Directed by David A. Prior
Written by David A. Prior
USA , 1983
How should I put this nicely? Sledgehammer is quite possibly one of the worst films ever made. In terms of cinematic quality, Sledgehammer is what a Michael Bay film would look like without a budget. Sledgehammer is so terrible that its director, David Prior, is ashamed of it.
For the unfamiliar, Sledgehammer is an obscure, rarely-seen straight-to-video 80’s slasher film. It is one of the era’s most easily forgotten titles, and would be completely lost to history had it not been labelled the first direct-to-video full-length feature shot entirely on home camcorder. For that reason, true connoisseurs of such VHS-era exploitation stuff will try to convince you it has some redeeming qualities.
Sledgehammer represents an endurance test of bad filmmaking, from the porn-worthy performances of the entire cast, to the repulsive dialogue, horrible lighting, cringeworthy camera work and incredibly juvenile plot. There are movies labeled “so bad they’re good” simply because regardless of their poor production values, bad acting and nonsensical plots, audiences can’t help but find enjoyment in watching them, usually by laughing at the film as opposed to with it. However no amount of bad or good drugs will aid you in finding any form of enjoyment with this stool.
Back in the days kids like myself would rent just about anything as long as it had a cool cover, but even back than we knew better. For adolescents, Sledgehammer had both a cool cover and a cool title, but offered nothing more. It was a film we never wanted to see ever again, and yet here we are, nearly thirty years later, anticipating its re-release. Nostalgia is a strange beast. Cinephiles across the globe are rejoicing the special edition DVD released by Inter-vision Picture Corp. Meanwhile Mondo, the collectible art boutique arm of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, decided to launch their very own VHS label, Mondo Video, with their first release being, yes, Sledgehammer. But no matter how respected the distributors mentioned above are, one has to question their choice.
Writer-director David A. Prior went on to direct some more of the worst films ever made, such as Deadly Prey and Horror Workout, but Sledgehammer is the worst of his canon. Prior chose for his debut feature to follow in the footsteps of the then-popular slasher flicks Halloween and Friday the 13th. He got his hands on some commercial video equipment, called in his friends and his brother/former Playgirl centerfold/star of Deadly Prey Ted Prior, and shot a feature film in the only one set he could afford – his apartment. Prior claims to have made it for around $10,000 but not one cent of that money is seen spent anywhere on screen.
The plot is all too familiar: A gang of teenagers (represented by actors in their later thirties) rent a cottage for a weekend and quickly find themselves being killed off one by one, by an unknown psychopath via a sledgehammer.
David A. Prior makes almost every possible mistake for a first time filmmaker, from the opening frame to the closing credits. An overpowering synth score, clunky script, badly improvised dialogue by jocks and cheerleader types, and a ton of slow-motion shots that take up half the film’s running time, make this a torturous watch.
This film is more than just boring. It’s worse – it’s annoying, barely qualifying as a cinematic experience. If you’re nostalgic for the good old days of going to video stores to rent VHS copies of obscure horror titles, you may find reason to either purchase or rent the DVD. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and it’s not surprising it looks just like its original VHS roots. Inter-vision really went out of their way to present it as a retro experience complete with a washed-out presentation, tape-noise, discoloration and overall rotten sound (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono). The disk even opens with a worn-out FBI warning and a trailer for the epic (and more deserving of a DVD release) Things.
Bloggers would have you believe Sledgehammer is somehow a good film, maybe to stay in good standing with DVD distributors, but I question their candidness. As an artifact of a bygone time, Sledgehammer would feel special as a dollar bin discovery in someone’s yard sale. Thanks to a wise decision in keeping the DVD release to a bare minimum of quality, perhaps it can still retain its tiny charm, but one has to wonder.