Wednesday, June 22, 2011

DVD Review: Sledgehammer (1983)

The year is 1983.The VHS craze has taken the nation by storm, and a tape-happy public writhes and squeals in its insatiable hunger for MORE MOVIES. Though the Big Studios try their best, demand still far outstrips supply. An insufficiently entertained public takes to the streets. In Washington, three thousand people march on the capitol demanding greater funding for dubbing centers. In Alabama, a video store proprietor is lynched when he fails to stock enough copies of The Last Unicorn. Television stations lay under siege, a skeleton crew protecting their precious tape libraries. Beta Players are detonated in protest. Riots are threatened. Anarchy seems imminent.*

Then, when all seems darkest, a savior appears. In his left hand he grasps a clumsy, dinosaur-sized video camera that must weigh nearly half as much as its bearer. In his sturdy right hand, he clutches a holy relic, the solution to the national crisis. His name is David A. Prior, and the treasure he offers is the first Shot-On-Video slasher filmed exclusively for the home video market,** SLEDGEHAMMER.

*Not really.
**According to the Intervision Pictures Corp. website.

What It Says on the Tin
The film opens with an unnamed Mother (Mary Mendez), doing her best to enjoy her lustful, presumably extramarital tryst at a cabin deep within the woods, romantic miles and miles from anywhere. Unfortunately she was unable to secure Adulterous Daycare for her also unnamed Son (Justin Greer), and so has brought him along. Not one to let maternal instincts get in the way of a right hard rogering, Mom locks the boy in a closet and threatens violence if he doesn't keep quiet! Then she slinks into the next room in her floor-length negligee to meet her similarly nameless Lover (the scrawnily sleazetastic Michael Shanahan). He asks about the boy, and Mom sneers, "Don't worry--I took care of that little bastard!" Harsh, but I guess she would know.

Unfortunately for our fornicating friends, before they can get it on they are visited by the grim spectre of DEATH, this time wielding not a scythe, but a 20-pound sledge! The unseen assailant does to the Lover's head what Gallagher made a career of doing to overripe melons, with comparable results.  As blood splatters the walls and a deep bass buzz fills the soundtrack, we watch the opening credits roll. The fate of the kid and the identity of the killer are left, for the moment, tantalizingly unclear.

Of course it's a law of nature that a long-abandoned cabin with a bloodstained past cannot stay empty during the vacation season, and so a decade or so later we find a crew of twentysomething teenagers rolling up to the house with fun and frolic on their minds. The leader of the pack is golden boy Chuck, portrayed by the director's brother and future SOV legend Ted Prior. Also in attendance: Chuck's love interest Joni (Linda McGill); musclebound oaf and winner of the 1981 Arn Anderson Lookalike Nationals, John (John Eastman); John's slightly harpyish girlfriend Mary (Janine Scheer); stereotypical jokester Joey (Stephen Wright); the requisite blonde nympho Carol (Sandy Brooke); and Carol's boyfriend, 70s-style studmuffin Jimmy (Tim Aguilar), about whom a little more later.

Hetero As Fuck
In a flurry of feathered hair, porn-staches, and empty beer cans, the group of young(ish) people pile out of their van, then surprisingly (read: stupidly) hand the keys over to The King of the Hoboes--or else just some local yokel, it's hard to tell. Though it's running like a dream, apparently the van needs some minor work done during the vacay, so Chuck wisely decides to send it off with Goober for a tune-up while they make drunken carouse at the Murder House--because if there's one thing they're sure NOT to need while partying at the scene of a decades-old double slaying, its a quick way to get (the fuck) out of there, AMIRITE?

