Telling the tale of a heckle gone bad, er… Heckle follows comedian Joe Johnson as he and his friends decide to throw an Eighties Halloween party, complete with VHS and no mobile phones. However, when their joke of being part of their own Eighties slasher becomes a little too real, Joe has to find out who’s targeting them.
Directed by Martyn Pick and written by Airell Anthony Hayles, Heckle stars Guy Combes as Joe and Steve Guttenberg as foul-mouthed Nineties comedian Ray Kelly, alongside Dani Dyer and Toyah Wilcox. We spoke to Airell about the Eighties, horror and stand-up shows…
Where did the idea come from for Heckle?
It was the confrontation you get in stand up comedy. I was going a lot to The Comedy Store in London, and when hecklers take on comedians it feels gladiatorial. Knowing people like Frankie Boyle who are so extreme or even Jimmy Carr – how they would take on hecklers. Looking at that really pure form of conflict and just imagining if it went too far… if it went wrong. I love films like The Fan, Play Misty For Me; all those stalker films where someone’s coming at you and they’re not going to stop. It was imagining that in the world of stand up comedy.
There’s a bit of a juxtaposition of the ‘funny’ comedy world and the ‘scary’ horror world…
A little but I also think it’s fertile ground. I think the world of comedy and the sleazy London clubs and the end-of-pier clubs and the higher end theatre venues… it’s got all that theatre and human contact. It felt like a good environment. The comedy side of it is very dark anyway. The ‘tragic clown’. When heckles go bad. It is the beginnings of something quite nightmarish.
Do you enjoy going to stand-up shows?
It’s great… it’s so brave. The performer is just there; it’s all on them. When you go to The Comedy Store, the audience has had a drink and they’re literally baying for blood. I guess in our film we imagined putting the blood in. Heckle as a title was always quite confrontational as well. There’s a lot of fun to be had there. I miss stand up. I guess there are outdoor events but it’s a really vital place. There’s a freedom of expression there.
Did you look to any comedians for inspiration for the characters?
There’s some Russell Brand [in the character of Joe Johnson] – that kind of peacocking. In his heyday, Russell Brand would take to that stage and just completely own it. It was amazing. Also Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh.
Old school comedians as well – really crazy people like Andrew Dice Clay. I double dare you to watch an hour of his 1987 show. It’s wild – look at the engagement from the crowd. It’s really on-the-edge stuff.
With Ray Kelly, it was more the end-of-the-pier comedians, the Bernard Mannings, the Jim Davidsons. The people who are definitely going to upset you!
Steve Guttenberg plays a really horrible character, which feels like a very different role for him…
It does! [But] I think we love seeing Steve Gutenberg going to the dark side. I grew up watching Cocoon, Three Men And A Baby, Police Academy and Short Circuit… and he was always so lovely. He was just a nice guy. So when Heckle began to happen with him, what was so exciting was just flipping the coin and seeing that guy do that so well! So horrific, so dark…
He does say some pretty horrific things…
He came up with some of that stuff. Steve was set loose with those lines. A lot of good stuff was there in the text [but] when we set him loose he just went for this Dante’s Inferno! He just went right in and we were all just in our heads thinking ‘Short Circuit’s Steve Gutenberg is swearing and being really nasty and this is really great’! So yeah he just did his thing. He got his claws right in there and went even further which is great.
Was the Eighties party element of the film a callback to Eighties slasher movies?
Yeah definitely! I love Eighties movies. That’s why Heckle has that Eighties themed party. I never really moved past 1985 [haha]! I just love that era and when you look at this universe we’re living in now, it really does feel a little bit grey. It might be nostalgia, of course, but just going to video shops… it was more fun. Now is also great fun [but] I miss VHS… the artwork on the covers and all that stuff.
We had a lot of fun with neon colours [for the film]. Martyn Pick, the director, just had that visual style with it that brought all that magic and you really do feel like you’re back there. Dani Dyer, the winner of Love Island before she went into Love Island, did this film and she was just so great, so fun as that character of Lucy, and Toya Wilcox is in the film… it really does feel like a party!
We wanted the whole [film] to be a party that then goes pretty bloody crazy – we wanted the train in Heckle to come off the tracks quite dramatically. And I think that it does!
What is it about horror that appeals?
Horror is the best genre! It’s the best ride at the theme park. It’s the most honest genre. There are so many parts of it. I love supernatural horror films and I love films like this; the more psychological horror dramas with the blood and everything else.
I mean they don’t have festivals for romantic comedies (thank God!). I just think that with other genres it’s like a nice can of coke but if you want a whiskey and coke, then you’re going to see a horror film because you’re actually going to get the right thing delivered to you.
They are strong, primal, they wake you up. They say that about The Exorcist – while you watch that movie you know you’re alive. They just don’t mess around; you’re locked in for an hour and a half. And they don’t go on too long like other genres do.
It’s also the visuals and the fact you can go into nightmares. If movies are dreams on the screen [then] horror is a nightmare on the screen and that’s just more fun.
The dark side is just infinitely fascinating. It’s not like the dark side and light side. We are both all the time. That conflict is really interesting and I think we like that whenever we see that – Steve Gutenberg went bad in this film and we’ve seen other characters who were really nice get cast like Robin Williams in One Hour Photo. It’s just really fascinating to see.
What’s it like being part of digital FrightFest this year?
Frightfest is always the best. Of course, when it’s live there’s that party spirit and we’re really missing that. But it’s still great to have all the films and have Heckle be a part of it.
What’s next for you?
We’ve got a Christmas horror called Frostbite which is about Santa Claus turning into a werewolf on Christmas Eve and they try and rescue Santa and bring him back while getting rid of the wolf side of that. That’s a lot of fun. Emily Booth and Mark Arnold from Teen Wolf (one of my favourite Eighties movies) [are in it].
Then we’ve got Advent which is about a cursed advent calendar. It’s a supernatural horror film that we really want to scare people and creep people out with. We’re going to shoot that really soon. I like these Christmas set horror films! Things like Silent Night, Deadly Night, Christmas Evil… when you combine those elements it’s a lot of fun!