Have you ever stuffed an entire sandwich into your mouth? Have you ever poured a bottle of alcohol over your head? Furthermore, have you ever been stalked by an unending evil in the claustrophobic confines of a righteously depressing haunted condo? In slow motion? No? Then welcome to Sledgehammer! Heralding the revolutionary roar of shot on video (SOV) horror at the dawn of the 1980s, Sledgehammer is the gore-soaked saga of seven party animals, their trip to a haunted house, and their ensuing battle with an ultra-creepy, flannel-wearing, sledgehammer-wielding behemoth. In other words, it’s everything you want out of a SOV slasher…complete with Bill Murray impersonations!
Helmed by writer-director David A. Prior (Killer Workout, Deadly Prey) and starring Ted Prior, David’s iconic trash-superstar sibling, Sledgehammer is SOV nirvana, a paradoxical wonderland of outrageous hilarity, cool sweatpants, and genuinely unsettling chills. Appropriately staking its claim as the very first SOV horror film produced implicitly for the home video market, Sledgehammer joins Boardinghouse, Black Devil Doll From Hell, and Video Violence 2 as a bona fide cornerstone in grungy, homemade horror. The synths are thick. The sex is weird. The food fight is superb. So what are you waiting for? Get PRIOR-itized! NOW!
eyelights: its DIY quality. the cheesy synth score.
eyesores: just about everything else.
“That little bastard!”
‘Sledgehammer’ is an extremely low budget horror film about a half-dozen young adults who rent a country home for a weekend of debauchery, only to wind up getting slaughtered by a mysterious, masked killer. If it appears vaguely familiar, please note that it distinguishes itself by featuring a sledgehammer-wielding murderer. Forget knives and machetes. It’s all about the sledgehammers.
Released in 1984*, it is frequently referred to as the first film to be shot on video. While it’s unlikely that this is the case, given that the technology had existed for years by then, it is certainly one of the first. And, after watching ‘Sledgehammer’, a MASSIVE fail of a movie, most people will pray to the almighty that it would be the last of its kind. Alas, that is not so.
But one is enough. Too much, even.
‘Sledgehammer’ not only has a trite plot, it barely has any. After setting up the backstory (kid gets locked in a closet so that his mom and her lover can have uninterrupted nookie time, but they get smashed to a pulp by someone with a sledgehammer), the young adults show up, get drunk, have a food fight, and then decide to hold a séance to speak to the spirits of the dead in the house.
Although the séance is staged by two of the guys to scare their buddies, somehow it awakens the sledgehammering killer and soon they get stabbed, smashed, chased around and tossed about. And, eventually, the last remaining survivors stumble out of the house while the little boy from the prologue looks on, wearing the same mask as the killer. Because, somehow, the killer is the boy.
Because, somehow, despite the lack of plot, ‘Sledgehammer’ managed to screw it up anyway.
- How did the boy transform into a MONSTROUS hulk of a man in the prologue?
- Where did he get his sledgehammer?
- If he was able to escape the closet by transforming into the killer, why did he stay in the house?
- Why is he a spirit now, and can only be called upon via a séance?
- How can he get around the house and kill people without making any noise, thereby alerting the others?
- How/why does he appear and reappear at will?
- Why do the victims teleport in and out of the locked upstairs room?
- In what way does black magic play a part in the killer’s rampage?
There’s an attempt at character development, but it’s pretty weak: it all revolves around the romantic entanglements of a smart beefy dude, a dumb beefy dude, an immature imbecile, a guy who suspicious looks like ’80s-era John Oates, a hottie, a Betty and a nottie. It’s nothing worth writing about, but it does lead to a hilarious lovemaking scene that looks like two dead carps doing frottage.
‘Sledgehammer’ shows no signs of ANY skill: the script is crap, the direction is crap, the videography is crap, the editing is crap, the production is crap, the acting is crap, the special effects are crap, the gore effects are crap, …etc. The only thing that shows any sign of quality is the score, which consists mostly of cheesy synths and rhythmic pulses. It’s not great, but it somehow works.
Still, it’s hard for me to take a big old dump on the movie, because it was made on VHS, and anyone who remembers VHS will know how piss-poor that is and how impossible it was to edit. Writer-director (dare I say “auteur”?) David A. Prior did what he could with a medium that is crap to begin with, using the few tools it provides, such as gawdawful slo-mo, dissolves and freeze frames.
There was really not much else to be done with VHS. Especially in 1984.
Plus which the whole thing was shot in seven days in his apartment, with non-actors (to be kind) and limited crew. It’s basically a sophisticated home video, the kind of thing you would do with your friends for gits and shiggles. Except that most people would make a 10-minute short film, whereas Prior ambitiously attempted to make a complete motion picture. Give the guy points for dreaming big.
So, although it’s inept as hell, utterly pointless and totally unoriginal, I can’t knock it entirely. I’ve seen really bad films made with a thousand times the budget, full crews, and stars in it. ‘Sledgehammer’ is some dude making his first film with limited resources – perhaps not even skill. But he achieved his goal, and I suspect that it was a good learning experience for him and his crew.
Prior ended up making over 30 films in his short life (he passed away this August at the age of 59), and although I’m not especially interested in seeing any of them after seeing this tripe, I’m impressed that it got him started and that he likely built a career on this experience. People have to start somewhere, and some people start at the bottom. Sometimes all you’ve got is persistence.
*Post scriptum: all online resources say that the film is dated 1983, but the end of the film credits lists it as 1984 – as does the back of the DVD box.
Date of viewing: August 28, 2015