Release Date: 1983/84
Tagline: “Flesh tears, bones shatter, the nightmare has begun.”
Distributed by: World Video Pictures, inc.
Directed by David Prior (Deadly prey, Zombie Wars)
Regarded in the shot-on-video (aka shot-on-shiteo) level of infamy, Sledgehammer opens with a sensational clobbering of the title screen fittingly by a sledgehammer. Everything that follows is in the shallows of ineptitude.
Opening scene: In order to have an uninterrupted liaison with her sleazy lover, a self-centered mother locks her rascally young boy in a closet. The setting is a remote country cottage amidst a mountain backdrop. Within minutes, they’re pummeled by an unknown dark figure viciously wielding a sledgehammer. These opening scene massacres are typically crucial in determining the twist in ’80s slasher films.
Ten years later, a group of seemingly 20-somethings rent the secluded cabin intent on partying. The characters partake in silly antics that include a food fight and lousy jokes about sex. Their romps appear to be partially ad libbed, badly of course. The only thing with any structure are the death scenes.
As night falls, the blonde jock Chuck sparks a candle and says ‘let’s do a seance.’ He begins to tell the story of the murders that took place ten years prior from the opening scene. With the aide of his friend Joey, they spook out the group by playing a voice recording of a dead spirit. According to Chuck, the killer was never identified and the boy was never found. Inadvertently, unknowingly, Chuck provokes a murderous spirit that spawns into the cabin and starts its homicidal spree all over.
The guy with a thin mustache, most fit of a porn actor, gets nude with his girlfriend. They make no moves similar to copulation, only the movements of sensuous kissing. The shadowy killer intrudes on them, twisting the neck of the woman, then crushing Mr. mustache with the titular weapon of choice.
John, the brawny meathead of the group, wearing a no. 65 jersey, stumbles upon the murder scene. His brilliant natural reaction? “Damn…Jesus.” He situates the bodies in a respectable position, then picks up the sledgehammer to show his friends. So beauteous.
The remaining four survivors huddle in the living room to devise an evacuation plan. Chuck and John squabble over differing strategies. Chuck asserts they should stick together and wait out till dawn before they leave. Being 50 miles away from the nearest civilization, Chuck fears the darkness of the rustic woods and the uncertainty of what adversary they face.
John stands watch as the others sleep off their anxiety. Seriously, who could sleep through this impending terror with dawn merely hours away without a couple of volume?
John’s primal instincts impel him to hunt out the killer. Here the illusory fantasy ensues. He enters into the surreal realm as he stalks the upstairs, allured by the phantasmic spirit of the young boy and the killer. Turning a cob-webbed door knob, he discovers the ghostly dead bodies of the opening scene–mutilated and grotesque. Inside the closet rests the skull of the young boy. The connection is clear. The boy’s the killer. However, the strangeness of it all is inexplicable. The killer is a large man wearing a translucent mask, having the ability to teleport. Him and the boy are one and the same, I guess. A slow motion mirage of carnage happens in which John is killed after a rough brawl.
The boy, in a muffled confession, tells them he kills because ‘Mommy is bad and she took me away from daddy.’ The synth soundtrack and video slow-mo drones on in a cacophony of excruciating mayhem. A spice of satanism is peppered in the story-line as a red pentacle is seen sprayed on the wall, though nothing at this point is thematically coherent other than the unison flannel shirts of the boy and the killer.
The struggle skips along until Chuck finally bashes the killer’s face in. Likewise, at this point the audience’s brains have transmogrified to pulpy muck. As him and his ugly girlfriend hobble away, the boy is seen staring at them through the 2nd story window in the closing shot of the film.
Gore: A fair amount of blood soaks the screen, yet the props are weak and unelaborated. Still, a step above most slashers that are filled with cutaway death scenes.
Weapons: Sledgehammer, baseball bat, cleaver, fists, and a knife. Perhaps some others, but i zoned out.
Cinematography: Using a cheap video camcorder, the director utilized it’s poor features of single tap slow-motion as well as the dematerializing button. I think he cleverly felt slow-mo was the wave of the future and a true action of avante-garde cinematography. It was also a convenient way to pad the overall run-time.
Soundtrack: Granted, the synthesized soundtrack is stellar. However, an abundance of anything (no matter how sweet) turns sour.
Dialogue: Lame and forgettable.
Characters: The only fleshed out characters are the cocky blonde Chuck (played by the director’s brother) and John the meathead. As a whole, the cast is about as interesting and complex as leftover spaghetti.
Villain: “The boy” delivers the performance of a stiff 5th grader forced into a school play. “The killer” is a voiceless hulk of smelly lumberjack dullness. Leatherface he is not. Their appearance infringes on the delineation of substance and the supernatural.
Overall grade: C- It’s entertaining and worth a watch to hardcore slasher fans, but no amount of praise should be hailed to this messy film. They failed in nearly every facet–acting, story, jokes, kills, etc.