Monday, May 2, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Sledgehammer (1983)

Release Date: May 10, 2011

LABEL: Intervision Picture Corp
REGION: All Regions NTSC
DURATION: 85 mins
CAST: Ted Prior, Linda McGill, Stephen Wright, John Eastman, Janine Scheer
DIRECTOR: David A. Prior
TAGLINE: Flesh tears. Bones shatter. The Nightmare has begun.

SYNOPSIS: Intervision is proud to present the return of the first shot-on-tape slasher movie for the home video market as well as one of the rarest genre films of all! The plot is familiar: A group of friends comes to party at a backwoods house where a legacy of brutality awaits. But within this minimalist '80s mélange of food fights, feathered hair and abusive slow-motion lurks a relentless synth score, bizarre sexual subtexts and a disturbing shape-shifting behemoth killer. The result is 85 minutes of fever-dream depravity, now loaded with brand-new Bonus Features that put it all in skull-shattering perspective. Former Playgirl centerfold Ted Prior (RAW NERVE, DEADLY PREY) stars in this nightmare-logic shocker from writer/ director David A. Prior (KILLER WORKOUT) where the lines between twisted horror and historic gore are pounded to a SLEDGEHAMMER.

FILM: DVD label Intervision entered the cult and exploitation niche market back in February with two titles from Euro-sleaze pioneer Jess Franco, the long thought lost psycho-shocker THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF (1973) and Franco's erotic art piece PAULA-PAULA (2010). These releases firmly announced Intervision's intentions to deliver cult, exploitation and outsider cinema to the fans. A few notable things have happened since then. First, Intervision's founder Larry Gold Sr. died after suffering a massive coronary in March and then it was announced that all future production and marketing of Intervision titles would be handled by Severin Films. The first title released under this arrangement is David A. Prior's shot-on-video slasher SLEDGEHAMMER (1983). Previous to this release I've only watched Prior's cheese-tastic 80's slasher AEROBICIDE  (1987) aka KILLER WORKOUT which is one of the most unintentionally hilarious slashers you'll ever see, it's a must-watch. My familiarity with that title had me all in a dither with anticipation for this rarest of early 80's gems which as legend goes is one of the first SOV [shot-on-video] slashers ever which if ya didn't know means this film was shot on video for the video market with no theatrical release whatsoever. Sledgehammer (1983) even by obscure slasher standards is pretty darned obscure. Thinking back on it the only other shot-on-video film I recall seeing is the rock n' roll nightmare that was SCREAM DREAM (1989) so be forewarned I have little knowledge of the sub-genre going into this review.

The first think you might think to yourself when the film starts is "whoa, this is definitely a shot-on-video production". Yup, it looks terrible, it's just an undeniable fact, get over it. The film begins in a countryside home with an idyllic white picket fence but it's less so once inside as we watch a truly shitty mother lock her son in a closet. What did he do to deserve this punishment? Turns out the woman just wants some alone time with her lover in the next room. What a bitch, right? But the softcore shenanigans don't even make it to the just-the-tip phase when the shadow of an ominous figure looms in the hallway carrying a sledgehammer. Our 7 ft. villain doesn't have a proper name so lets call him The Sledge. The Sledge creeps up behind the lovers and smacks the dude upside the head and we're treated to a nice bit of low-budget gore. It's pretty gruesome stuff but unfortunately it's the best bit of gore in the entire film and it's pretty much a case of diminishing returns here on in, that's a bummer. The woman screams for what feels like forever until The Sledge beats her to a bloody pulp. Now it's ten years later and a group of horny teens arrive at the house to party 80's style. We get a fairly standard lets-unload-the-van-with-tons-of-enthusiasm montage that we've seen in so many other slashers. Everyone's just having a blast drinking some beers, engaging in a food fight, partaking of some homo-erotic shenanigans, it's just a fun time but as day turns to night the beer guzzling fun turns to terror when the group retire to the living room where Chuck (Ted Prior) spins the tale of the murder that occurred 10 years previously and holds a seance meant to summon the spirits of the victims. Well, it definitely seems to awaken an evil inside the house as the 7ft. tall masked sledge-wielding killer returns after 10 years. The Sledge wears a creepy translucent mask you could buy at any drugstore but it's eerily effective here. The 1st victim is the joker of the bunch who gets a knife plunged through his neck and nobody really seems to care what the fuck happened to him. Next up are two lovers that get sledgehammered while in the sack and the film continues at a good clip from here on in. There's a weird nightmare logic at work  that reminded me at times of the TV series TWIN PEAKS or any number of Fulci films, perhaps that's high praise for this schlocky slasher but there are definitely tinges of surreality throughout as the 7ft. supernatural spectre seems to shape-shift into the child from the films prologue without explanation and back again.

This is not a lost slasher classic by any means and has a lot going against it starting with amateur acting, the painfully sparse sets, a clunky script and way too many extreme slow motion shots with soft focus for anyone's tastes. On top of that it's quite boring for lengthy periods of time but hey, that aside it's not without its effective moments and is actually pretty creepy thanks in no small part to the overpowering synth score.

DVD: Sledgehammer (1983) is presented in it's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and it looks exactly like a VHS film shot on commercial grade video equipment circa 1983 that's been transferred to DVD, not great. The audio is 2.0 Dolby Digital and much like the image it ain't winning any awards but it is adequate and brings forth the dialogue, sound effects and overpowering synth score despite its lack of fidelity. While the image and audio are not the prettiest you've ever seen what Intervision offers up in the way of special features is impressive. Two commentaries; one with director David A. Prior as moderated by Sledgehammer super-fan Clint Kelly whose enthusiasm for the film is infectious even if the director seems a bit bewildered by his affection. The second commentary is more of a fan commentary featuring creators Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik who are very entertaining and offer a loose overview of the shot-on-video phenomena. The interview with the director seems to have been filmed prior to his commentary track and he doesn't seem all that fond of his first film here either. "SledgehammerLand"  is a featurette with Cinefamily Programmers Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald who fondly recall a post Halloween screening of the film in 2008 on the big screen which sounds like it would have been quite an event. The  'Hammertime" featurette with Destroy All Movies!!! author Zack Carlson is also a fond appreciation of the film. Trailers for three future Intervision releases round out the extras. Great stuff all around and so much more than I would have anticipated for this film. I think these extras are a prime example of why the Intervision / Severin team-up will continue to be a delight for obscure cinema fans.

- Audio commentary with Bleedinh Skull
creators Dan Budnik and Joseph Ziemba
- Audio commentary with Director David A. Prior moderated by Clint Kelly
- Interview with Director David Prior (5:53)
- Sledgehammerland: Featurette with Cinefamily programmers Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald (6:08)
- Hammertime!: Featurette with Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson (8:10)
- Intervision Trailers.The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer (8:07). A Night to Dismember (5:54), things (3:11)

VERDICT: Sledgehammer (1983) is definitely a curiosity of the VHS era and will have limited appeal to even fans of obscure slasher cinema. Despite it's limitations and stylistic flaws I think it's a pretty ambitious film from a first time director with a no-budget production. Intervision have pulled this supernatural slasher outta the VHS dustbin and sweetened it up with some awesome special features that will appeal to both fans of the film and newcomers alike. Bottom line, not as enjoyable as Killer Workout (1987) but an interesting slasher curiosity with some killer special features. Up next from Intervision are the canuxploitation rarity THINGS (1989) and THE SECRET LIFE: JEFFREY DAHMER (1993).  2 outta 5