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Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro Review

September 4, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro
8.5
The 411 Rating
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Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro Review  

Directed by: Michael Paszt
Written by: Michael Paszt

Starring:
Ian Hodgkinson
Dasha Hodgkinson
Kevin Kross
Dorian Roldán
Jeff Jarrett
John Hennigan
Matt Striker
Konnan

Running Time: 88 minutes
Not Rated

Here’s a statement that most people it applies to don’t need to be told: it can be damned hard to be a professional wrestling fan sometimes. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot to love about the industry of sports entertainment. And yet at the same time, there’s almost an equal amount of reasons that we find our wrestling fandom challenged. We love the storylines, but for every great angle or feud, there are a host that we fight not to change the channel during. And many of the real stories behind the scenes are the kinds of tales that make many of us want to zip jackets up over our nWo shirts, put our heads down and quietly wander away. It’s the inevitable fate of the wrestling fan to have a love-hate relationship with the industry.

And if those of us who are strictly spectators can become conflicted about being fans, we can only imagine how hard it is for those fans who become a part of the big show. Ian Hodgkinson is a testament to that. Better known as Vampiro, the Canadian-born wrestling star has done it all in the industry. He’s been a fan, an in-ring star, a booker, a producer/agent, a color commentator, a manager – if you can name the role involved in putting on a wrestling show, he’s probably done it.

And as Michael Paszt’s new documentary Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro shows, through it all he’s developed a very understandably conflicted relationship with the business. Available in limited theaters now and on VOD/Digital on September 8th, the documentary affectingly chronicles Vampiro’s highs and lows in the business, contrasted by his most important job of all as a father to his teenage daughter.

When Nail in the Coffin kicks off, AAA’s TripleMania XXV is about to go on the air. The Mexican Lucha Libre company’s premiere event of 2017 is memorable for all the wrong reasons; it was the event in which Sexy Star was accused of intentionally injuring one of her opponents and where Jeff Jarrett drunkenly threw tortillas at the audience before reportedly nearly getting into fights backstage. Paszt documents the event as seen through Vampiro’s eyes, an experience as triumphant for him in some respects as it is infuriating as he directs the action and tries to put out the several fires. It also captures a poignant moment as before the show, amid everything else he’s doing, he stops to take a call from his daughter Dasha.

It’s an apt way for Paszt to begin the documentary, as it documents everything that Nail in the Coffin is about all in one day and it packs an emotional punch on several levels – not to mention drawing the wrestling fan in with that backstage footage of a drunken Jarrett nearly getting in a fight with Kevin (now Karrion) Kross, among others.

From there, the film narrows its lens focuses in on Vampiro himself, making a sometimes dizzying journey back and forth through his timeline as he tells his own wild life story that includes abandoning his hockey prospects to start his wrestling career in Quebec as an angry 16 year-old punk music fan, working as a security guy for Milli Vanilli (yes, THAT Milli Vanilli), travelling to Mexico City to become a sensation as Vampiro Canadiense, and eventually coming to the states in the middle of the famed Monday Night Wars to work for WCW.

The film also looks at what toll the industry has taken on Vampiro on several levels. In addition to his multiple physical ailments – a story as old as time in the wrestling industry – Hodgkinson has also had his share of personal struggles dealing with his fame. Pazst contrasts the hard times with his relationship with Dasha through the years, growing from a distant relationship as he was away from home working until more recent years when he’s a loving single father to a remarkably independent young woman.

This latter part is where the documentary finds its emotional center, adding a hopeful heart to what could have been a deeply depressing story. Vampiro talks a lot about how deeply conflicted he is with his role in wrestling, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s 50 years old, moving with difficulty and in one scene he talks with Dasha about how he enjoys working behind the scenes and doesn’t like being in the ring anymore. But he’s still going to do it because it’s what he knows how to do. There’s a part of him that still clearly loves what he’s doing, but he also hates it at times and that dichotomy has real resonance with how Paszt allows the story to unfold.

But while the story of Vampiro the wrestler is what is likely to draw people in, it’s the relationship between Ian and Dasha Hodgkinson that makes this a truly compelling story. We’ve seen stories about wrestlers who can’t give up on their careers. In fact, we’ve seen it done particularly well twice this year alone between the WWE Network’s Undertaker: The Last Ride docuseries and last month’s affecting David Arquette Cannot Be Killed, and this film would be an effective double-feature with either of those.

Nail in the Coffin stands out because it’s the story of Vampiro’s love for his industry and his daughter – and not in that order. When he says that he puts his daughter first always, we don’t have to take it on faith. We see it in every interaction he has with her, in the way that he legitimately drops everything when she calls him. It humanizes a man who has been larger than life over the years and alternately become an object of admiration and scorn for his exploits in wrestling.

The film also stands out because its authenticity is hard to deny. When it comes to a lot of wrestling documentaries, it can be difficult to ascertain what’s truth and what isn’t. Wrestling is a carny business at its core, and many of its luminaries have become famous for the laughably tall tales they’ve told (see: Hogan, Hulk). While aspects of Vampiro’s story are often eye-widening, Paszt views them through a lens that makes them hard to deny.

There are some directorial choices that could have been a bit cleaner, to be fair. Paszt’s decision to move up and down through Vampiro’s history can be disorienting at times, and it causes some of the story beats to come off as a bit repetitive while glossing over other moments. At a relatively lean 88 minutes, it perhaps could stand to have been filled out just a bit with certain elements of his life. What we do get though is a touching, emotionally engaging documentary that doesn’t avert its gaze from the ugly side of wrestling, but also doesn’t limit itself to that. Pazst isn’t misspeaking when he subtitles this film “The Fall and Rise of Vampiro;” it’s just that the rise has less to do with the wrestler, and more to do with the man. And it’s the kind of inspiring story that the wrestling world could use more of, frankly.

Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is screening in limited theaters now and will be available on VOD and Digital starting September 8th.

8.5
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro marks another emotionally challenging and poignant wrestling documentary to arrive in 2020. Director Michael Paszt captures the essence of his subject as a complex, conflicted individual whose love/hate relationship with his industry and his fame often plays like an addiction, with all the dangers that implies. But his relationship with his daughter is a centering piece that balances both the movie and the man himself, elevating the story beyond that of your average wrestling behind-the-scenes story. Not afraid to show the ugly sides of wrestling but also resisting the temptation to wallow there, Nail in the Coffin is a must-watch for wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike.
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