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STUDIO: Intervision Pictures Corp.
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes
Commentary With Director David A. Prior
Commentary With Bleeding Skull Creators Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik
Hammertime: Featurette with DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!! author Zack Carlson
SledgehammerLand: Featurette With Cinefamily Programmers Hadrian Belove And Tom Fitzgerald
Interview With Director David A. Prior.
The demented fever dreams of an unbalanced mind, channeled through VHS.
Actors: Ted Prior, Linda McGill, Stephen Wright, John Eastman, Janine Scheer
Director: David A. Prior
A group of unlikable tools and their presumably self-esteem troubled girlfriends travel to a remote house to act like assholes, only to discover that a ghost Slasher wielding a ghost sledgehammer still haunts the property.
Sledgehammer is a fucking terrible movie. Yet, it is mesmerizing. I found myself unable to look away, and the longer the film went on the more I found myself completely loving it for all its egregious flaws. The film comes from David A. Prior, who would have to be categorized as a C-list director, and his action figure lookin’ brother Ted, who also plays the “hero.” The Priors actually have a fairly lengthy filmography of no-budget team-ups, most notably the gonzo action movie Deadly Prey, which became a minor Internet sensation not too long ago when clips and trailers seemed to be popping up everywhere. But Sledgehammer is where it all began.
Above anything else Sledgehammer is noteworthy for being shot entirely on video, which no one was doing back in 1983; not even Skinemax softcore thrillers. And taking a look at the screengrabs I’ve got here, you can see why. Video in 1983 looked like seven different shades of dick. Yet, what makes Sledgehammer so oddly endearing is what a serious go of it the Priors made. They were really trying to do something here. This isn’t just a cash-in quickie Slasher movie. Considering what utter shit the video quality is, David A. Prior tries to do something interesting things. Sure, he’s not very successful – the movie is clearly coming from someone who isn’t entirely sure how to make a film – but there is always a bit of magic to incompetency backed by enthusiasm. The film is loaded with soft focus, haze, unpleasant moody lighting, and enough early-80’s video slow-mo to melt your face. So much slow motion. So much. The film also features the longest exterior establishing shots I’ve ever seen — some of which go on for so long they tricked me into thinking there must be something I’m supposed to be looking at, Where’s Waldo-style. All this, when combined with the pulsing drone of Philip G. Slate bass obsessed synth score, is where things get mesmerizing. There is just something not right about the film, the way it looks, the tone of the performances, that give everything a nightmare-like quality.
The film features a lot of improvising from the actors, which is odd considering that it is pretty obvious that none of these people are actual actors. Possibly the script was just so apparently poor that ad-libbing seemed like a reasonable solution. In any case, all the human interactions have a strange vibe to them. The movie is oddly naturalistic for such hackwork. And the characters all range from completely unlikable to moderately unlikable. Ted Prior as Chuck makes for a bizarre hero. For one thing, he doesn’t look like an actual person. It is not just that he’s super buff. This was the 80’s. There is something about his face. He looks like a cartoon drawing of a buff handsome blond guy. Chuck likes to do funny voices and shitty impressions too. The relationship between Chuck and his girlfriend is extremely uncomfortable. During their very first conversation in the film, when Chuck is trying to apologize to the young lady, he “charmingly” bonks her on the head a few times with the beer he’s drinking, hard enough that it is audible. It’s actually a pretty unintentionally amazing moment, as I feel like I learned a lot more about Ted Prior right then than I did about Chuck. This scene is then shortly followed by a slow-mo shot of Chuck and his lady walking through a field while ridiculous music plays that is so long it almost felt like a high-concept joke.
I also grew to love how incredibly cheap the film was, and how hard they tried to work around it. The film is set in a house, but the entire thing was shot inside David A. Prior’s apartment, and it is great seeing how they turned the meager number of rooms in this apartment into an entire house worth of locations. And while there isn’t much in the way of great gore, they at least tried. It’s the thought that counts some times. The Slasher in the film is just as clunky and bizarre as one would hope, and he seems to have a magical sledgehammer. It can’t do awesome shit like Thor’s hammer, but it will ominously appear (with bitchin’ video cross dissolves) leaning up against a wall, then disappear again!
While Sledgehammer is questionably “good,” depending on what exactly we’re talking about when we say “good,” the DVD is uniformly wonderful. David A. Prior is clearly embarrassed by the film and his emotional state in his interview and commentary are a palpable mix of bafflement (towards those who like the film) and pride (that after all these years some idiots are actually talking about something he made) that I found very interesting; one can almost sense that he’s trying to gauge if the people making this DVD are fucking with him. There is also a commentary track from BleedingSkull.com creators Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik, who have been extremely pivotal in the resurgence of Sledgehammer. Plus a featurette featuring two friends of mine, The Cinefamily Theater’s Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald, in which they discuss a phenomenal failed screening they did of the film where the entire audience was hungover from a Halloween party the theater had thrown the night before.
This is a pretty special little oddball. A real gem-turd. Pilfering and paraphrasing something that the Alamo Drafthouse’s Zack Carlson says about the film, the most interesting thing about Sledgehammer is that it doesn’t seem to have any influences or to be copying anything beyond just the basic framework of young people going to party in a remote location. I highly recommend checking it out. Just don’t do it sober or alone.
There is no way to really grade Sledgehammer itself, but I’ll give the DVD…
Out of a Possible 5 Stars