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Friday, August 23, 2013

Sledgehammer


Sledgehammer
1983
David A. Prior

Angling for ‘Mom of the Year’, a woman locks her son in a closet so she can go make out with some guy in her living room. This doesn’t sit well with the kid at all, he escapes the closet and proceeds to murder them both with the titular sledgehammer.  Ten years later a bunch of rowdy doofuses show up with their long suffering girlfriends to ostensibly fix the house… or party… honestly, I’m still not sure. Either way, it isn't long before the the kid, now a full grown giant, ghost giant, giant ghost kid, starts stabbing and smushing everyone in slow-motion.

Sledgehammer is an odd film in just about every conceivable way. Notable for not only being the first horror film to be shot on commercial video equipment, it also launched the careers of Action International Pictures superstars, David and Ted Prior (director and star respectively).  Sledgehammer is very crudely made, slow, and occasionally tedious, but at the same time there is an obvious effort to light, edit, and score it like a ‘legitimate’ film. There’s no laziness here, just an inexperienced crew and primitive (yet cost effective) equipment.

Perhaps more interestingly, the washed-out look of early video, the sparseness of the house interior, and the baffling editing, manage to cut through the flat dialogue and amateur acting to touch on a note of weird horror.  The interior of the house seems to shift and move, the murderous giant/ghost/kid is never given an origin, or really any kind of motive, leaving him a mysterious presence. There are numerous gore effects that make up in slop what they lack in technical expertise. I don't want to give the impression that this is a secret art house masterpiece, it’s a schlocky horror movie through and through. Since that was probably their goal in the first place, it's surprisingly successful in that regard. 

The acting is uniformly pretty terrible, but the writing certainly doesn't help. Having Chuck (Ted Prior) and his goon squad getting into food fights, pouring beer on women, and generally bro-ing it up for almost half of the film is painful to watch. You really begin to question how any of these guys managed to keep a girlfriend around for longer than three minutes.

There are number of lingering external shots of the house that seem to go on forever. It really isn't until the climax that the movie shows some life, but I suspect this is well beyond the endurance of most viewers. That’s unfortunate because, it’s during the climax that the use of slow-motion and over lighting gives the whole finale a feverish nightmare feeling. The steady synthesizer drone adds to the queasy weirdness just as much as it distracts from the non-horror scenes.

I think the box art actually sums up the movie extremely well, it’s lurid and amateurish, but there’s something that keeps making you want to take a look at it. ‘Sledgehammer’ is in no conceivable way a good film, but if you are willing to overlook many of its shortcomings, it can rise above its limitations to become an interesting one.


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