Sledgehammer (1983)
By: Devon B. on December 2, 2011  | 
Intervision (USA) | All Regions, NTSC | 4:3 | English DD 2.0 mono | 84 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: David A. Prior
Starring: Ted Prior, Linda McGill, John Eastman, Jeanie Scheer
Screenplay: David A. Prior
Country: USA
External Links
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Before J.R. Bookwalter. Before Tim Ritter. Before Andreas Schnaas. Before the viewing public learned to be wary of shot on video horror movies there was Sledgehammer. In fact, the slick claims Sledgehammer is the first shot on video slasher, and the only shot on video movie I can think of that predates it is the wacky Boardinghouse.

The DVD starts up like an old VHS tape and then segues into a trailer for Things, and I actually liked this nice nostalgic touch. Sledgehammer starts with credits awash in red for no apparent reason, which wasn't a good sign, but once the story started, I knew I was in trouble for sure. The movie opens with what has to be the longest establishing shot ever. After 30 seconds of looking at the house where the story is set, I was really concerned for what was to come. Immediately after this shot was some unnecessary slow motion. Hooray.

The story is pretty minimal, which explains all the padding. An uncaring mother locks her child in a closet so she can have some uninterrupted passion with some guy, then the couple are attacked by an unseen assailant with a sledgehammer. Don't worry if you miss something in this scene as it repeats at the movie's halfway point. 10 years later, and some friends arrive at the house. They proceed to foof around. A lot. You know the party scene that's a bit painful in Evil Dead? This is like 30 minutes of that with less talented people involved. Eventually the killer starts offing our heroes. No points awarded for guessing who the killer is, but there is a bit of twist to what the killer is.

I think Sledgehammer is meant to be like a nightmare, because the movie is brimming with stuff that makes no sense. Early on there's a bizarre slow motion scene of a couple walking a few steps that feels like a musical montage minus the cutaway bits to clips of things actually happening. Once the friends get inside the house the movie remains unflinchingly weird because the house doesn't look right in most of the interior shots. It almost looks like some plasterboard was whacked up quickly to create sets, but in the extras it is explained that the interior was a flat, not a house, so maybe it was just shot strangely to disguise the fact the movie isn't actually happening in a house. On the plus side, this nightmare feel is successfully achieved in one scene where someone is running from the killer and the corridor they're in looks like it goes nowhere. I have one other positive comment, so I might as well get that out here: There's one stunt involving avoiding a swung hammer that looked pretty real. If you literally watched only 45 seconds of this movie, you'll have seen the worthwhile moments, because the rest of the movie is like a study in incompetence.

At first I thought Sledgehammer was a vehicle for director David A. Prior's brother Ted, a former Playgirl centrefold. The extras make it clear that it was actually just David's attempt to learn how to make a movie, and Ted was someone that he could use. David and Ted did go on to bigger and better things, namely the superbly retarded Deadly Prey, but this learning curve movie is just a mess. Crew members' shadows are visible, the boom pops into frame, the acting is mostly appalling, the hero is a macho jerk, the attempts at humour are pitiful, there's more slow motion than even the most lenient viewer will be able to handle, some scenes appear to have been edited with the titular weapon and the non-slow motion padding is excessive.

Aside from the aforementioned 45 seconds of okay stuff, there is one scene that provides some unintentional humour, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a scene worth watching. There's an awkward sex scene which features the most conspicuous doona placement ever, and when the copulaters are killed Sledgehammer provides yet another definition of being torn to pieces. In this case it means either getting a hammer to the chest or having a neck snapped. This is a particularly odd use of the torn to pieces phrase, because both the victims are in one piece each. Maybe plurally they're in two pieces, hence the claim that they're in pieces, but I'm not sure where the torn comes in. I guess the hammer made a bloody hole in the victim's chest, and maybe some of the bone and skin broke off into little pieces?

Sledgehammer is a bit different from a normal slasher, but I have to wonder about some the praise it's getting from people. The movie was incredibly rare, and given the amount of energy most people would've needed to invest to source a copy maybe they just couldn't admit it didn't warrant the effort they'd made so they began praising the movie's more unusual qualities.
Sledgehammer was shot on video so is presented at 1.33:1. It's an ugly, ugly looking movie, but what can really be done to clean it up? The print is marred by haze, video grain, and VHS glitches. The movie's soft as all fuck, too. In the last third or so of the movie I noticed wobble at the bottom of the screen. I played the movie on my computer to listen to the commentaries and the wobble was visible throughout on the computer, so how visible the wobble is and how often it's apparent will probably depend on your system's overscan.
In the extras it's recommended to boost the bass and turn the volume way up. I didn't do that, so maybe I missed out. The track is a 2.0 mix that is rough like the video, plagued by hiss and distortion, but again what can be done? The disc also has a lot of volume variance between the trailers, the menus, the movie, etc.
Extra Features
The DVD contains two commentaries. The first commentary is with David A. Prior and moderated by Clint Kelley of Riot Releasing. David doesn't seem to think much of this movie, knocking things like the slow motion...which actually deserved more knocking than it gets here. It's a good thing that Clint's there moderating because he actually has to retell some of David's stories that he's heard before because David doesn't offer up much detail in response to Clint's questions. It's a bit like pulling teeth getting the information out of David, so Clint carries the track and his theory as to what the hell's going on in the movie is the highlight of this extra. The second commentary is with two guys from Bleeding Skull. They confess they don't know a lot about the movie, but clearly love it and want to share that love, and give a reasonable explanation as to why they don't want to know "facts" about the movie. Sometimes this track is annoying as they're just blathering about nothing, but at times they do point out things worth admiring or at least laughing at. Surprisingly, I didn't mind this track, and I liked that they put the movie into context in terms of when it came out, what its contemporaries were and the sort of things that would follow. Along with the commentaries are a few short featurette/interviews. There's an eight minute interview with the author of Destroy All Movies!!! who hits all the main points so I would recommend just watching this interview instead of the movie. SledgehammerLand is a featurette with Cinefamily programmers inserted into the movie's backgrounds. They talk about a transcendental experience that happened at a screening of the movie, but this is fairly irrelevant because it's highly unlikely most people will be able to attend a screening. There's also a brief interview with the director, who still doesn't seem to care about this movie (he's got the right idea). Lastly, there are trailers for The Secret Life of Jeffrey Dahmer, A Night to Dismember and Things.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I'm sure this DVD release will be very welcome to people that have wanted to see the movie since the mid 80s, but I can warn them that it's not worth the wait. It's a tough DVD to score because I really like that Intervision have released Sledgehammer and I think they've done what they could with it, but the movie itself is terrible. The disc should delight fans, presuming there are more of them out there than the three that contributed to the commentaries, and provides a cheap alternative to those that never managed to get the VHS.

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