some interesting twists, though also emphasizes the film's low-budget limitations. Having premiered at Frightfest, this dark and unique indie horror project is ideal for Uncork'd Entertainment, the indie distributor that picked the film up and has proven absolutely sublime at marketing these types of flicks.
The film features a handful of cameos likely to be recognized by fans of indie cinema, though most do little to add to the equation. Nicholas Burnham-Vince is the exception and music by Savage & Spies fits the film quite nicely.
Heckle is worth giving a view for Guttenberg alone, an 80's comedy icon enjoying a bit of a renaissance these days on the indie horror scene and being a fine enough actor that he elevates each project he's in. Heckle is also a nice starring vehicle for the talented Guy Combes and a sad reminder of the tragic loss of Clark Gable III whose death at the age of 30 cut short a promising career that may not have lived up to his grandfather's fame but he was sure discovering his own way in Hollywood.
Heckle may not quite live up to its full potential, however, it's still worth a view for Guttenberg fans and the Uncork'd Entertainment crowd.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic