In 1983 David A. Prior wrote and directed Sledgehammer. After languishing for a year, it found a distributor but slasher fans had a hard time finding copies at local mom & pop video stores. Fortunately, Sledgehammer has been saved from obscurity with a new DVD release from Intervision Picture Corp and Severin Films.
The movie opens with a mom locking her son in a closet so she can spend quality time with her lover. Just when things get hot and heavy between the two lovers an unseen killer bashes them with, you guessed it, a sledgehammer. Ten years later, a group of friends go to the same house to enjoy a weekend of food fights and madcap debauchery. When Ted (Killer Workout) Prior tells a ghost story, the spirit of the little boy is released from the closet. Now, the little boy’s ghost is a freaking giant in a scary mask. One by one, the friends are slashed, smashed, and trashed by the vengeful spirit.
The gore in Sledgehammer is low rent but effective so gore lovers will have something to wet their appetites. The acting is sometimes over the top but this is because the party scenes are real. Those cans of beer and bottles of Old Grand Dad aren’t props, they’re liquid motivation for some of the cast. What really hinders Sledgehammer, though, is the gratuitous use of slow motion to pad the film’s running time. We get slow motion scenes involving couples walking across a field, someone tumbling over bags, and the final girl trying to plug something into a wall socket. Despite the film’s flaws, there are some good chills to be had. The killer is a menacing looking individual and some of his scenes are genuinely creepy. David A. Prior gives the supernatural elements a punch with neat camera tricks that are pretty amazing for a first time director trying to learn his craft. Sledgehammer is rough around the edges but it contains enough laughs and chills to make it the overall viewing experience worthwhile.
Even if you were one of the lucky few to find it on VHS, there are plenty of entertaining extras on the DVD to warrant an upgrade. A commentary track with Bleeding Skull‘s Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik offers up theories about the killer’s identity and back story. The riffs on “Oates” and “Mr. 65″, their names for two of the characters, are pretty hilarious and their theories fill in some of the plot holes that plague the film. Sometimes Ziemba and Budnik drift off on tangents that have nothing to do with the film or anyone connected to it but it doesn’t detract from the entertainment value of the commentary. It’s obvious these guys love the film and have probably watched it one too many times.
Moderator Clint Kelley and writer/director David A. Prior are featured on the main commentary track. Kelley asks a lot of good questions, unfortunately, Prior can’t remember all the details about the making of Sledgehammer. Prior’s memory improves as the commentary progresses. He provides behind the scene anecdotes on the hazards of shooting food fights and gore scenes in your own apartment, tricks used to make the apartment look like a much larger building, and the educational value of writing and directing your first film. As for the killer’s origin, Prior explains he was inspired by “the Jason movies” and left out details about the killer’s supernatural powers on purpose. Kelley, a Sledgehammer super fan, offers his own theories about the film. The track ends with the two men discussing a possible Sledgehammer 2 in the near future.
Some of the stories mentioned on Prior’s commentary are repeated in his interview. During the interview it becomes clear the director is amazed his first film has a loyal following among horror and slasher fans. The biggest surprise in the interview is the film’s budget was probably less than $10,000. The SledgehammerLand featurette with Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald offers proof that some slashers are better watched under the influence. Belove and Fitzgerald, programmers for Cinefamily, describe what happened when they gave Sledgehammer its first theatrical showing a few years ago. Destroy All Movies!!! author Zack Carlson offers up his Sledgehammer theories during the Hammertime featurette. Horror fans will have a hard time focusing on Carlson’s words because he’s sitting in front of a wall of VHS tapes. On the third viewing I stopped reading the titles behind Carlson and concentrated on his thoughts about the movie.
Thanks to the efforts of Intervision and Severin Films slasher fans can finally see Sledgehammer, the first shot-on-video slasher, on DVD. The extras compliment the film and the commentary tracks add hours of replay value to the movie. It would be great to see every obscure slasher get this type of DVD treatment.
Sledgehammer is now available through Amazon and other DVD retailers.
In full disclosure, the back of the DVD box features a quote from Retro Slashers’ video review.