NOTE: I have every intention to resurrect my weekly Monday tradition of watching and reviewing a Clark Gable movie. Here’s one featuring his late grandson, which fell into my lap just a few days ago.
Martyn Pick’s Heckle begins with the death of a revered stand-up comedian named Ray Kelly (Steve Guttenberg) on Christmas Eve 1992. A cross between insult comic Don Rickles and the acid-tongued Jerry Langford (of The King of Comedy fame), Kelly calls himself “the King of f*****’ lessons.” Guttenberg’s character by himself probably catapulted this film up that popular Wikipedia list of films with the most frequent use of our favorite four-letter f-word. Moreover, he’s an unbearable monster of a human being, who is in the middle of berating his wife on Christmas Eve when both are shot dead in their London home. Their murder has remained a 20+ year mystery.
In the present, Joe Johnson (Guy Combes) is the new comic in town, and he’s about to play Kelly in an upcoming biopic. His life gets messy when during the last show of his tour, an unseen heckler taunts him from the flushed-out stands. “Knock knock!” he yells. The barbs continue methodically as Joe loses it on-stage in no time. Joe’s rattled sense of security is only furthered when he discovers he’s being stalked by the obsessive man in a clown mask.
It all culminates at a Halloween party where Joe, surrounded by his girlfriend (Madison Clare), agent (Stephanie Leigh Rose), and others confront the heckler face-to-face as he starts hacking partygoers to death.
The unseen heckler is played by Clark Gable III, the late grandson of the Hollywood legend. Best known as the sometimes-host of the long-running TV show Cheaters, Gable himself remains mostly invisible until the final minutes of the film. Still, he’s probably the best actor of the bunch. He’s the only one with real motivation to be sick. Guttenberg’s character is too caustic and awful to be remotely funny, and Combes’ Joe has nary a likable bone in his body (despite pulling off a Charles Manson-esque appearance). This is a crop of fiercely unlikable individuals who, quite frankly, couldn’t be slaughtered soon enough.
Pick’s direction is terribly ugly as well. Forget the obvious shoestring budget or the default PowerPoint text that tells us where/when we are in the timeline. Heckle tries to conjure a VHS-aesthetic with saturated neon hues that recall giallo horror. It doesn’t work. It’s too dark, for one, and all this detail gets lost in a film devoid of any tone or atmosphere. The stand-up routines are never remotely funny, the suspense isn’t palpable — everything unfolds too quickly to have impact — and the kills are derivative, if touched up a tad by practical effects.
Heckle doesn’t even qualify as trashy British horror. It’s a slowburn (for 78 minutes, that’s an accomplishment) slog predicated upon irredeemably ugly characters fooled by the misguided belief that influence alone can make a competent horror film. It’s as dead-on-arrival as you expect any straight-to-VOD horror film to be.
NOTE: Heckle is now available to rent on various streaming platforms.
Starring: Guy Combes, Clark Gable III, Steve Guttenberg, Madison Clare, and Stephanie Leigh Rose. Directed by: Martyn Pick.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!