Retro Review: ‘Sledgehammer’

As the rise of the VHS and video store revolution in the 80’s a number of aspiring filmmakers realized that they could purchase a standard video camera and write/direct/produce their own film. Not just that, but because of the demand for horro movies to pack onto video shelves the chances of selling their work to someone somewhere was pretty good. Among the first to actually film a direct-to-video feature on actual VHS tape was David A. Prior who in 1983 made the ridiculously fun Sledgehammer.

In an isolated vacation home in the middle of the woods a couple having an affair and a little boy murdered by a sledgehammer-wielding maniac. Ten group of rowdy teens rent out this house to party and deal with unnecessarily stupid relationship drama. During what was supposed to be a gag seance, they inadvertently kick up the supernatural activity within the old house. They now find themselves hunted down by a large paranormal type entity who appears as a burly sledgehammer-wielding killer but is actually the spirit of the boy from all those years ago.

As previously mentioned this movie was taped on actual VHS tape by a guy who had never made a movie before, so on a technical level the bar is oh so very low. It is David Prior his brother he cast in the lead Ted Prior and a few of their friends slapping together a ridiculous movie. That being said, Adam Sandler gets paid millions to slap together crappy movies with his buds on a regular basis so who knows. To his credit, Prior spent what he could of the film’s tiny budget in ensuring the cast and crew had plenty of beer on set. That being, Prior was on the forefront of a cinematic revolution, he did not have some bigwig or studio backing him. Instead his aspirations to be a screenwriter impressed a smalltime producer who gave him $10,000 to write AND direct a movie despite his desire to only write.

While this movie epitomizes poor low budget filmmaking, Sledgehammer is endlessly entertaining. The teens who are fodder for the killer may be annoying but at least it seems like they are genuinely having a good time. No doubt aided by the beer. While the closest any of them will ever get to an Oscar is seeing “the Grouch” on TV there is something genuine about the fun they are having. Unfortunately, we still can not sympathize with their plight of being hunted down by an undead, inter-dimensional lumberjack guy with a hammer. Prior tries to create tension in the movie with a number of lingering establishing shots, but all it really accomplishes is to make the audience wondes “….so is anything about to happen?”.

This amateurish yet incredibly entertaining flick has become something of a cult favorite to many. Sledgehammer is such a perfect storm of poor filmmaking that it must be seen to be believed. David Prior was as surprised as anyone to discover the picture being screened for late night audiences at arthouse theaters. He was not particularly happy about this because he has gone on to a solid career in filmmaking but it is his rough rookie outing that has received this attention. Despite his incompetence in making this flick, their is something endearing about it as he tries to make his mark on the business and pulls out all the stops in doing so.