Sledgehammer (1983)

Director: David A. Prior

Tagline: “Flesh Tears. Bones Shatter. The Nightmare Has Begun.”

Choice IMDB keywords: Matricide; Killer Child; Slasher; Blood; Sledgehammer

Plot: In the same house where a little boy once killed his mother—for locking him in a closet so she could have a tryst with her secret lover—a non-standard group of horny youngsters arrive to get drunk and goof around. Unlike the usual well-groomed, nubile movie teens, the gang in Sledgehammer is a little older and shaggier, aside from their leader, a buff jerk named Chuck (played the director’s brother Ted Prior, a former Playgirl centerfold). Chuck is there with his girlfriend Joni (played by Linda McGill), who wants to have a serious talk with him about their relationship, but keeps getting stalled by his constant jokes and rough-housing. In fact, all the males in Sledgehammer have a Neanderthal streak, whether they’re licking their dates’ faces or spraying beer all over them and joking, “Am I making you wet?”

After the introduction, Sledgehammer settles into impressive feats of padding, marked by heavily improvised party scenes (most of which consist of the cast holding up their drinks and saying “woo!” over and over), slow-motion footage of characters walking, and multiple extended establishing shots of the house. The copious exterior footage makes the location look remote and rural, while the interiors resemble some college kid’s sparsely furnished, undecorated apartment.

Inevitably, the party guests begin to get killed by a hulking, hammer-wielding man. Once the bodies are discovered, Chuck and the rest of the survivors hole up in the living room, afraid that they won’t be able to find the culprit in the tiny house, and that if they go looking for him they’ll get picked off. After more stalling, the heroes are finally forced into action, confronting an apparition that appears to be the now-grown boy from the decades-old murder. Chuck smashes the man’s face into a bloody pulp with his own sledgehammer, and then the remaining guests flee the house… while the murderous little boy looks on from a window above!

Key scenes: In a flashback to the original murder, we see the mother’s lover offer his best seductive chatter—“Damn!”—before the shadow of the sledgehammer signals the end of the affair.

Back in the present-day, Chuck and Joni share a slow-motion romantic walk, which loses some of its sweetness when Chuck starts yanking on Joni’s hair and putting a beer can on her head.

Later that night, the gang gets silly and has a food fight, which if nothing else provides an excuse for all the women to go upstairs and change their clothes.

Then they get down to some actual horror-movie business, as Chuck leads the party in a séance—or “scene,” as the designated lunkhead of the group calls it—hoping to contact the ghosts of the old crime. This allows David Prior to replay the flashbacks from earlier in the film, only this time in sepia-tone.

The séance takes a violent turn when the pal Chuck has installed upstairs to fool his friends with boombox sound effects gets skewered through the neck by the villain. At last… Sledgehammer’s first real kill!

From there, the murders mount—though without much of the clever gore effects and staging of most ’80s slashers—until Chuck goes looking for one of his missing friends and finds the creepy little boy stabbing her over and over and talking about his wicked mother. Then the boy grows into a man before Chuck’s eyes. A masked, freaky-looking man.

Can easily be distinguished by: Those damned white walls—which look even more unsettlingly nondescript when shot by Prior’s video camera—and that pulsing synthesizer soundtrack. (The DVD even opens with a suggestion that viewers turn up the bass on their home theater systems, for maximum disorientation.)

Sign that it was made in 1983: Chuck never misses an opportunity to do his Bill Murray impression.

Timeless message: While dishing about her boyfriend, one of the ladies offers advice that the movie’s villain would do well to heed: “I guess being a little crazy’s okay. But John takes it a bit too far.”

Memorable quotes: More about that “crazy” boyfriend: “Try going to bed with a man wearing a mask. He doesn’t wear it on his face.” (Also: “Wooooooo!”) 

Available on DVD from Intervision.

Filed Under: Film

More Films That Time Forgot