Sledgehammer (1983)

AUGUST 26, 2011


While not as off the wall batshit as Things, Sledgehammer (released via the same Innervision label) should appeal to the same sort of folks, and they even share some minor similarities. In addition to being shot on video, they both involve some friends going to a very bland house to party (read: sit around and drink while endlessly goofing off), and both feature the severe mistreatment of an innocent sandwich.

But whereas Things was a minor monster movie with Evil Dead style splatter, this is a straight up 80s slasher, with some vague supernatural elements tossed in for good measure (the killer appears to be a ghost and can also teleport his victims around, for some reason). Our seven obnoxious heroes show up at the house, dying one by one (or in a pair during sex - a slasher tradition that the film upholds), until only our obvious heroes remain. The killer is seemingly dispatched, our survivors walk away, and then a sequel is promised. So, same old shit, right?

On the contrary. Maybe on paper this didn't seem too "off", but the movie itself is a treasure trove of filmmaking decisions that are seemingly designed to make the audience either laugh unintentionally or just yell "WHAT?". For starters, it runs 87 minutes, but if you played everything at normal speed I think it would be well short of an hour. It's fine/normal to toss in a slo-mo shot or two during a kill scene, but director David Prior (long before Zombie Wars) has no concept of restraint or "everything in moderation", so we get slow motion versions of EVERYTHING. Kills, sex, food fights, walks through a field, luggage and sleeping bags being tossed in a pile, someone plugging in an electric appliance... you name it, it gets slowed down. On the commentary Prior admits the film came up a bit short and necessitated some of this, but unless they were contracted to deliver an 87 minute movie I think they could have eased off a bit. There are also a number of extended shots that make you wonder if the DVD is broken, particularly the opening establishing shot of the house that seems to run for a full minute before anything happens. Granted, it just adds to the charm, but in turn it's also a movie I'd never watch by myself again, not without the fast forward button handy.

Our heroes are also a wonderfully inept group of actors, none of whom have managed to go on to successful acting careers (the heroine's only other credit is "Girl on Table" in a softcore flick, for example). The only exception is hero Ted Prior, David's brother who appears in pretty much all of David's movies. He's not really much better than any of the others, but I guess maybe with more experience he could have improved. But he's not even the most memorable character here - that would be his buddy Jimmy (or Johnny, or Joey, I couldn't tell their names apart), who resembles John Oates and Geraldo Rivera. His amazing mustache and slow-motion love scene where he inexplicably covers his own ass are two of the film's highlights, as are his strange relationship issues with his girlfriend. It's very vague, but they either broke up or had a fight some point prior to the movie's beginning, and he spends most of the movie dodging her before they finally get down and do it (and then die).

Then there's the killer, who is named Killer (but he's got a mask, so he's still more distinct than the Final Exam guy). His motive is just as vague, in the prologue (and a recap 25 minutes later, in case we forgot) we see that his mother was cheating on her husband/his dad, which set him off, killing them both in the act. So now I guess he just sort of hangs out waiting for other folks to come around to the house, even though he apparently has supernatural powers which you'd think he'd want to exploit a little. As one of the guys from Bleeding Skull points out, his costume just sort of makes him look like someone's dad when you can't see the mask, as it's just a pair of jeans and an ugly plaid shirt. But the mask is fairly creepy; it's one of those clear plastic ones like in Alice, Sweet Alice. And he lives up to the title, in that he does have a sledgehammer that he frequently carries around with him, though curiously most of the film's kills are committed via knife. Someone needs to make a movie called Knife where everyone dies by sledgehammer so we can even this thing out.

If I had one legitimate complaint about the movie (keep in mind, it's bad, but the good kind of bad), it would be that they never go outside for a kill. There's a better than usual reason to keep them stranded there (they were dropped off and it's the middle of nowhere, as opposed to the usual "the car won't start" nonsense), but unless I missed it, I don't see why they couldn't have had 1-2 of them go for a stroll outside and get killed out there. It's not a particularly big house, so it would have also helped the film's logic a bit - why doesn't anyone hear the kills and/or wonder why someone could be gone for so long? Plus it's a slasher tradition to go outside for a kill or two, and they clearly had the ability to shoot outside given the "first getting to the house" scenes and the final shot, so this sort of baffles me.

Mondo has put together a pretty good package here, with the extras far less obnoxious than the bulk of the ones on Things. The Bleeding Skull commentary is a must listen; the two participants are a lot of fun to listen to as they critique/lovingly mock the movie, offer a few unrelated anecdotes (including a very funny one about Pigs aka Daddy's Deadly Darling), discuss how they got into this unique sub-genre of horror films, as well as often defending VHS. I personally don't get the VHS fetishists; other than the fact that yes, many movies are not available on DVD, there's absolutely nothing good about the format. Tapes wear out, rewinding an SP tape can take 5 minutes, they LOOK like ass, 99% of them are cropped... what exactly is the appeal? Hell they even take up twice as much space as DVDs. Do they still prefer to listen to music on cassette tape over CD, too? But whatever, if the appreciation leads to people discovering things like this, I got no complaints. The commentary with director Prior (moderated by a guy who seems to think that the film is legitimately great, or he's the most elusively sarcastic speaker of all time) has some fun trivia here and there but is also loaded with a lot of go nowhere questions (since Prior can't recall much) and the moderator's ridiculous over-praise (plus a few non-words like "improvision" instead of improvisation).

The rest of the stuff isn't substantial, but it's worth a look all the same; interviews with Zack Carlson and the guys from the Cinefamily, as well as an interview with Prior where he almost looks confused as to why he's talking about this thing almost 30 years later. Sadly none of the actors participated, I would have loved to see them reflect fondly on having entire bottles of mustard dumped on their head or how they all crammed into the van at the beginning (I seriously began to wonder if it was an actual clown car as people just kept jumping out of the van's side door). Then there are a couple trailers for other Innervision titles, including Things. Oh, and the movie has a little text card at the very top of the film asking you to increase your speakers' bass levels for maximum enjoyment, probably because the movie doesn't seem to have any bass to it at all.

So while it's not as gonzo as the Things or Pieces of the world, it shares that je ne sais quoi that I find quite charming, and again reaffirms my belief that doing Horror Movie A Day is worth it. No way in hell I'd ever have watched this movie unless I was doing this, and then I'd forever be denied the chance to see a guy do the lamest Bill Murray impression of all time.

What say you?

P.S. This is not a trailer (couldn't find one), but a montage of whoever made it's favorite moments.


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