People are often judged by their actions, but the real story comes from their motivations. Good and bad deeds can perform what wrestling diehards would recognise as a ‘double turn’ if a selfless gesture hid an ulterior motive and a crime was brought on by life-saving necessity.
Wrestling contains so many questionable decisions, dubious actions and worrying developments that the fanbase has grown somewhat desensitised to a lot of it. We know these performers are putting their bodies, their sanity and more on the line only to be regarded as ‘fake’ by two thirds of the world. Not everything warrants our forgiveness or our continued custom, but the peeks we’ve had behind the curtain since things changed in the 1990s make empathy a much more accessible tool.
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro does not shy away from the many off-putting aspects of Ian Richard Hodgkinson, the man behind the face paint. Beginning with clips of him producing backstage at the infamous AAA Triplemania XXV with stress levels that would make Vince McMahon blush, it’s clear from the outset that this is no vanity production.
But the key to its charm is the insight into Hodgkinson’s thought process throughout the highs and lows of his lengthy career across the globe. Vampiro admits his wrestling skills were behind that of his peers, so he used his look and charisma to excel as a performer first and foremost. He felt marginalised and misunderstood when he arrived in WCW, so he took increasing degrees of risk to stand out. And when something didn’t work out for him (and even when it did), his angst was incendiary, burning those within a radius.
Some of his treatment of fans and colleagues alike, picked up by these cameras, is unsettling. Each instance is usually followed by a pained admission from Ian that he hates the celebrity and recognition that comes with being Vampiro. And each one comes across as a cry for help from a physically-knackered man who just wants to spend time in the park with his daughter.
It his relationship – his bond – with Dasha that provides the most endearing parts of the film. Any parent can relate to the mantra that there’s nothing they won’t do for their child. And while it seems at first glance that there are certainly easier paths than this one, the documentary does a decent job of showing us that it isn’t quite that simple.
Wrestling wears its servants down. It poisons them with passion, paranoia and perfectionism. It seems at first to be the perfect way for a physical specimen with a knack for performance art to make big money, but it gradually eats away at your physicality, erodes your job satisfaction and brings out your worst traits.
The scenes featuring Hodgkinson sitting down in a diner with Dasha and attempting to explain his position and his views on the business and where he goes from here as she attempts to follow along with it all hammer home how much of a parallel universe being a professional wrestler can be. As a result, they’re a highlight of the 90 minutes. After spending her early years trying to keep Vampiro obscured from her sight behind “daddy”, he finds himself at a stage where he has to get through more and more of his work with her, not just for her.
Also standing out were some of the talking heads, who did not sugar-coat their thoughts of Vampiro and yet, did their utmost to provide a degree of insight into why he would act the way he does. In particular, the content from Killer Kross regarding their suplex spot was as engrossing as it was poignant.
Seemingly in line with Hodgkinson’s early line about being a performer more than a wrestler, filmmaker Michael Paszt’s strengths here are in the power of his content, his effective use of footage and his excellent soundtrack. The fundamentals, on the other hand, are a little off as the timeline and the story fly in an erratic manner, and some basic spelling errors show little wrestling research beyond Vampiro himself.
But what makes this documentary work is that it doesn’t try to force a happy ending, nor does it go overboard with the bleaker aspects of Ian’s story or the industry as a whole. The blend of the highs and lows, the reality checks and the silver linings makes it all very real and very human.
The film concludes with footage of TripleMania XXVI – and yes, the infamous “play my music” botch. If anything, such a choice brings the whole thing full circle from the manic production shots at the very start, even if it is a bit of a wonky circle drawn by Paszt. And Vamp’s final words about doing it all for Dasha, married with footage of him trading fists with longtime foe Konnan and the final soundtrack make for a fitting conclusion, reminiscent of the story told in Mickey Rourke’s The Wrestler.
I’m not overly confident you’ll love Vampiro after watching Nail in the Coffin. But I’m almost certain you’ll understand and perhaps even respect him a lot more.