It doesn't take us long to discover that each of the couples has its own set of problems. Chuck is feeling rather commitment-shy about his relationship with Joni, a situation just possibly related to her spiky femullet and penchant for wearing baggy sweater vests. John drinks too much for Mary's taste, but he is the patient sort, having been circling Mary in a promised-poontang holding pattern for two years, with no result. (No wonder his forearms are so well-muscled!) Carol and Jimmy have the opposite problem, as despite his magnificent man-mane and Van Nuys-ready flavor-saver, Jimmy is shockingly reluctant to take the lustful lass to bed. Also, one of the girls apparently had (has?) a thing with Joey, but found his twisted sense of humor too much to take. ("He wears a mask to bed!" "How do you kiss him?" "He doesn't wear it on his face!" )

"Look, I know I have more fabulous hair than you do, better fashion sense, and bigger boobs, but...wait a minute, what were we talking about?"
Putting all their problems aside--or pulling them right out in the open, take your pick--the group quickly gets shitfaced old-school, the girls gabbing and dancing while the men perform feats of strength (seriously) before everything devolves into a massive food fight! As the men pound beers and liquor in the living room, Carol heads to the shower (naturally) and is shocked to find Joey hanging dead from the nozzle! But not really, it's just his fiendish sense of humor. Someone turns on the Fisher-Price record player and the girls start dancing, which leads Arn/John to exclaim, "I've got a throbber, man!" Of course this can only go on so long before someone suggests the entertainment that no party in the early 80s was complete without.

That's right: Necromancy.

"And from the bottom of the stairs the boy heard a whisper....Whooooo's got my giant pecs?!"
So they start the séance, and Chuck reveals he knows quite a bit about the previous owners of the house: so much, in fact, that he's able to narrate a very long, slow-motion section of footage from the beginning of the movie, telling us about what we've already seen! We do learn that the couple's bodies were found later by a couple of hikers...who, I don't know, dropped by to use the bathroom or something? Anyway, it's the first of many instances of recycled footage, so you might as well get used to it.

Things might have been okay had Chuck not broken the cardinal rule of party séances*, which is "Never invite the dead to come back, but NEVER." Since he's not a pussy (nor particularly smart), Chuck rather exhorts the dead to "Awaken on this night of vengeance, and walk among the living!" Which, as we all know, ALWAYS works out well. In Chuck's defense, he is trying to pull an elaborate prank on his friends, as jokester Joey is in the next room, playing a tape recorder of ghostly moaning. Unfortunately the dead take Chuck up on his invitation, announcing their presence by shoving a kitchen knife through Jimmy's neck and dragging him out of the room by it!

*Apart from the BIG rule of party séances, which is of course, "Don't fucking have one, dumbasses!" But no one ever follows that one.

Kind of a Drag
While that's a nice bit of low-rent gore, and there's more of that to come, it's at this point the movie really starts to show its thread count. Every opportunity is taken to stretch out the running time, sometimes in entertainingly silly ways, but mostly not. Freeze-frames between edits that stay a few seconds too long, repeated dialogue, pointlessly recycled footage, and lots-- I mean LOTS--of super slow-motion sequences that might have built suspense if not overused to the point of desperation. The cast go at it gamely, taxing their clearly limited reserves of skill and ability, but charm and energy only get you so far, particularly in super slo-mo.

Still, as the night wears on and the fecal matter gets closer to the wind-stirring apparatus, there's fun to be had. The reluctant Jimmy gives in to Carol's advances at last, and we're treated to some slow-motion sexy time that is one of the cinematic high-water marks for hipbone-and-moustache fetishists around the world. About this time Chuck and Joni find Joey's body; Chuck, always solid under pressure, instructs his shocked girlfriend to "Go get the others, but DON'T TELL THEM ANYTHING!" (Why? I'm sure he has his reasons...) Meanwhile The Killer (Doug Matley), an absolute GIANT of a man in a surprisingly creepy half-mask and curly killer mullet, interrupts the hip-grinding lovers by breaking Carol's neck and then giving Jimmy 20 pounds of steel to the sternum!

