Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sledgehammer (1983) dir. David A. Prior

Logline: Apartment party beer-guzzling turns to food fight then to seance and finally to supernatural slaughter. Sledgehammer is a motion picture, and sometimes things happen in it.

Crime in the Past: A boy is locked in a closet by his neglectful mother while she and her lover get it on in the other room before being murdered by somebody who we never discover the identity of but who may have been the boy's jealous father. The boy may have been let out of the closet afterwards, but he might have also died in there and become a ghost that haunts director David A Prior's apartment. As in life, the sequence of events in any given situation can be tough to map out. Sledgehammer is a truly mimetic film.

Bodycount: 7, surprisingly few by way of sledgehammer.

Themes/Moral Code: I don't know. Don't have affairs? Don't abuse your child? What do you want from me, dear reader? Not every low-grade, no-brain slasher film has the thematic complexity of a (ahem) Hospital Massacre (1982).

If you really wanted to press me then I'd tell you that there's some mild repressed homoeroticism from the male party-goers, but more pointedly the young boy (ahem x2) "trapped in the closet" so to speak and getting "revenge" against his "mother" by stabbing "men." (Scare quotes for no particular emphasis).

And then if you wanted to press me further I'd say "Please stop pressing so hard. I'm fragile," but then I'd tell you that there is this one interesting part where this sex scene happens and the virgin is for once not the woman but the beer-guzzling, mustachioed man. It's a pleasant enough inversion of how a scene like this would typically play out. But why does it happen this way? I'm sure you can find David A. Prior's phone number if you search long enough.

Killer's Motivation: A spurned, abused child looking to take revenge against his mother. But he's also a ghost, though a ghost who can be temporarily killed with an axe. He also sometimes transforms into a flabby man wearing flannel, jeans, and a translucent mask. His desire to kill his mother manifests itself as the desire to kill everyone. I guess. In the below clip from the film (there's no evidence of the film possessing a trailer) even the rather thick-headed characters are able to point out the relative inanity of this killer's motivation. Oh well. Billy and Stu were wrong: sometimes it's just more perplexing when the killer doesn't have a motive.

Final Girl: Jonie (Linda McGill) is our final girl, though both her and her boyfriend, Chuck (Ted Prior, director David's brother), survive. Until most everyone else is picked off, her defining characteristics are that she moans for awhile about Chuck backing off from their marriage plans and that a beer can can be balanced fairly well on top of her perm. When the supernatural killer forces her to do something, she proves able enough (she bashes him with a baseball bat and (even better) rigs up an electric doorknob MacGuyver style), but ultimately it's Chuck who incapacitates the killer "for good," allowing them to escape.

The Good, the Bad, & the Cheese: Sledgehammer, as the second ever shot-on-video horror film (coming second only to 1982's Boardinghouse), has built up a solid reputation for being the piece of inept, inexplicable crud that it is. Going into my viewing of the film with such tempered expectations probably helped increase my level of enjoyment of it on some masochistic level that we're all probably better off refraining from exploring. But the levels of ineptitude on display here are staggering: the film may in fact only be twenty minutes long if it weren't for the incessant slow motion sequences (of visually dynamic scenes like "two people walking arm in arm" and "a cord being plugged into an outlet") and static establishing shots, both of which go on for minutes at a time. (At one point the film flashes back to its opening slow motion double homicide, in effect playing out the entirety of that long ordeal twice, and adding an extra few minutes to the padded running time). I wrote in my notes that this would be Zack Snyder's favorite slasher movie, but that's a bad joke. I also wrote in my notes that the sledgehammer is the most interesting character-- I think that one was earnest. The one aspect I thoroughly enjoyed was the overly gratuitous foodfight that our characters engage in around the dinner table-- its gleeful neglect of any sort of limit to its excess reminded me, if only vaguely, of a similar scene in Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie (1974), though it couldn't dream of possessing any of that latter scene's transgressive aims. This is, after all, a David A. Prior film we're talking about, his first as a director. I can only guess that some producer saw it and thought, probably aloud, "now, that man can make a horror movie," because a few years later he was given a "real" budget to make another, shot on actual film. That movie became Aerobicide (1987). The 1980s were a weird and wonderful time that, no matter how long and hard we ponder, will never be totally understood.

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