Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro, 2019.
Directed by Michael Paszt.
Featuring Ian “Vampiro” Hodgkinson, Dasha Hodgkinson, John Hennigan, Jeff Jarrett and Kevin Kross.
The story of Canadian wrestler Vampiro, who rose up the ranks in Mexican wrestling to become a top star both in front of the camera and behind it.
Any wrestling fan will tell you that one of the most compelling elements of the art form is the way it walks the delicate balance between reality and fiction. The best wrestling storylines are the ones that introduce elements of truth and real life into the larger-than-life world of the squared circle. The same is true of wrestling documentaries, with the best examples weaving elements of storytelling with the peeks behind the curtain. With that in mind, Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is one of the best wrestling documentaries to surface in many years.
The film follows the Canadian star Ian Hodgkinson, who made his name as El Vampiro Canadiense in Mexico in the early 1990s and subsequently travelled the world as Vampiro. As the movie begins, he’s working as Director of Talent for major Mexican company AAA and is once again at the top of the wrestling world, making sporadic in-ring appearances despite his declining health. By exploring his relationship with his teenage daughter Dasha, director Michael Paszt’s film examines Vampiro’s ongoing connection with the wrestling business and how that affects the man behind the persona.
The result is a fascinating depiction of the one personality trait that’s present in just about everyone who gets in the ring – a monster ego. There’s always the irresistible pull of one last match and one more chance to go out with a blaze of glory, as well as the desire to produce a terrific product from behind the scenes. Indeed, the intensity of Vampiro’s backstage management personality is a little uncomfortable to watch in his obsessive, detail-focused rage. Wrestler Kevin Kross – now recently-crowned NXT Champion Karrion Kross in WWE – openly admits that Vampiro is difficult to be around when he’s wearing that particular hat.
Vampiro is presented as someone who can’t help returning to the art form that made his name, despite his own knowledge that it may eventually kill him. “I fucking hate wrestling,” he states as a doctor tells him of the risks he faces, following the 20 or more concussions he has received over the years, as well as a broken neck. Even Dasha accepts that her father will always be a wrestler in some form, despite his claims that all he really wants is to retreat to his comfortable home in a small Canadian town and play video games all day. It’s difficult to believe him.
In fact, it’s not always clear when Vampiro should be believed. His life story is undeniably complex and difficult, from a sexual assault as a boy to his struggles with addiction, but there are elements of bravado and almost Hollywood-esque excess that seem unbelievable. It’s exactly this, though, that forms the essence of what makes the documentary fly. It’s wrestling in a nutshell. As with many who’ve devoted their life to the art form, it’s never quite clear where Ian Hodgkinson ends and Vampiro begins.
Nail in the Coffin is able to walk the line brilliantly between serving as an insider tale for devoted fans and a depiction of a wrestling star for those who don’t know their piledrivers from their powerbombs. The unique, strange bond between Vampiro and Dasha provides a real emotional core to the story – a universal depiction of the career vs. family quandary. Heartfelt climactic scenes set at her high school graduation delightfully allow the mask to slip, depicting a man who is not a larger-than-life character and has no desire to be one. He’s a proud father.
Occasionally profound and always entertaining, Nail in the Coffin leaves no stone unturned in its examination of the man and the character. It’s an elegant and exhaustive portrait of someone who has, almost accidentally, given their life to an art form that they now don’t know how to escape from. But when the lights are on bright and the crowd is chanting your name, it’s easy to understand why Ian wants to become Vampiro again.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.