Friday, November 15, 2013

Review - Sledgehammer (1983)

Sledgehammer VHS Cover
Warning This Review Contains Spoilers

“Flesh tears, bones shatter, the nightmare has begun.” This is what we call a “fucking awesome tagline.” The super cool illustrated artwork showing a theatrical mask being cracked down the middle by a crudely drawn sledgehammer is the icing on the cake. This is the kind of movie where, once you gaze at the cover artwork, notice the title, along with the bloodsoaked, bizarre graphic – you have no choice. You simply have to either rent or purchase that film. Sadly, for many years, that second option was out of the question. Not only was it an obscure title, but it later fell into the hands of VHS price gougers and its “market value” shot way the hell up. However, in 2011, the good people over at Intervision released a special edition DVD of the movie we’re here to talk about today. That film is David A. “Killer Workout” Prior’s infamous shot on video slasheriffic debut – Sledgehammer. This is a movie that does indeed hook you with the violent implications of its title and tagline, coupled with the bizarre artwork and title graphic. However, when it comes to bizarre, weird ass shit – that artwork has got nothing on the movie within the cover.

The movie begins on an already strange note – we cut from a producer’s credit to a blood dripping title scene – the title itself is not a graphic, but is actually a model set up, which is suddenly crushed by an incoming hammer. From there, we are assaulted by video effects for our title sequence, the scene made all the more nightmarish by some particularly haunting electronic music.

Peter Gabriel's videos have gotten a lot more disturbing

After the titles roll, the story starts up good and proper. We’re introduced to a barn-like house out in the country. A little kid in a plaid shirt is being forced into a closet by his scantily clad mother – who is trying to get him out of her way so she and her lover can make the beast with two backs. She smacks him around, calls him a little bastard and then shoves him into the closet, locking the door on her way out. For some absolutely inexplicable reason, this scene is mostly done in slow motion. She then greets her boyfriend out in the living, and begins to suck him off in only a matter of seconds. However, the action is interrupted when her blowjob recipient suddenly has the back of his head smashed open (complete with his brains falling out) by an unseen assailant wielding a sledgehammer. After she surely ends up with a mouthful of his death jizz, she looks up and realizes what’s happened. She attempts to flee by crawling away while mugging it up for the camera in slow-mo, but as Lemmy says “don’t try to run, don’t try to scream, believe me, the hammer’s gonna smash your dreams.” The killer begins to bring down his weapon on her flesh, as blood splatters on the wall. Who could this madman be? What happened to the kid?

There's no better way to escape a sledgehammer wielding madman than crawling.... very.... slowly... backward... in slow motion.

Ten years later and a van full of friends is back at the same house, ready for a weekend of goof ol’ fashion partying. As they take an eternity to unpack, we’re introduced to them. First we have the leader of the pack, Chuck, played by Ted Prior – brother of director David Prior. He’s brought his girlfriend Joni with him, who spends a decent amount of time whining about him not wanting to marry her. Next we have Chuck’s best friend John, and his girlfriend Mary. Joining them is Jimmy, who provides the movie with one hell of a porno mustache, and his lady Carol…. Actually, it’s not really said whether or not Carol is actually his girlfriend or if he just makes her wet, because she keeps trying to attract his attention to no avail throughout the first half of the movie. And lastly, we have the token jokester Joey, the character that you just know is gonna die first due to his inane bullshit.

It’s here we’re introduced to the most random slow motion scene ever – consisting of Chuck and Joni taking a walk in the woods. That’s the entire scene. Chuck and Joni just walking around in slow-motion while some acoustic ‘romantic’ music plays. I shit you not, this scene takes like two and a half fucking minutes, while we watch Chuck and Joni walk about 20 feet. It’s kind of amazing this actually made the final cut, and while it’s not totally intolerable, it…. really doesn’t add anything to the movie other than adding to the batshit insane nature which is used to greater (and quite eerie) effect later on in the movie.

