A young boy murders his mother and her lover with a hammer. Ten years later, a wave of teenage murders plagues the same area.
The early 80’s saw a wave of horror films produced by filmmakers working with no budget and a camcorder. These efforts, called “Shot-on-Video (SOV) movies”, favored buckets of blood over coherent storytelling and were intended for home video release. David A. Prior’s 1983 chiller Sledgehammer is the second of these pictures, but the first to skip theaters (1982’s Boarding House received a 35mm transfer and several theatrical screenings). Sledgehammer follows a plot that was routine even in the year of its production: a young boy catches his mother cavorting with a random stranger and kills them with a sledgehammer. Even the setting is one revered by many a horror storyteller: the cabin in the woods.Ten years later, a group of friends travel to the cabin where they hope to peacefully debate the merits of Objectivism and–oh, who am I kidding? They’re looking to get drunk, have sex, and so on. After settling in, the ringleader of the group (Ted Prior), tells the story of the sledgehammer murders and jokingly conducts a seance to resurrect the killer. Unfortunately, the joke ends up being on them . . .
Earlier I noted the slipshod storytelling on display in “SOV movies”. Sledgehammer is not without its illogicalities and plotholes. The nature of the Sledgehammer Killer, for instance, is unclear. We’re led to believe this spirit is an unstoppable threat and can block any attack. However, he’s easily outwitted by Ted Prior’s character in the final three minutes. I also question why the ghost switched back from child to adult. And did that see-through mask have any reason? Probably not. I’d also like to mention the scene where one of the friends sifts through the barn . . . and finds nothing. The scene has no purpose and meaning. It’s just a few minutes of some guy casually walking around a room.
But really, the majority of Sledgehammer has no relevance or point. I have to wonder whether a full script was even written as there’s so much padding and extraneous material. The first hour or so consists of Animal House-esque antics (either the characters are poorly aging college students or emotionally stunted thirty-somethings) and not-so-witty banter. There’s not an ounce of tension or atmosphere in this portion of the film. It’s clear no one involved in the production had any filmmaking experience. Just look at the egregious use of slow-motion. At times it’s used for dramatic effect, which is sensible enough, but does a scene of Ted Prior’s character and his girlfriend (Linda McGill) strolling through the fields really need slow-motion? Or a moment where everyone’s retrieving their bags? My only reason for the constant slo-mo: the filmmakers were excited to use that technique given the limitations of filming in 8mm.
But for all its flaws, I can’t totally dismiss Sledgehammer. The buzzing synth score from Phillip G. Slate establishes a menacing vibe to the proceedings. It’s probably the most accomplished aspect of the entire movie. Scenes from the killer’s POV are adequately shot. The idea may have been borrowed from Halloween and Friday the 13th, but at least they tried to conjure up some style with the equipment available.
So there you have it. I had never heard of Sledgehammer or the SOV films before composing this review. It was unforgettable, if nothing else. Although the results were unsatisfactory, I do give David A. Prior and his crew credit for getting out there and completing a movie. Ultimately Sledgehammer may be of interest only to those who enjoy horror history and trash cinema. However, chances are those people have viewed this movie by now.