It’s getting harder and harder to run a cult DVD label, particularly if you’re dealing with the horror genre. Most of the major cult titles have been taken already and the scarce few that remain often have rights issues that keep them out of circulation. As far as vintage titles go, the one real underexplored frontier left is shot-on-video horror. Some titles from the SOV realm have gotten good DVD’s over the year – Nail Gun Massacre is an example – but few companies have really taken the opportunity to introduce any kind of context for how this “no man’s land” of the genre should be approached.
However, Severin Films sublabel InterVision has just released a disc that shows how you can put together an attractive package for a film that no one would discuss otherwise. Picture quality is as good as it can be for something made with early 1980’s video equipment: it was shot quickly and liberally doused in post-production effects so the visuals inevitably have a smeary, hazy quality. That said, it gives you the best possible version of this experience with none of the tape rolls or tracking issues that VHS connoisseurs remember. Sound is of similar quality but it uses the droning, wall-to-wall synth score to unexpectedly powerful effect.
Where this disc really scores is the extras department, creating a set of bonus features that are both informative and instructive on how to deal with the film’s fever-dream weirdness. Two commentary tracks kick this package off: the first pairs writer/director David Prior with filmmaker/Sledgehammersuperfan Clint Kelly while the second features Joseph Ziemba and Dan Budnik of Bleeding Skull horror review fame. On the first track, Prior’s memories can be hit-and-miss but he’s kept on track by Kelly, who is boundlessly (and sometimes frighteningly) enthusiastic about this film. Kelly offers theories about the plot that frequently astound Prior and coaxes the video-teur into revealing a few interesting production details.
However, it’s the second track that is the keeper. Comedic appreciation commentary tracks are always a risky affair but Ziemba and Budnik do fine work here. It helps that both have a deep, longstanding love for the genre, as their witty yet affectionate reviews at Bleeding Skull reveal. They approach the film with the right mixture of irreverence and enthusiasm, keeping the viewer primed for all the film’s delights by pointing them out and occasionally doing inspired riffs on them (a highlight is their imitation of actor Ted Aguilar’s whispery line delivery during dramatic scenes). They also shed some light on how they got into obsessing over and writing about these films, thus shedding some light on how one becomes an SOV horror anthropologist.
Elsewhere, there are two brief featurettes that continue the appreciation theme. “Hammertime” features Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson discussing his thoughts on what makes Sledgehammer a standout in the SOV field. It’s amusing, particularly in how he describes star Ted Prior, but the other featurette “Sledgehammerland” is the best of the two. Cinefamily programmers Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald appear against backdrops from the film via the magic of green-screen technology as they relate how they first screened the film for a massively hungover audience (the programmers included) that found themselves drawn into the film’s no-budget vortex of VHS insanity. The featurettes are rounded out by a quick interview director David Prior: it’s too short to flesh out his commentary track but he comes off as a likeably unpretentious fellow.
Elsewhere, the disc features trailers for forthcoming InterVision releases: Things, The Secret Life Of Jeffrey Dahmer and A Night To Dismember. The first is another SOV bit of lunacy while the others are obscurities that found their infamy as video releases. Hopefully, this indicates the future direction for InterVision because Sledgehammer indicates this company has the potential to become the kingpin label of straight-to-video fare on DVD, right down the tape-roll on their label’s title sequence. Bless their twisted hearts and damaged brains.