Director: David A. Prior
Cast: Ted Prior, Linda McGill, John Eastman, Janine Scheer, Tim Aguilar, Sandy Brooke, Stephen Wright, Justin Greer, Doug Matley
Extras: Audio commentary: With Director David A. Prior / Audio commentary: With Bleeding Skull Creators Joseph A. Ziemba, and Dan Budnik / Featurette: Hammertime: With DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!! Author Zack Carlson / Featurette: SledgehammerLand: With Cinefamily Programmers Hadrian Belove And Tom Fitzgerald / Interview(s): With Director David A. Prior
A married mother locks her young son in a closet so she can get her fuck on with her lover who is also married. While she is giving the guy head, a shadowy figure wielding a giant sledgehammer (hmmm, so it’s not just a creative title) bashes his noggin before bludgeoning her to pulp. It is now 10 years later and a group of young (kinda) people are arriving at the murderously tainted house for a weekend romp of sex, fun and boozing it up. High-jinks ensue as the beer and liquor begin to flow but their good time is interrupted after one of the group goes missing after a nasty prank. They soon find his corpse with a knife through the neck and from there things just get worse as the little boy in the closet, who shape-shifts back and forth into a towering monster, picks them off one by one.
Writer/director David A. Prior’s Sledgehammer is widely regarded as the first shot-on-video slasher flick for the home video market. There is an argument to be made for John Wintergate’s Boardinghouse from 1982 but I think that had a short theatrical run, so it doesn’t really count. When you talk about low, micro-budget movies, this should be your template. Prior claims to have made it for around $10,000 which I assume went to the actors and crew since the equipment was provided by a local film school, or studio or something like that. Most of the cast was friends and family, his brother Ted (former Playgirl magazine centerfold) playing the leading man. Only two of the actresses were people they found off of the street to play the roles. The film was shot in two locations; the outdoor shot of a red house and the inside shots were inside the director’s small apartment.
All of these budget shortcomings didn’t stop Prior from creating a juggernaut of nightmarish, scummy freakiness though. The cramped apartment gave everything a very claustrophobic, strangled feeling, like everything is right on top of you. The director broke lots of logic rules and said “Fuck it!” when it came to explaining ANYthing. The supernatural element of the killer is really unsettling because you don’t know what to expect next. The whole goddamn house is a ghost for fuck’s sake! The walls seem to move and breath while the victims get sucked into rooms through closed doors. Once the movie gets amped up and the masked predator begins his hunt, the whole scenario turns into the stray bits and pieces of a nightmare that you struggle to remember. The gore quotient is met by some impressive DIY practical SFX by the Prior brothers who are credited as “Blood & Guts”. The violence has an uneasy, sleazy overtone as the boy’s revenge is taken because of his whore mother.
Those accolades come with a few footnotes though. The picture, because it was shot on tape, has the grimiest, 3rd generation VHS look I’ve seen since Synapses DVD release of Johan Vandewoestijne’s 1986 filthy shocker Lucker the Necrophagus. If you are watching Intervision’s Sledgehammer DVD, it’s not for the “remastered HD transfer”, that’s for sure. That’s not to say that it is unwatchable, in fact it looks pretty decent considering how incredibly obscure this movie is. The sound on the other hand is pretty damn awesome. There is a disclaimer before the feature telling you to pump up your bass settings to the maximum and crank the volume to 11 and with good reason; the droning synth score is awesomeness. It helps to set that oppressive tone. The slow-motion effects, which really padded the runtime, were oddly effective as well because of, not in spite of, the fact that they were horribly overused to add to the nightmarish feeling. I’ll bet if you ran all of the scenes in real time, the movie’s 85 minutes would be around an hour.
Sledgehammer is brilliantly bad and endlessly entertaining. Even the end credits were fun: Edited by Ralph Cutter, Lighting by Michael Watt, Locations by Mike Hunt and Special Sound Effects by I.P. Phreilee? You have to love that. The extras on the disk were pretty interesting as well, especially the 5-6 minute interview with David A. Prior which looks like the crew shanghaied him while he was having a picnic at a park and they interrupted him. He seemed totally disinterested and a little perturbed to tell about the making of the movie. Zack Carlson the author of “Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film” and VHS enthusiast also makes an appearance in the featurette Hammertime where he talks about the movie as well as reminisces about the first horror flicks that were shot straight onto VHS. The obscurity and complete insanity of this ’80s time capsule along with the extras from Intervision makes this a “must have” for horror fans.