Sledgehammer (1983)

I remember a few years ago with one of the iterations of the iPod Apple advertised it showing scenes from a movie shot completely on a phone.  I never watched it, but the shots from it looked not too removed from what a professional director or cinematographer should achieve.  Most likely the person filming was a professional of some sort and could make a convincing short film using any type of film medium.

For the longest time the only medium was film.  There was 8mm, with or without sound, often used for home movies but also as a tool for people like Steven Spielberg to make some of their first films as a kid.  16mm was a blessing to many low-budget directors, allowing them to make something that could get shown in a drive-in or a grindhouse theater without breaking the budget and, for those who had studio backing or rich parents, there was always 35mm and 70mm.  Even 16mm, though, cost money to both obtain and develop, which meant there was an investment in time and raising the funds to get the movie made. 

In the early 1980s video cameras went from the being giant, clunky things that were almost immobile to items one could purchase at an electronics store.  With video stores being an outlet for renting movies it wasn't long before direct-to-video started replacing many of the drive-in features.  It also wasn't long before someone got the idea that, if the movie was never going to make it to the theater anyway, maybe video was the way to go. 

A woman (Mary Mendez) decides to run away with her lover (Michael Shanahan), but for some reason brings her kid (Justin Greer) with her.  She locks him a closet so she can have some alone time, but that is interrupted by her beau getting a sledgehammer to the head.  Years later the isolated house is rented by a group of college kids for a weekend who hope to have a few days of drunken debauchery.

When Chuck (Ted Prior) decides to hold a joke seance he accidentally calls forth the spirit of the murderer (Doug Matley), who proceeds to use his chosen tool to take out the unwanted visitors.  Realizing that more than just a normal murder occurred, Chuck and his girlfriend Joni (Linda McGill) try to survive the night.

Director David Prior made Sledgehammer because he thought, for a small amount of money, he could get one of his scripts made and then use it as a piece of advertising to get more studios to buy his screenplays.  He was only able to raise 10 thousand dollars, so he made the decision to shoot the movie on VHS.  Except for external shots of the home the entire movie was shot in Prior's apartment, with sets built to represent the different rooms of the house. 

David Prior did not intend to be a director.  He had no experience at the time and no formal training in making a film.  He just figured a cheap way to get a film made was to go the way of Friday the 13th and churn out a slasher, which was still popular at the time.  He often lingers too long in establishing shots, repeats the entire prologue to the movie in a flashback scene barely 20 minutes in and spends a huge amount of time filming unnecessary things, such as his cast getting out of a van or a slow motion romp with Chuck and Joni.  Much of it, per Prior, was to pad out the running time of the movie as otherwise there wasn't much there. 

The culmination of his effort is a weird, frustrating film where if sober one is going to spend a lot of time asking why Prior is doing the things he does.  One might miss much of the dialog doing this, but there isn't much to miss, and his brother is a lead as a favor to David and not to Ted, who at the time was working on becoming a professional bodybuilder.  It is as if a whole bunch of different ideas from other slasher films were put in a blender, chugged with a can of Budweiser (which figures prominently throughout the movie) and regurgitated onto the screen.  The characters are not likeable, the story is all over the place and the whole thing feels like a high school film project.  

This did become the first shot-on-video movie to get release in video stores and, in recent years, has a developed a bit of a cult following due to the surrealistic nature that is a result of the incompetence of the direction.  Prior, to his credit, did have a decent career making low-budget action films, many of which did become cult favorites as well.  Sledgehammer is an interesting beginning, if not necessarily a watchable one. 

Sledgehammer (1983)
Time: 87 minutes
Starring: Ted Prior, Linda McGill, John Eastman, Janine Scheer, Tim Aguilar, Sandy Brooke, Steven K. Wright, Doug Matley
Director: David Prior



  1. "David Prior did not intend to be a director. He had no experience at the time and no formal training in making a film."

    Sounds like Ed Wood or a lower-rent Roger Corman. The name seemed familiar so I looked him up on IMDB to see he directed Deadly Prey, Future Force, and Future Zone that I've watched a number of times on Rifftrax. Two of the three feature Ted Prior as well.


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