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/Sledgehammer super­fan 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.

SLEDGEHAMMER — Locking The Kid In The Closet from Severin Films on Vimeo.