Nailed, then Nailed Again
Things take a turn for the weirder as Arn, Mary, Chuck and Joni see a little Kid--also in a creepy half-mask--running through the house laughing. Arn discovers Jimmy and Carol's bodies--the fact that Jimmy is clearly still breathing can be explained by post-mortem reflex, I guess--and arms himself with first a crowbar and then an extra sledgehammer the killer left lying around. Sneaking up on a locked room, Arn is suddenly teleported through the door! While Chuck nearly knocks himself unconscious trying to beat down the flimsy paneled door (really, the violence Prior does to himself and the wood in this scene is breathtaking), Arn faces his fate in a room suddenly cobwebbed and full of pentagrams, skulls, and the magically clothed bodies of his dead friends.

That all sounds exciting, but MAN is it slow, thanks to the editing job sponsored by the National Molasses Board. Eventually Chuck and Joni have to face both the killer and his masked-kid alter-ego, more deaths occur, and there's a final showdown between an inexplicably shirtless Prior and his Andre-the-Giant-sized enemy. More teleportation, a Home Alone-style booby trap, Fun with Dead Bodies, and some grody home-made gore round out the festivities, leading to a satisfyingly cheesy but far-too-leisurely finale.

Loves His Job
As the first of its kind, I can appreciate that Sledgehammer really had nothing to model itself after, and in fact I can clearly see its influence on the subsequent SOV offerings that flooded the video market in its wake. The pacing and editing were atrocious, but the largely non-professional cast betray a certain charming naivete in their performances that I found winning. Though everyone's clearly having fun, everyone is also serious about the craft of moviemaking, even if the results of that craft are less Macrame Tapestry than Popsicle-Stick Dreamcatcher. And Ted Prior shows flashes of the musclebound enthusiasm that would later make him the star of one of the greatest cinematic achievements of his or any decade, Killer Workout (aka Aerobicide, appreciated by your ever-lovin' Vicar here).

On the plus side, there's some fairly respectable gore effects, particularly when the killer pops the Lover's head early on. There's also hilarious 80s clothes and hairstyles, endearing technical gaffes and continuity errors (such as the ubiquitous crew shadows, or the way the sledgehammer magically changes from silver [metal] to black [rubber] whenever it gets swung at a living actor), and a woofer-abusing, droning bass soundtrack that will have Sunn O))) fans turning up the volume and lying down on the floor. And while the plot has its unanswered questions (How was the killer able to fade in and out of reality and teleport? Was he a supernatural being, or an abandoned child grown up feral? Were he and the kid the same or astral-projected aspects of the same ghostly personality? What's with the Satanist symbology? Where can I get a smoking jacket like the Lover's?), trash movie fans will likely count those plot holes as pluses rather than minuses.

Pre-School Pimp-Slap

Intervision Pictures Corp.* has given this historical flick a fantastic presentation in their recent DVD release.  The sound mix is on Philip G. Slate's soundtrack is good, particularly if you're a Drone/Doom fan.There is also a plethora of extras, including commentary from directory David Prior, bonus commentary by Joseph A. Ziemba And Dan Budnik of the Vicar-admired site Bleeding Skull, two featurettes and a director's interview. However, it has to be said that the transfer, though probably the best available, is still pretty terrible; be ready for tracking lines, artificacts, and periodic tape-jumps. Still in all, a great package.

*Intervision provided a copy of this film to MMMMMovies for review purposes.

As for the flick--as a movie it's entertaining if a little slow, but as a historical artifact it's absolutely invaluable to trash movie fans everywhere. 2.25 thumbs, and recommended from me to you. If anything in this review gave you a throbber, please check it out.

"Get ready for the hurting."
A few more images from SLEDGEHAMMER (1983):


Chuck performs his heartfelt folk tune, "The Sun Never Sets on My Pecs."

"I know what it looks like, but...yeah, it's pretty much that."


"OMG! Look at the color of that carpet!"

One Shining Moment


Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Okay, so this isn't a review of the 1981 made-for-TV masterpiece This House Possessed (I already did that, which you can read by carefully clicking here), but just a heads-up to the many readers who have been fascinated by the flick and frustrated at the lack of info on it.

