Review: ‘Nail In the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro’

It’s a story so unlikely that it can only come from professional wrestling. Ian Hodgkinson, later known as Vampiro, follows what could charitably be called a circuitous path from being a hockey prospect from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, to his battles with drugs, his time working with an organized crime family, and a brief stint working as a stagehand/hanger-on in the entourage from lipsynching legends, Milli Vanilli. Naturally, this path leads to Hodgkinson transforming into a gothic heartthrob named Vampiro and becoming a lucha libre icon in Mexico (and, later, the world). Michael Paszt’s Nail In the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro, chronicles the superstar’s unlikely and tumultuous career. From his early start in the mid-1980’s through a meteoric rise through the ranks of the AAA (Asistencia Asesoría y Administración) promotion in Mexico, often paired with his main rival Konnan, to his breakthrough to the mainstream in late-stage WCW and Lucha Underground, Paszt delivers a story that will please both uninitiated audiences and hardcore wrestling fans.

Paszt’s film starts with some of the most compelling footage I’ve seen in a wrestling documentary this year. Backstage at AAA’s biggest show of the year, Triplemania 25, Paszt shows Vampiro already having moved away from an active wrestler role in the lucha libre company, to that of a producer/director. Lucha fans will remember this Triplemania as one of the most chaotic and dramatic events in modern wrestling history – featuring an incident where women’s wrestler Sexy Star “shot on” (hurt, for real) Impact Wrestling’s Rosemary, breaking her shoulder and putting her out of action for months. That show also featured a visibly-wasted Jeff Jarrett looking like absolute hell, staggering down the aisle while berating fans and, going off-script, throwing tortillas at the Mexican audience.

Paszt’s behind-the-scenes look at this event captures Vampiro trying to keep so many conflicting personalities in line, showing how he’s uniquely qualified to manage this group of Jarretts, Sexy Stars, Psycho Clowns, Aerostars, and all the other weirdos and misfits (so to speak) that AAA employs. It ends with Vamp musing on how much he hates wrestling, and it’s one of the best segments in this or any wrestling doc.

The documentary rewinds to Vampiro’s early life, thinking that hockey would be his meal ticket out of Thunder Bay. A top prospect seemingly on his way to the NHL, Hodgkinson veered toward drugs, organized crime, and the seedy world of Milli Vanilli tour management. From here, he develops his gothic Vampiro personality and heads to Mexico, where, despite admittedly not being any sort of great technician in the ring, was charismatic enough to become a household name with the AAA promotion.

As Paszt weaves through Vampiro’s career, through AAA and his rivalry with Konnan, to a horrible run in WCW, Vamp’s redemption in Lucha Underground, and several bloody battles, years of doing all the cocaine, and a body whose “bump card” (wrestling-speak for the upper limit of catastrophic injuries and damage a person can take) is quickly filling up, he begins to couch the documentary in Vampiro’s love of his daughter, Dakota. It’s this abiding devotion to this young girl that makes Vampiro’s story one of love, instead of just blood and flaming tables. It’s still super weird to see Vamp giving life advice to Dakota when the scene is bookended with the aging star taking bumps through light tubes, but the enduring sweetness in their relationship, bolstered by Vampiro talking about opportunities that he passed up in order to stay close to his family, gives Nail In The Coffin a tone that’s not dissimilar, and no less affecting, to Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. It’s got a real cinematic quality to it, even though Vampiro’s story is very real.

Talk to enough people in the wrestling industry, or at least the right ones, and you’ll get a wealth of opinions on Vampiro, some good and many bad. Chris Jericho, for example, has mused about Vamp’s politicking and shitty behaviour in his books, and Vampiro certainly didn’t leave many of his jobs on great terms. But all that aside, Vampiro’s story is one of the most interesting in modern wrestling. Michael Paszt has deftly threaded the needle between a hardcore wrestling documentary, and a simple one of a father and daughter just trying to get by in their weird goth house in Thunder Bay. The resulting package is one of the most unmissable wrestling documentaries of the last few years.

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