Sledgehammer 1983 Review
Directed by: David A. Prior
Starring: Ted Prior, Sandy Brooke, John Eastman
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
During the eighties, the entertainment industry was rocked by the explosion of Sledgehammer’s unexpected success. Combining styles from the sixties, seventies and its own period to create something unique and fresh, it is still to this day remembered as a trend innovator and remains globally recognised and admired. Oh, yeah, and I guess that I should also mention that aside from Peter Gabriel’s classic 1986 hit, there was also a DTV slasher flick released three years earlier under the same name that was barely noticed and sunk without trace. That would be the one that I’m reviewing for you today.
People often forget that filmmaker David Prior didn’t only bless the genre one time with that notorious slasher/fitness-vid crossbreed, Killer Workout. His first film was also a Halloween knock-off, which is far less renowned. Prior should have been eligible for an award of some kind for his achievements with Killer Workout. I mean, putting spandex, silicone, sweatbands, cheese-ball pop and a hooded killer all on one VHS cassette does take some cojones grandes. I uncovered this movie a couple of years later and was generally excited to watch it. The only way that a film can make up for being totally rubbish is by being totally rubbish in a funny way and I was hopeful that this flick had the strengths in that area that its older brother boasted so brazenly
It starts with a mind numbingly long shot of the outside of a country house. We are awoken by the camera panning inside and we see a mother struggling to silence a young child who doesn’t look too interested by the fact he’s in a movie. The alarm bells in my head were already screaming ‘abusive parent alert’ by that point; and the woman proved that I was right, by locking the boy in a closet for the evening. She then returns downstairs to her boyfriend and tells him, “Don’t worry about the kid, I took care of that little b*stard, he won’t be bothering us again tonight.” This means that the couple can start getting jiggy, which leaves them blissfully unaware that the little b*stard has escaped and is creeping up behind them with a sledgehammer, looking all menacing and stuff. Before you can say ‘by the book’, the unsuspecting lover gets cracked on the back of the head with the aforementioned tool – great gore scene by the way. After the mother is also measured up for a body bag, the screen fades to black…
Fast-forward fifteen years and a van pulls up outside of that same now-abandoned abode. Out pops a gang of outrageously mulleted muscle bound jocks and their scrawny girlfriends, who have presumably turned up only to party-party-PARTY! So they begin doing all the things you attribute with a good fiesta, including throwing food at each-other, jumping around like headless chickens and then having deep discussions about relationships. What a party! If that wasn’t enough, they decide that the beer is flowing so of course it is time for a… séance. Eventually, this proves to be a silly idea as the customary killer turns up and a battle for survival begins….
In all honesty, I can think of no finer example of something that when stripped down to its bare components doesn’t look ideal, but taken as a whole is surprisingly efficient. You see, Sledgehammer doesn’t boast many of the core ingredients that you would consider to make up a good movie, but I kind of enjoyed watching it all the same. It all takes place in a large empty house that is exactly that: a large empty house. There’s no set design at all and the backgrounds are pale with a bed here or a cupboard there just so that we don’t mistake the location for a padded cell. They didn’t even bother to decorate the walls with the usual fake cobwebs, candles and clichés, which was likely because the art director quit pre-shoot as he was offered some work in a bar or something. I mean the house was supposed to be derelict for fifteen-years, but looks like it was vacuumed and feather-dusted just that morning. Did Prior and co book a viewing of an abode that was up for sale and secretly get a key cut so that they could film their picture there on the sly? That could well be the case. You have to love zero budgets!
Anyway the action commences after the usual sloppy dialogue and padding and we eventually get to see some slasher shenanigans. There’s a blessing in disguise, because the dull and misty photography on the print gives the movie a surreal, almost dream-like vibe, which was surely unintentional but worked quite well. To be fair the tone switches effortlessly from inadvertently cheesy to actually pretty creepy and the psychopath’s large and hulking frame compliments the narrow lens to make some claustrophobic scenes. At first glance, a transparent plastic clown mask and lumberjack shirt seem suspiciously cheapskate, but the more that we see of the assailant, the more threatening he becomes. Prior demonstrates some neat flourishes to maintain the tone of apprehension, including a great slowmo door-opening sequence that is unpredictable and genuinely effective. He showed a much stronger flair for horror direction here than he did three-years later when he made Killer Workout. It’s also worth noting that he drew some surprisingly credible performances from a couple of the inexperienced actors. Sandy Brooke, who I I remember mentioning in my review of Terror on Alcatraz, offers another good characterisation and Ted Prior and Linda McGill overcome their weak parts by being believable when it matters most. It’s a shame that Brooke didn’t do more genre movies, as I feel that she always made the most out of the material and it would have been nice to see her play the ‘final girl’ just once. Chuck on top of all that a couple of decent gore scenes from Robin Beauchesne and we have slasher movie that’s miles better than anyone would have imagined it to be.
Perhaps the only attempt at any originality was allowing the killer to appear and disappear as if he were being beamed up by Scottie every time that he needed a rapid escape from a set piece. This could have worked really well if utilised in the right places, but Prior’s decision making left a lot to be desired and he ended up overusing it to the point of, ‘enough already!‘. As per my example that I noted in the paragraph above, slow-motion at the right time can really make the most of a tense moment, but using it in almost every kill scene is just too much. Also look out for the ‘cardboard’ sex scene, which reminded me of those puppets that used to be seen in the likes of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and more recently Team America: World Police. I mean I’m guessing that was two humans playing the lovers, but I can imagine more enthusiasm from a pair of mannequins. It begs the question, why include it in the first place?
Sledgehammer is as clichéd as an Elvis look-alike contest and makes no attempt to conceal what it wants to be. Nowadays you can find a million films that have exactly the same setup as this, but the fact that it was one of the first gives it a retro feel and sometimes that’s all you need. Whilst It is certainly not good enough to be up there with the classics of the golden years, it could sit quite comfortably with Graduation Day, Embalmed, Scalps and the rest of that second tier.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √