Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Though not exactly polished, it has an innate exuberance that will encourage viewers to tick with it." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

The appeal of comedy has been the subject of many an academic discourse over the centuries. We may all recognise it at an instinctive level but its precise nature is difficult to pin down. Some have suggested that, at last in stand-up form, it's mostly about confidence an aggression. Other primates are, after all, fascinated by such displays. On stage, an assured comedian owns the audience, which builds up the ego. The audience, in turn, are drawn to the sense of certainty that brings, delighting in being members of this strong leader's group. So who is the heckler, risking exclusion by jeering from the sidelines? This is the challenger who is almost always destined to lose - to be left with aggression which has nowhere to go.

Joe (Guy Combes) enjoys owning the stage. He learned from his one time idol, Ray Kelly (Steve Guttenberg, delivering an uncharacteristically dark performance) - a man whom he is set to play in a forthcoming film biopic, and who remains a pertinent presence in his life despite having passed away some years previously. One night, however, Joe encounters a heckler who really gets under his skin, bringing his aggression a little too close to the surface. The incident worries his partner but he tries to shake it off. It's only later, when he starts to receive unwanted phone calls and someone starts following him, that his initial unhappiness gives way to serious concern.

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Screening as pat of Frightfest's October 2020 selection, this is a spirited little film which, despite its dark subject matter, has obviously been made with love. Though not exactly polished, it has an innate exuberance that will encourage viewers to tick with it. A handful of C-list celebrity cameos have been added to the mix, with only Nicholas Burnham-Vince really making an impression in a character-focused vignette which delivers some of the best real comedy on offer here. Elsewhere, the cast make up in energy what they lack in experience, and although some scenes are very ropy, they tend to be endearingly so.

The latter part of the film is set at an Eighties-themed party in a country house where the heckler moves us into slasher territory. It's a shame that a real Eighties soundtrack was unattainable on the film's small budget, but what's substituted here works surprisingly well. The costumes and coloured lights give the film some much needed glamour to make up for the drabness of the location and the limits of low budget cinematography. The nostalgia of this theme echoes other ideas scattered through the film and, ultimately, points the way to a secret buried in Joe's past - that justification considered essential to most Eighties slasher movie killers.

Tonally uneven and suffering from pacing issues, Heckle is in want of a good editor. There's a failure to grasp that the real art of comedy lies in what's taken out rather than what's added in. That said, for all its roughness, this is an enjoyable little romp which will no doubt win itself some fans.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2020
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Heckle packshot
Stand-up Joe Johnson decides to share a Halloween weekend away with a group of friends. They jokingly suggest that if they get drunk, high, and behave badly enough, hopefully they'll attract their own psycho killer. The joke is suddenly very much on them.
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Director: Martyn Pick

Writer: Airell Anthony Hayles

Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Clark Gable III, Toyah Wilcox, Nicholas Vince

Year: 2020

Runtime: 81 minutes


Frightfest 2020

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