People like to say that certain films are “critic-proof.” A movie like Paul Blart: Mall Cop might be considered “critic-proof” in that no criticism of the film would ever be insightful en0ugh to make any kind of difference at all — not from the stand-point of cultural discourse nor as a box office deterrent for what’s sure to be a terrible, but lucrative film. Sledgehammer is not only critic-proof, it’s English-language proof — a 1980s shot-on-video oddity that appears to be fully born from a three-way marriage of beer, slow-motion, and Italian horror.
In the film, a group of seven friends show up at a farm house in the mountains for a weekend of impromptu food fights and seances. They awaken a sledgehammer-wielding ghost (or two? I’m still not sure) who dispatches most of them, lunkheads and bimbos alike, with slow-mo mallet swings. Apparently filmed in a series of broom closets and corners, Sledgehammer is essentially what would happen if you were to show a drunken frat jock a giallo film, then ask him to create his own with a video camera. Then, instead of watching it, you took a handful of soma and dreamt the results. And then you filmed that short dream, but padded half of it out to feature-length with establishing shots of a farmhouse.
To call Sledgehammer a bad film is to acknowledge it as a film, and I’m still not sure I can do that. And yet…I can’t completely dismiss it as an ambitious home video project that some brothers (director David and star Ted Prior) shot over a weekend either. Sledgehammer feels raw and immediate, fully capturing someone’s idea of what a good horror film should be, but completely incapable of squeezing that vision out of his head and onto the screen. It’s like an impossibly bad portrait drawing — you can tell what it’s supposed to be, but it’s all off. The proportions are wrong, it’s barely human, it’s both hilarious and pitiable.
Host Zack Carlson promised that 14 people in the audience would love this screening, and judging from the response, I think he was wrong. It seemed like most everyone was in the mood for some good, old-fashioned video trash, and, boy, does Sledgehammer deliver that in spades. More interesting than something like The Room, but with just as much quotability and bizarre storytelling, Sledgehammer is one ugly baby of a movie, just waiting for the right cult to come along and adopt it. This screening, coupled with Intervision and Mondo’s re-release on DVD and VHS, feels like a Ground Zero of sorts for Sledgehammer‘s inevitable cult resurgence.