Via the erudite and energetic Amanda By Night of the likewise excellent blog Made for TV Mayhem (which you should all be following, btw), I have learned of this excellent post at Vinnie Ratolle's, which contains more trivia and information that you could ever hope to discover about the TV traumatizer, alone with (shh!) a link where you might be able to find your own copy.

So if you're a fan or just intrigued, GET CLICKIN' RIGHT NOW and check it out. And the moment someone uploads that wonderful song to YouTube, for God's sake let me know!


The Vicar


Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Vicar!

Dearest friends, I bid thee well met!  Once again, it is I, the Duke of DVD, stepping from the shadows to whisper dark mutterings in your ear.  Imagine your surprise as the whisper is instead a shout, for today we once again must needs hide our loved ones in darkened cellars, we must chain our livestock to wooden beams drove deep into the bedrock and then carved with a myriad of glyphs, for today is the BIRTHDAY OF THE VICAR OF VHS!

Old gypsies fork their fingers at the air as their tongues turn black in their mouths.  Lambs are born with two heads, or no head at all.  Mother's milk curdles in sagging teats as infants' eyes bulge black, their cries muffled as their mothers smother them to spare them this torturous day.  Goats fornicate with old men, who giggle blindly through fallow fields, the air smokey from corpse-fires.  Wolves, driven mad by hunger and their own still-born youth, rove in huge packs, killing wantonly as druids cavort among them, awaiting their turn to have their throats torn out.  Young maidens cast themselves off high cliffs, despondent over the fact that the Vicar rogered only one thousand and three of their number before passing out in a drunken heap.  Truly this is a day for celebration and despair, in equal measure!

Some facts about the Vicar:
-  The Vicar can produce volumous belches lasting over 2 full minutes from a single flagon of wine.
-  The Vicar's favorite meal consists of 4 whole roasted oxen, braised in Argentinian honey, a heaped bowl of swan tongues, 47 marshmallow Peeps(tm), a 5 lbs. rasher of bacon, 10 trenchers of blood pudding, and a whole keg of Father Malamut's Roaring Cunt beer.
-  The Vicar once braved the harshest conditions on earth in order to deflower a virgin atop Mt. Everest.
-  The Vicar likes to dress in a fat suit and pose as a Jehovah's Witness from time to time, only he mumbles through his spiel drunkenly and steals people's ashtrays.
-The Vicar has an insanely large ashtray collection hidden somewhere in a large underground cavern beneath his estates.

Finally, I present to you a 14th century wood-cut of the Vicar.  It is believed to be the earliest representation of the Vicar, who it is rumored had the artist drawn and quartered while his family watched.

Happy Birthday, Vicar!


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Beast and the Vixens (1974): or, Bigfoot Meets Bigboob

He's much more than just a cryptid/hominid who may or may not stalk the uncharted reaches of the Great Northwest Forests (or Florida swamplands, or Arkansas Delta, or Okaloosa Wilderness Area); Bigfoot is a piece of our American cultural heritage--a modern myth, a symbol. Part noble savage, part monster, he represents the duality inherent in our very nature, the angel and the beast, the boiled-down essence of humanity. In literature, pop culture, and especially film, Sasquatch has become the soft wax upon which we can imprint our grossest fears and grandest hopes. Is he a lust-crazed monster, the violent, rapey man-beast of the uncontrolled id? Is he a phantom of Nature herself, the ghost of a disappearing pristine environment? Protector of the Woodlands, or Invader of the Suburbs? The answer is simple: he is, or can be, all of these things.

We've seen him as killer, a cipher, and even as a roided out serial rapist--but I don't think we've ever seen "Sasquatch as Voyeur." Until now! In his 1974  sexploitation/Squatchsploitation mash-up, The Beast and the Vixens (aka The Beauties and the Beast), director Ray Nadeau and writer Gaynor MacLaren envision Bigfoot as Russ Meyer's Immoral Mr. Teas meets Arch Hall Sr.'s Eegah! And the results, my friends, are just about as glorious as that makes them sound.

Allow me to elucidate:


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