The slasher film and stand-up comedy have some commonalities. Both rely on suspense and release, in one case the release being laughter and in the other, fear. Both can build up suspense with short sequences, be that a feedline/punchline structure or a jump scare; both can also escalate tension with a long form story leading to a big punchline or a protracted set piece leading up to an especially gory kill. And both can involve fairly annoying people that either give us reason to like them because they make us laugh or give us a reason to enjoy their bloody demise.
Combining these two distinct, yet similar, art forms might work, but in the case of Heckle they prove a hopeless mishmash. This is because writer Airell Anthony Hayles and director Martyn Pick do not actually combine stand-up comedy with slasher, but rather try to innovate the extremely tired slasher genre with a sort of twist that involves some stand-up comedians. That’s about it.
Plot wise, Heckle features seven obnoxious people who get together for a Halloween party. Among them is Joe Johnson (Guy Combes, “Kill Ben Lyk”) a stand-up comedian who is set to star in a film where he will play a (in the world of the film) real stand-up comedian who was murdered. A sprinkle of Hollywood dust is that this comedian, Ray Kelly, who appears in flashbacks, is played by Steve Guttenberg (“Trauma Center”). Notably in these flashbacks, Ray appears to be a thoroughly horrible person and perhaps we therefore think he deserved to die. Furthermore, Joe is also a horrible person who is demanding of and unfaithful to his girlfriend Evelyn (Madison Clare), abusive of his manager David (Louis Selwyn, “Evil Never Dies”) and less than engaging towards his fans. It’s notable that we only see one sequence of Joe performing, and the sequence barely includes any jokes. When Joe starts receiving threatening phone calls from a heckler, you could say he brought it on himself.
Quite aside from Joe’s upcoming stardom and stalker problems, his entourage (group of friends would be pushing it) decide to hold a Halloween party, with an 80s theme, at a remote house in the country. What could go wrong? When a menacing figure in a red hoodie and a clown mask turns up, as you might expect it’s a question of who’s going first and how. We spend some time with the characters as they drink and make unwanted advances on each other. Most of the running time involves the party, which looks to be the most boring and excruciating party imaginable. The group sit around and comment on each other’s costumes, drink and snipe at each other, watch a movie on a top-loading video cassette recorder (it’s SOOO retro!), then play a game in which they take roles of slasher victims. Is this homage, meta-commentary or nonsense? Possibly all three, but mostly nonsense.
As this drivel goes on, padded beyond belief with Joe popping out to a nearby spa and then to the pub they dropped into earlier, the question of when someone will die becomes ever more pressing. The answer is not soon enough — in a film of only 81 minutes it’s nearly half-way through before a death arrives. But the kills provide little release (or relief) because they are far from scary and as dull as everything that has come before. Pick’s constantly shaking camera is annoying and robs the film of any suspense — shaky-cam expresses the loss of equilibrium, but if you’re shaking all the time, there was never any equilibrium to begin with thus you have lost nothing. It is possible to use constantly unsteady footage to create tension, so where’s Paul Greengrass when you need him? Off making effective films with Matt Damon or Tom Hanks, naturally.
Come the final act of Heckle, there’s a sort of double twist which is likely to prompt groans rather than gasps. The reveals expose gaping plot holes which are completely unnecessary and could have been filled, suggesting lazy writing and a lack of care over the material. Despite the desultory character interaction, the film gives off an air of a bunch of friends getting together to make a film about them all hanging out. Hopefully they had fun making it, because there’s precious little fun to be had for anyone watching this garish, confused and quite awful muddle of a movie.