Holding true to the instrument of destruction for which it is named, the 1983 film Sledgehammer will bludgeon your psyche until all that remains is an unrecognizable pulpy mass. I'm not sure what I was expecting from this movie, purportedly the first shot-on-tape slasher flick made for the home video market...okay, maybe I expected a few things, considering it hails from David A. Prior, the writer/director of a little something called Killer Workout. I expected some laughs. I expected lots of, you know, 80s-ness. That "shot-on-tape" angle had me expecting crappy quality and the onset of a large bout of warm fuzzies (you know I loves my VHS). I got all of that, certainly, but then I got so much more, so much I had no way of anticipating. You see, you don't watch Sledgehammer, oh no. Sledgehammer HAPPENS TO YOU.
The film opens with a shot of a nice farmhouse nestled in a lush valley. After lingering on this farmhouse for 20 seconds or so, we become privy to the horrors that wait within: mom's a big ol' slut who's here with her lover, but also with her son. She finds a quick resolution to this problem by locking her son in a closet. At this point, we witness the Sledgehammer's first egregious use of slo-mo. The time it takes to zoom from here:
is 30 seconds. 30 seconds! It's obvious that the slo-mo represents the idea that being locked in a closet totally messes with the boy's mind; it takes longer for the viewer to realize, however, that it also means that Sledgehammer is messing with your mind. Sledgehammer plays by its own temporal and spatial rules, but the thing is, it actually HAS no rules. Sledgehammer does what it wants! Sledgehammer says FUCK YOU.
As mom and lover are about to get down, someone wielding a sledgehammer- go figure, right?- also gets down, but, like, in a death-making way, not a love-making way. That would just be sick!
Ten years later, a group of...of...people, I guess...okay. I know they're people, yeah, but that's the best I can figure out as to who these people are. In my notes, I wrote "Van full of___________?" They're a group of people. They're driven to the house in a van, then dropped off. I guess they're friends...? There are some couples. They're all too old for college. They unpack their bags from the van in slo-mo. They really enjoy going "Woo! Wooooooooo!" a lot. I guess it doesn't really matter who they are or why they're at this house, beyond that most horror movie of reasons: a weekend of partying. Woo! Wooooooooo! Sledgehammer plays by its own rules, period.
One of the couples, Chuck and...girl, are apparently having problems. Chuck insists that for this weekend, at least, they should forget their troubles and have a good time (Wooooooooo!). It's a good attitude to have, for it saves the writer of Sledgehammer the bother of things like "explanations" and "character development". All we need to know about Chuck is this: he is played by Ted Prior, star of Killer Workout and brother of director David. He walks around barechested most of the time. He plays the acoustic guitar whilst barechested. He looks like a walking, talking page from the International Male catalogue. I love Chuck! All we need to know about his girlfriend "girl" is this: she puts up with Chuck.
In a sequence meant to show that Chuck and girl are, I guess, forgetting their troubles, tender flute and guitar music plays as the couple walks...and walks. Then Chuck grabs a handful of girl's hair and yanks her backwards.
Then they walk some more, pointing to something offscreen. Then they walk. Then Chuck puts his beer can on girl's head, then their romantic walk is over. Oh, by the way- this all happens in slo-mo, and the scene takes TWO MINUTES.
Hold on, I just got a telegram from Sledgehammer!
After a party scene where the guys go "Woo! Wooooooooo!" and crush beer cans, there's a dinner scene. Chuck dumps mustard on girl's head, and this leads to a food fight and more "Woo! Wooooooooo!"-ing. This group continues to baffle me, particularly girl. Chuck, our hero, is an a-hole!
That night, Chuck decides they should hold a seance. He tells the story of Easy Mom, the Lover, and the Boy in the Closet, and we see...everything we saw at the beginning of the film. Again. Slo-mo included. Chuck and one of the other guys have set up some practical jokes to go along with the spirit summoning, but as you might expect, the real spirit of the boy in the closet is resurrected. I think? I don't know.
As you know by now, Sledgehammer does as Sledgehammer wants, and what Sledgehammer wants is not to explain squat. All I know for sure is that years of living in a closet didn't stunt the sledgehammer-wielding dude's growth at all, because he's 10 feet tall. No really...he barely fits in the hallway!
Is it the boy? Did he survive and grow up, like, in the closet? Where did the (admittedly creepy) mask come from? You'll never know what's going on- not ONLY because nothing is explained, but because like I said: Sledgehammer follows its own rules of time and space. The man is there, then he's gone, then he's the boy, then he's the man, then he's in two places at once. It's even suggested that the hammer itself is a ghost- a ghost sledgehammer!- I guess. At least, that's what I understood when it faded from view. There's no logic to ANY of it. Oh Sledgehammer, you so crazy!
All of this mindfuck is wrapped up in a fuckier mindfuck: the INSANE amounts of slo-mo and freeze frames used throughout, and oh honey, the score. The synth track drones and drones and drones and persists in your earholes until it becomes something akin to tinnitus. It's possible that you're not even really HEARING it anymore, but it's there, always there, knocking at the back door of your brain. There's a lethargy to the entire affair that you cannot escape. Eventually it's over, but then...it's never really over. Again, this is a movie that happens to you and once Sledgehammer is in your head, my friends, I fear it will never leave.
And that is nothing short of awesome! It's rare that you meet a movie that doesn't give a flying fuck about things like rules and logic and reality and what YOU think- and I mean all that not strictly in regards to filmmaking acumen, but more in regards to...I don't know, the accepted laws of SCIENCE. Sledgehammer just IS, and you can either get with that program or not. It's SO goddamn VHS, from the "Director of Videography" credit to the fonts used in those credits to the impression you get that it was largely edited in-camera to the feel...the feel of it! The sound of it! The slight blur, the white hallways, the washed-out colors, the tin can audio...Sledgehammer feels less like a horror movie and more like an ambitious home-made commercial you'd see on public access.
If this has you on your knees crying "I need to see Sledgehammer!", then my work here is done, because you DO need to see Sledgehammer. Gather your friends, lock the doors, sit back, and let Sledgehammer pummel you into submission.
Kids, looking for a fun drinking game? Read this review aloud and drink everytime you say "sledgehammer"!