Sledgehammer (1983)

Originally published in Bleeding Skull! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey.

Everybody knows that Ted Prior is capable of ripping a man’s arm off with his bare hands. Then, using that arm to beat the same man to death. We saw this happen in Deadly Prey. But what everyone doesn’t know is that Ted Prior almost came over to my house for an interview. This is a true story. When Ted didn’t show up, I called to see where he was. An automated message said:

“This is Ted’s phone! FUCK YOU!”

I brought the phone down, away from my ear. Then, the phone exploded. And now I can’t make babies happen. Regardless, do not let my horrible, awful, inhumane, degrading, emasculating experience stop you from enjoying Ted Prior, his shirtless muscles, and his sensitive guitar strumming in Sledgehammer.

Sledgehammer is the debut film from writer-director David Prior (Killer Workout, Deadly Prey) and actor Ted Prior (ditto). It’s also the first SOV horror film that was produced exclusively for home video distribution. It beat both Black Devil Doll From Hell and Blood Cult by at least a year. That’s why this film is important. It’s not going to alter your perceptions of what can be achieved with a camcorder and people pouring beer on each other. It may not even consistently entertain you. But, it was there first. For a stupid slasher that features stupid people doing lots of stupid things, Sledgehammer is, unsurprisingly, pretty stupid. That’s what saves it.

A group of party animals spend a weekend in a sparse, uninviting condo that’s haunted by the spirit of a killer. The killer is very large. He holds a sledgehammer, floats through hallways, and wears one of those semi-transparent plastic masks that make small children look like eighty-year-old men. Meanwhile, Ted Prior performs Bill Murray impressions while wearing green sweatpants, a guy stuffs an entire sandwich in his mouth, and another guy (who looks exactly like John Oates) avoids sexual encounters with his girlfriend. There is a food fight. There is a séance. Eventually, the killer starts to do his thing. A ghost child also haunts the house. He may have murdered his mother and her lover. He slaps Ted. HARD. Then, Ted beats the shit out of a door.

With a fixation on needless slow motion (doors opening, locks turning, people walking, people kissing, sledgehammer attacking) and repetitive establishing shots (the front of the condo, the hallway, the kitchen), there’s not much incentive to revisit Sledgehammer. Granted, the overdriven synths are perfect and I still have happy dreams about the horrible vector effects. And no one will argue that the condo’s claustrophobic atmosphere is genuinely frightening. But aside from that, this is a simplistic slasher that feels more bizarre than it actually is because most of what happens in the film goes unexplained. The pace feels like a reverse mullet, with the party up front and the business in back. There’s never a moment when total madness takes over, as in the kitchen utensil massacre in Tales From The Quadead Zone. However, the credits name various crewmembers as “DAVID FUCHSIT”, “HARRISON BAULES”, and “JAC MEOUGH”.

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