See this screencap? Watch this movie and you'll never forget it - because this scene takes nearly 3 fucking minutes

Once the gang gets into the house, we’re introduced to all sorts of crazy shenanigans, the most excessive being a food fight that lasts for a few minutes that ends with everyone winding up covered with mayonnaise, mustard, bread, and cream. It’s during this initial period that we notice that things still aren’t quite right in the house, as we see the sledgehammer appear out of thin air and then disappear. That’s right. This movie has the most awesome weapon of them all: the ghost sledgehammer. Let me repeat that, so you know you read it correctly. This movie introduces to the world, the fucking GHOST SLEDGEHAMMER!!!! Hey, Leatherface. Bet you think you’re pretty slick with that chainsaw that says “the saw is family” on the blade. Well guess what, buddy? You need to step it up, cause you ain’t got the GHOST SLEDGEHAMMER!!!! Hey, Freddy, still trying to scare us with those fingerblades? Well guess what, fucker? Your glove ain’t got shit on the fucking GHOST SLEDGEHAMMER!!!! ALL HAIL THE AWESOME GHOST SLEDGEHAMMER!!!!!!!


Anyway… as I was saying. Chuck and Joey decide to fuck with people by finally letting their friends in on the dark secret of this house, and holding a séance to awaken the dead spirits. They darken the room, light the candles, chant various curses, while Joey slips away to set up a tape of voices he recorded to scare his friends – when all of a sudden, he gets stabbed through the neck by a tall, masked maniac who appears out of thin air. GHOST KILLER!!!!! Now I’m not sure if the séance ended up waking up the spirit, because we’d already seen POV shots of something stalking the group well before that period, and then we saw the ghost sledgehammer earlier, so I’m honestly thinking it was all a big coincidence.

The movie is called Sledgehammer, so it's only natural that this guy gets killed with a knife

The séance ends and people can’t seem to find Joey aside from a puddle of blood. Chuck and the gang decide to chill out in the living room, while Carol finally convinces Jimmy to join her in the bedroom. While they’re off getting busy, our ghost killer appears to join in on the action – snapping Carol’s neck and shattering Jimmy’s ribs with the hammer, leaving him spitting blood and dying. The rest of the party soon discovers all of the corpses and lose their collective shit. John opts to try and find the killer and overpower him, but Chuck’s idea is to stay in the living room together until dawn. John humors his idea, but not before grabbing the discarded sledgehammer from the scene of Carol and Jimmy’s gruesome death. John is now a force to be reckoned with. He is an angry, bearded, red headed warrior of swift destruction, because he wields…. the fucking GHOST SLEDGEHAMMER!!!!!!!!!!!!

John Eastman: Weilder of the GHOST SLEDGEHAMMER!!!

John’s warrior status doesn’t last long, as he falls asleep in his chair and wakes up to find the sledgehammer removed from his hands. He goes off looking through the house to find his weapon, as any possessor of the fucking GHOST SLEDGEHAMMER!!! would, but the only thing he finds is a kid wearing the killer’s mask and holding the sledgehammer in his hand. Yeah, if for some unknown reason you hadn’t immediately figured it out, the kid was the killer in the beginning and is the one who has been stalking these people as well, as an adult… ghost. Apparently he switches from being a kid and an adult whenever he feels like it. John decides to go after the kid until he gets a door slammed in his face. John isn’t about to take this bullshit lying down, so he starts to cut away the door when all of a sudden – he teleports through the door. That’s right: HE TELEPORTS THROUGH THE DOOR. How did this happen? Hell if I know, but on the other side we see a bloody pentagram drawn on the wall. Is this room in another dimension? No clue, it’s never really explained. He tries to look for the kid and get his weapon back, when he stumbles back out into the hallway, a knife plunged into his back. Mary is distraught to see the corpse of her dead boyfriend, and begins to run into the room – only to meet the same fate when the killer repeatedly stabs her.

That'll teach that bitch to make me clean my room!

Chuck and Joni run into the Satanic portal bedroom to discover Mary’s mutilated corpse, along with the kid holding the knife – explaining the situation to them. Sadly, I have no idea what he’s saying because his voice is obscured by these sound effects that render his dialogue pretty much inaudible. Before their eyes, he transforms back into an adult and chases them around the house with the hammer, banging into the walls every chance he gets. This concludes when the killer ends up dropping his weapon, which Chuck picks up and uses to smash his ghost brains in. Somehow, despite being an apparition that we always see appearing and disappearing, he’s subject to physical wounds…. Chuck and Joni leave the house the next morning, while the spirit apparently comes back to life and watches them from the top window.

