"Sledgehammer" (1983) Review
This movie actually scared me.
That's the most surprising thing about watching a movie like Sledgehammer, a horror film shot entirely on VHS tape in the early 1980s. Despite the low budget, the bad gore, bad acting, the overuse of slow motion, and all the flaws that come with a horror movie like this is how weirdly effective it is when it needs to be.
Sledgehammer's prologue provides a bizarre enough setup. A pair of cheating lovers rent an isolated house in the mountains, but the woman brings her young son along and locks him in a closet so that he won't interrupt their lovemaking. Out of nowhere, the lovers are murdered by an offscreen figure wielding a sledgehammer. Ten years later, a group of horny college students rent the same house to party all weekend long. Inevitably, a figure wielding a sledgehammer begins to hunt them one by one, but not before the movie indulges in so many truly bizarre idiosyncrasies that you begin to wonder what the hell was going on while this movie was shot.
I have to give Sledgehammer credit for its true streaks of weirdness, because it does separate the film from the massive crop of similar "teens murdered in a vacation house" movies during the 1980s. I reviewed a similar movie way back in January called The Mutilator that was one of those, but The Mutilator doesn't have a scene where a guy force feeds a sandwich into his mouth in less than sixty seconds as he's cheered on by his friends. Not only does Sledgehammer have that, once he's done eating, another guy pours mustard on his girlfriend's head which leads into a food-fight around the entire table.
The oddest touch throughout the entire film though is its constant use of slow-motion, which is poorly done and so bizarrely timed that you can't help but wonder if the whole movie was deliberately made as a mockery of itself. But that doesn't seem likely to me, because as I said before, this film is surprisingly scary the deeper you get into its runtime. The horror is boosted by a truly unsettling and simple costume for the sledgehammer wielding figure who wanders through the house, disappearing in plain sight to reappear at the opportune moment, along with some effective synth music (key word there is "some," a lot of the music is as bad as you'd expect). Once the body count whittles the cast down enough, the inherent goofiness is replaced by an odd sense of dread and atmosphere, supplemented by a truly surprising jump scare that's so well placed that it feels like a new director stepped in.
The director, David Prior, was known for making B-movie schlock of this type with his brother Ted Prior (who stars as the male lead) and while this is the first film of theirs I've seen, I'm hoping to see more of their work. As cheap and incompetent as huge portions of the movie are, there's something legitimately chilling underneath the whole endeavor that fascinates me.
This all a long way of saying that for fans of schlock horror, Sledgehammer, against all odds, is essential viewing. Like most B-movie horror films, you'll definitely suffer through some parts and laugh at others, but when the film actually gets scary, it's pretty impressive.
As a total side-note to this review, I have a bit of an announcement to make. I saw this film in a theater at the Alamo Drafthouse in the South Lamar location in Austin, Texas. I'm no longer in Michigan and have moved to Austin, Texas to find inspiration, work, and maybe even some new friends too. I'm really excited about the potential here, and if you know of any employment opportunities in the area that would take advantage of my writing skills, feel free to contact me through this site or find my profile on LinkedIn. I know it's weird to end my review of a 1980s horror film with this information, but whatever. This seems like the right time to convey my excitement for the future and my hope that I can continue to build my portfolio in Austin, Texas.