Director: David A. Prior Writers: David A. Prior Videography: Salim Kimaz
Music: Philip G. Slate Cast: Ted Prior, Linda McGill, John Eastman, Janine Scheer, Tim Aguilar, Sandy Brooke
Disc company: Intervision Pictures Corp. Video: 480i / 4:3 Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: None Disc: DVD9 Release Date: 05/10/2011 Reviewed from a screener provided by Intervision Pictures Corp. Available for preorder at Amazon.com.
Well that was unexpected. Intervision didn’t do much to impress this reviewer with their initial DVD releases, a double helping of Jess Franco snoozers whose covers offered more in the way of genuine entertainment value than the films themselves, but this is more like it. Sledgehammer isn’t so much an artifact from another time as from another universe – an ugly and unintelligible mess of cheap thrills and cheaper drama from the early days of the straight to video shot-on-tape explosion. I dig it.
Writer / director David A. Prior, who would go on to direct a good deal more (like 1987′s inimitable Aerobicide), modeled Sledgehammer after the popular and profitable Friday the 13th franchise, and it shows. The meager story concerns a group of purported young people who head out for a weekend of drunken fun in a rural location with an ominous history and are subsequently dispatched by a supernatural masked maniac armed with the eponymous sledgehammer. In its basics Sledgehammer is strictly a by-the-books slasher, but its oddball trappings keep it from being so easily quantifiable as that.
Sometime in the past, at an isolated country home, a woman and her lover are gruesomely murdered while her unloved son is locked away in a closet. Ten years pass – the be-mulleted and sweat-panted future arrives. A group of meatheads (led by beefy Playgirl centerfold Ted Prior, brother of writer / director David A. Prior) and their female tagalongs visit themselves upon the same isolated country home, where they proceed to get drunk, screw around, throw food, and hold a seance to raise the spirits of the home’s restless dead. Said restless dead predictably rise, and its every idiot for themselves as a massacre of blunt force trauma and bassy synth cues ensues.
Sledgehammer may have been inspired by the slashers of its time, but it certainly doesn’t play by their rules. The unnamed killer is a living nightmare in plaid, his victims caught up in a topsy-turvy alter-reality of his own making. He manifests as a malevolent 8-year-old one moment and a hulking adult the next, stalking the house guests through a seemingly endless maze of narrow hallways and claustrophobic interior rooms (locations in director Prior’s own apartment, reused again and again and again). Even his weapon of choice is of a supernatural demeanor, appearing and disappearing of its own volition!
In terms of production value Sledgehammer is positively barbaric, though first-time director Prior and his crew of commercial video producers do try to overcome their considerable technological and financial limitations. Videographer Salim Kimaz’s efforts to embue the proceedings with a bit of visual style on several occasions, from the diffused and desaturated images of the opening scene to the low angles and abstract lighting evidenced later, and the efforts certainly aren’t lost on this reviewer. Step-frame slow motion is also utilized, though to such an extent that it becomes ridiculous. Nearly every door that opens in Sledgehammer opens in slow motion, and likewise for those that close. Brief shots are stretched to epic length, leaving viewers scratching their heads as characters wander around at 15 frames per second for whole minutes at a time. The cheap trick coupled with the rumbly synthesizer backscore and banal imagery provides results that are unexpectedly spellbinding. I just couldn’t look away, though I’m at a loss to explain why.
I can’t say that I was frightened by any of what happened in Sledgehammer - the gore is minor and the thrills are just too low-tech to be effective - but as a sum experience it’s hard to forget. I alternated between uncontrollable laughter, as Ted Prior manhandles his girlfriend and balances beer cans on her head (in sloooow moooootion), and transfixed silence, bludgeoned into submission by the collected might of Sledgehammer‘s no-tech frills and absurd narrative conventions. This is a weird one, folks, a tar-pit relic of a brand of filmmaking now long extinct and a boozy footnote to the bygone era of VHS. I love it.
Intervision Picture Corp., recently merged with Severin Films after the death of founder Larry Gold Sr., presents this slice of old-school video store shelf filler in a DVD edition that’s surprisingly deluxe. In keeping with past releases, the cover itself replicates the style of old clamshell VHS cases, but this adoration for the defunct format (may it rest in peace) is lovingly extended to the on-disc content as well. Not only is the Intervision logo sourced from tape, but the majority of the supplements (all new) have been mastered as such too. Now that’s dedication.
As for Sledgehammer, it makes its legitimate debut on digital looking much like it should – awful. The 480i 4:3 transfer was, given the nature of the production, sourced from a tape master, and presents with all the shortcomings that go along with it. Detail is at low levels, colors and contrast are flat and unappealing, and damage, by way of a variety of analog video blips, is present. That said, Sledgehammer looks better here than in the majority of the screen captures I’ve seen from past releases and, indeed, better than much of the footage of the film that’s been edited into the supplemental featurettes. The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound aptly conveys the crude audio mix, muffled live recording and all. It’s hard to fault either the video or audio presentation, both of which are likely the best we can ever rightly expect from the title. Aside from the lack of subtitles I’ve no complaints.
That Sledgehammer has a supplemental package at all is surprising, and most of it is quite engaging. We get two feature-length audio commentaries – the first with writer and director David A. Prior (moderated by Riot Releasing’s Clint Kelley) and the next with Bleeding Skull’s Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik. Viewers are also treated to a trio of video featurettes: Hammertime (8 minutes) with Destroy All Movies!!! author Zack Carlson, SledgehammerLand (6 minutes) with Cinefamily programmers Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald, and an interview with director David A. Prior (6 minutes). Rounding things out are trailers for three other upcoming Intervision titles, all of which look promising – The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer, A Night to Dismember, and Things.
Indicative, perhaps, of DVDs newfound life as a niche product for collectors of one brand of nonsense or the other, Intervision Picture Corp. has given Sledgehammer the deluxe digital treatment it never, ever deserved. For that, I think we should all be grateful. Sledgehammer streets on May 10th at an SRP of $19.98, and fans of oddball video obscurities won’t want to miss it.
Film: Um… Video: As good a it gets Audio: Likewise Supplements: There are supplements?
Harrumphs: No subtitles.
Packaging: Standard issue DVD case.
Final Words: Memorably bizarre and tailor-made for tormenting friends, Sledgehammer is not to be missed.