2 out of 5
Directed by: David A. Prior
If you enter the murder house not wearing a shirt… you must exit the murder house not wearing a shirt. Words to live by.
While probably primarily notable as being one of the first shot-on-video horror films – and yes, that does give it an uncomfortable “live” feeling that doesn’t much help it’s already cheap, B-movie vibe – Sledgehammer does have some humorously quirky elements that edge it into cult viewing territory, but I also think it’s at least serviceable as any other mundane slasher. The $40,000 budget certainly prevents any on-screen effects – we cut, and then suddenly people show up with wounds that are tantamount to smearing them with some fake blood – and there’s only maybe two or three actual gore gags used, but I’d still say you could slot this alongside many lower-tier Halloween knockoffs and, shot-on-vid quality aside, it’d line up acceptably. The setup is certainly of the template (with maybe an echo of Pieces): a kid is subject to the bad parenting decision of his cheatin’ mom and her cheatin’ lover, locked up in a closet whilst the two try to get it on in their hideaway love nest, only to be bludgeoned to death by some off-screen killer wielding a sledgehammer, and then ten years later some drinkin’ and sexin’ young adult types are (presumably, since no one actually says) taking a vacation at that same hideaway spot, only to be picked off one-by-one by an off-screen killer wielding a sledgehammer.
One of the vacationers, Chuck (Ted Prior, the sans-shirt dude, who very much sports the bod befitting his multiple Playgirl spreads), shares a ghost story about the murdered lovers and the locked-up kid, who was never found… Is it the kid who has returned to do some sledgehammering?
An opening shot of the movie focuses on the house in which this all takes for literally a minute, if not more, with no movement, and only nature sounds playing. When the cast arrives – they are dropped off, no transportation of their own, which provides the excuse for why they are “trapped” in the house with the killer later on – there is a long sequence of them unpacking. One of them goes off to explore around the house and checks in on a garage-type area, while some creepier music plays suggesting they’ll discover something awry… And they don’t, but this sequence also goes on for a bit. Chuck and his girlfriend walk around in slow motion. Later, we’ll get multiple dialogue sequences between some of the paired couples about their relationship issues that have no real relevance to anything, and there’s also a, like, 5-minute foodfight. This is part of the “charm” of Sledgehammer – that of its 1 hr and 20 minute-ish runtime, only about 15 minutes has any actual context, with the rest of it filling time as per the above, and you’re either okay with it or not. Later, when the killer comes into the picture, the pic has some additional goofiness, with the killer having some supernatural powers, and hey, there’s a pentagram drawn on the wall, ’cause why not. I’m not really a great appreciator of “so bad it’s good” movies, and this isn’t one of those, but I wasn’t especially put out by it – it has the eagerness of a silly student film, and it’s just aware enough of its own cheapness to not try to over-sell what it’s doing, which is mostly by-the-books slasher stuff, excepting there’s even less money to go around than usual.
But if you’re bored by that first set of pointless static / slow-motion shots, you don’t need to hang in there. It stays at about that quality throughout.