31 Days of Horror 2021: “Wrestlemaniac” (2006)

If El Mascarado isn’t on your personal list of favorite cinematic masked killers, then you probably haven’t seen the 2006 Wrestlemaniac (also known as El Mascarado Massacre), a hidden gem within the glut of low-budget horror movies from the 2000s. Clever without being cloying, Wrestlemaniac is a terrifically fun movie, especially for fans of professional wrestling, blood and guts, and breast implants.

When a group of people head down to Mexico to shoot an adult film, they become stranded at a village called La Sangre de Dios (The Blood of Christ). Nobody is excited about this except for Steve (Jeremy Radin) who loves Mexican wrestling so much, he carries a full-face luchador mask in his back pocket. Steve recognizes La Sangre de Dios as the legendary home of the murderous El Mascarado, a wrestler constructed from the body parts of three of Mexico’s greatest grapplers. No one else on the crew takes the story seriously. In fact, they start filming inside of an abandoned bar. It isn’t until people start disappearing that it dawns upon them that El Mascarado could be alive, and he’s not in the mood for company.

In the real-life world of Mexican wrestling, luchadors never take off their masks, even in public. To have one’s mask removed carries a stigma of shame and humiliation. That established rule is part of what makes El Mascarado such a compelling character. He’s not simply trying to evade identification. Wearing the mask is part of his job, his history. Even the way he kills reflects the luchador heritage. El Mascarado rips the faces off of his victims much as a heel wrestler would remove the mask from a competitor. That method of madness feels like a logical extrapolation for a character like El Mascarado to make. He’s still wrestling, and he is out to utterly degrade these outsiders from parts unknown.

It helps that El Mascarado is portrayed by Rey Misterio, Sr., one of the most popular performers in Mexican wrestling during the latter half of the 20th century. Misterio infuses the role of El Mascarado with his own experience by employing wrestling moves, like backbreakers, into his kills. Between the killer’s history and the authenticity of Misterio’s performance, El Mascarado comes across as one of the most fully fleshed-out villains in a horror movie in years.

Admittedly, Wrestlemaniac is a niche movie. There aren’t a whole lot of flicks made specifically for horror-loving wrestling fans who want to see a little partial nudity. Writer/director Jesse Baget chose not to fill the script with wrestling terms or insider lingo. Wrestlemaniac presents its story in a way that welcomes the fan while deftly explaining the parameters of the film’s universe. You don’t have to be a person who watches hours of wrestling every week to understand El Mascarado’s motivation or work rate.

Wrestlemaniac‘s grittiness and visual tone owes quite a bit to the films of Rob Zombie, right down to using a similar font for the ending credits as Zombie utilized at the conclusion of The Devil’s Rejects. Like Zombie, Baget doesn’t skimp on the violence. However, Wrestlemaniac is a streamlined affair, clocking in at fewer than 90 minutes. Every sequence pushes the story forward without meandering. Wrestlemaniac doesn’t have time to stop along the side of the road to talk about chicken fucking for three minutes.

Wrestling fans may find themselves calling spots during scenes where the victims try to fight the villain. When we make our way into El Mascarado’s lair, there are folding chairs sitting about the room. Why did no one pick up a chair and wallop El Mascarado? I’m pretty sure Rey Misterio, Sr. has taken a chair shot or two before.

Wrestlemaniac may have gone under the radar as some kind of rasslin’ oddity, but it’s far better than that. The movie delivers great gore, a fun story, and most of all, an incredible masked bad guy in El Mascarado. Misterio’s size and projection of physical power make the superhuman aspects of El Mascarado seem possible and frightening.

Perhaps most importantly, Wrestlemaniac is fun. Blood, boobs and body slams abound. Although the concept could have easily lent itself to parody, the movie skirts that fate with fast pacing and a natural understanding of what really makes a slasher movie work. It’s good shit, pal, worth seeking out.

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