Hey, this Bleeding Skull Mask I got at Walmart works great!

Sledgehammer is certainly a very interesting movie. What could have been a simple, normal slasher flick became a very strange, even creepy movie that also happens to be one of the original shot on video horror films. The video even adds to the creepy feeling of the movie, with its realistic look, it’s almost like you’re there, witnessing this madness firsthand. The most notable aspect of this movie is its obsession with over the top slow motion – anything and everything is made into a slow motion epic – whether it’s people walking around in the woods, people shutting a door, the killer lifting his weapon – this movie loves slow motion – and the entire finale is pretty much shown through slow-mo for a good part of the duration. While this might screw up the movie for some people, I honestly find it to add to the many nightmarish elements to the film.

And then.... Matt got ready to watch the super awesome death scene.... and as he watched the screen patiently, the moment came, and all he saw was.. CGI GORE!!!!

One thing the movie definitely gets right is the atmosphere – the house works perfectly as the center of the carnage, and even though it’s a simple house (and it was actually filmed in a small apartment), it gives the feeling of an isolated labyrinth that the characters later cannot escape from as the phantom madman stalks them one by one. The atmosphere is helped greatly by the awesome synthesized score, filled with very haunting cues and effective stingers. Much like Day of the Reaper and Violent Shit, the score is easily the most well executed aspect of the entire movie. Personally, I’d love to own the soundtrack on CD if it became available, the movie would not be the same without it and many of its nightmarish scenes are owed to the score.

There are also some really fun gore scenes, the opening double murder being my favorite. It’s kind of a bummer that the sledgehammer isn’t used as much as it could have been in the last 20 minutes or so, but overall, some pretty nice, well executed death scenes which are brought to us by “Blood and Guts.” Apparently Ted Prior is the one who made up most of the gore effects, and they honestly don’t look too bad, especially for the budget this movie had. The rib shattering death scene is also a favorite of mine, with the bloody chest wound and internal bleeding effect.

Ha ha! Your awesome porn stache is no match for the almighty GHOST SLEDGEHAMMER!!!

The characters themselves aren’t too bad, Ted Prior is pretty entertaining as the leading man Chuck. John is another one of my favorites, and I really hated to see him go toward the end of the movie. The killer is played to eerie effect by the 6”9 Douglas Matley. The killer itself is never named (unless the kid revealed his name – the reverb obscures whatever it is he says), but is an intimidating character wearing a clear mask, who towers over his victims. It never explains what all happened to him from the time he killed his mother to the present massacre, but the movie really doesn’t suffer for it at all.

Where will you be when your diarrhea comes back???

The movie was OOP and very difficult to come by for several years until the special edition DVD from 2011 was released by Intervision – providing the movie with several extra features such as two commentary tracks and several featurettes. There was also a VHS re-release from Mondo Entertainment which apparently sold out completely in 13 minutes. The Intervision DVD is definitely the way to own it, though, and it thankfully retains the classic artwork in a nice, white DVD case.

Intervision Promo Ad

Overall, this movie is a must own for any fan of shot on video horror. Not only for historical purposes, but it really is an entertaining, and puzzling, movie with a stinger infested synth score, entertaining, likeable characters, an intimidating masked madman, and an interesting choice for a lead weapon that helps the movie stand out from the pack. It isn’t perfect, the slow motion works great for the stalk scenes and adds to the eeriness, but gets to be a bit overbearing at other spots (the Chuck and Joni forest walk). I would have liked to see a few more sledgehammer kills and maybe a bit more explained about the killer himself, but honestly, I do really enjoy the movie and the good far outweighs the bad. For a movie that was allegedly only made for its director to bypass film school, it really comes off as well executed, Dave Prior’s talent behind the camera is quite evident, even when he was just starting out. While it’s not quite for every horror fan, fans of shot on video horror absolutely need this cult classic in their collection. You won’t regret it.