When Judge Daryl Loomis dons his red vinyl mask, cape, and trunks, he transforms into El Juez Mascarado, defender of justice, laying waste to all lawbreakers of the squared circle.
Let the face off begin.
For my tastes, the combination of horror and professional wrestling should make a peanut butter cup of a movie. From my experience, though, these are two great tastes that do not taste great together. As a big sports fan and a lifelong wrestling fan I, like every modern wrestling fan, understand that the two are very different kinds of entertainment. Unfortunately, most filmmakers treat it as legitimate sport, and it insults the very audience they try to attract. I've seen my share of Santo and Blue Demon movies; they're inevitably terrible but always a lot of fun. The led me to review Wrestlemaniac, starring Mexican wrestling legend Rey Misterio, uncle of current WWE Superstar Rey Mysterio, Jr. Instead of the usual wrestler-as-hero template, the wrestler is our monster chasing hapless teens. Hopefully, this will be a power bomb of a horror flick, but I have a bad feeling it'll be more like a back rake.
Facts of the Case
On their way to Cabo San Lucas to shoot a porn film, a bunch of losers get lost in the Mexican desert. Nearly out of gas and with nature calling loudly, the group stops at a run-down gas station. Though it looks abandoned, a creepy but helpful weirdo in a wrestling mask (Irwin Keyes, The Warriors) jumps out of the office to scare them. After giving them a bag of cocaine, he directs the porn hopefuls back to the freeway by way of "La Sangre de Dios," a ghost town where the legendary wrestling killer, El Mascarado (Misterio), was exiled. Mascarado was constructed from parts of corpses from the best wrestlers of his day to produce a wrestling phenom who would compete for the gold at the '68 Olympics (never mind the absurdity of pro wrestling in the Olympics). Just before trials, he freaked out and started ripping his opponents' faces off and was exiled to this ghost town. Instead of the normal, "Let's get the hell out of here" kind of response, they decide that it's the perfect place for a porno, and head straight there. They get only one scene shot before El Mascarado returns to slam some bodies and rip some faces.
Very little in modern horror bothers me more than unlikable and reprehensible protagonists. How can we root for somebody we hate? Flawed characters can be realistic and intriguing, but with no redeeming qualities, there is nothing to relate with. This has become common, both in independent and mainstream horror, over the last few years and it damages the genre. Examples like the otherwise good Cabin Fever and the otherwise terrible remake of Black Christmas are glaring, but it is a wide problem that wasn't so prevalent a few years ago. The biggest problem in Wrestlemaniac is the characters, who are such over-the-top jerks that the entire first half of the film is pure pain. Once the killing starts, the characters stop talking so much and the second half is much better. Rey Misterio is fun as the monster but with the cheesy wrestling tights, he's way funnier than he is scary. Thankfully, he does not kill people using his wrestling moves, but he does use them in one fight (where he winds up delivering a flying body press to his victim from atop an oil barrel) and it's one of the silliest possible horror scenarios. The face-ripping MO of Mascarado gets old, but the method makes sense within the story.
The back story is the other major problem with the film. Though it's the cause of a lot of amusement, the scenario is patently absurd (in the commentary, the director explains why this is the case, but I'll get to that). How the Mexican president is confused about the Olympic potential of a pro wrestler is one thing, but after Mascarado freaked out, they sent him to this abandoned town where he would receive psychiatric treatment. No wonder the series of lobotomies had no effect; there's no hospital in which to perform surgery. Moreover, where did this film crew get the money to shoot a porno on location? Would it not have been far cheaper to just pay $30 at an hourly rate motel? These issues, and many others, are never addressed. You just accept what they've done and move on. It's cheap, campy, and shouldn't be taken seriously, but that doesn't excuse the shoddiness of the characters or the story. Camp is fine in doses, but often a little mind toward continuity is more important than a lot of cheese.
Anchor Bay has done a fine job on their release of Wrestlemaniac. The image, while shot on digital video, looks very much like film and is sharp all the way around. The surround sound mix is full and loud, giving the bottom end a good workout. A good amount of extras culminates in the commentary with writer/director Jesse Baget, cinematographer Tabbert Fiiller, and star Adam Huss. They talk about the inherent troubles of independent filmmaking and most important, explain why the setting of the movie makes no sense. Originally, the story was supposed to be set in an insane asylum (which makes almost every plot point make way more sense with the lobotomies and all), but two days before the shoot was to begin, the facility was condemned. As a result, they were forced to shoot on a movie ranch. The worst, and most brutally honest, part of the commentary is when Baget reveals that, with no time to write a new script, he just ran a search in the script file for all instances of "insane asylum" and replaced them with "ghost town." It's a travesty of a film, but I do appreciate the candor in the commentary.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For all that's bad about Wrestlemaniac, the technical aspects of the film do a good job at masking the film's overall cheapness. The cinematography is skilled, and the DV image really does look like film. Fiiller talks a bit about it in the commentary but doesn't give away too many secrets. Journeyman composer Jim Lang (In the Mouth of Madness) delivers a moody and effective score that offsets some of the cheap camp that pervades the film.
Had Wrestlemaniac taken place in its intended location and had the cast and crew more time to put the film together, it likely would have been far better. As it stands, there's very little to like here. I appreciate the director's love of low-budget filmmaking, and his brutal honesty in the commentary is welcome, but there are too many holes to recommend to anybody who isn't suckered in by the wrestling and horror combination.
1…2…3…Ring the bell! Wrestlemaniac is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Commentary with Director/Writer/Editor Jesse Baget, Director of Photography Tabbert Fiiller, and Adam Huss
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