Nail in the Coffin is a candid and close look at Ian Hodgkinson (and occasionally his alter ego Vampiro) as he reflects on his incredible life, his current adjustments and his future.
Synopsis: Semi-retired professional wrestler Ian Hodgkinson reveals the harsh realities behind the glamour of being in the world of wrestling as the infamous ‘Vampiro’. A Lucha Libre legend, Hodgkinson tells the astonishing story about his meteoric rise to fame in the 90’s and how it almost killed him. Yet none of that was as back-breaking as his current life-working behind-the-scenes as the Director of Talent for Lucha Libre AAA in Mexico City and Lucha Underground in Los Angeles, while simultaneously raising his teenage daughter Dasha in remote Northern Canada as a single parent.
Wrestling typically has ‘lifers’ and the damage that the business seems to inflict on them (and the behaviours undertaken to absorb that damage) means those lives can be somewhat protracted, while other performers engage in repeat ‘retirements’ that are only ever a call out away from coming to an end. The thread of the business being both addictive and leading to addiction is pulled throughout this film. The first time we meet Ian in the documentary, he is excitedly shouting instructions at a monitor while the wrestling action takes place. His intensity is immediately obvious as he directs the action, guiding cameras and performers to get the right result. But, he soon leaves for a position in front of the camera, as chants of Vampiro build. Immediately, it is easy to see how the lure of that level of support and interest from a crowd would be hard to resist. The film quickly slips into an exploration of his exhausting schedule, including a regular commute to Mexico from Canada and catering to his teenage daughter who he clearly adores.
His life story, even before becoming Vampiro is fascinating, including a stint working with a pre-scandal Milli Vanilli. Vampiro is born of Hodgkinson’s interest in horror and punk-rock. Despite being Canadian, it was the lure of lucha libre in Mexico that drew him to want to wrestle. Going against the tradition of wearing a mask, Vampiro’s heavy make-up, inspired by horror and punk-rock, stood out and his good looks made him popular with female fans leading to success and rivalries. It is explained that while athletic, he wasn’t able to do as many holds as others but made up for this with energy and charisma. Archive footage of him in these early days in frequently bloody, violent encounters and the ceremony involved in his ring persona is well-selected, including some incredible footage of other lucha libre performers and interviews for greater context.
It feels cliche to say that you don’t need to be a wrestling fan to enjoy this documentary, but the focus always returns to Ian’s inner thoughts and more importantly, his relationship with daughter Dasha. The openness and honesty in their interactions with one another and directly to the viewer really give an insight into their relationship. The early introduction to lucha libre as a colourful and unusual place gives enough context for the rest of the film. So too, does the decision to focus on Ian’s life attempting to leave Vampiro behind and retire entirely from in-ring action. The switch to working more in a production capacity offers a look that is rarely seen. Ian works as a director, choreographer and marketer of the wrestling events.
The film is imbued with a sense of brutal honesty. From Ian’s doctor making it clear that he “has to fucking stop”, to Ian’s assessment of being involved in wrestling being a constant balancing of – paraphrasing – alcohol, drugs, stupid people and ego. At one event, a large fight breaks out, forcing Ian to rush to separate performers – one of whom he candidly identifies as someone who scuppered part of his more highly-paid career. The scenes are always in contrast to those where he struggles to walk and are all the more challenging to watch as you know there is always a chance he’ll open himself up to further physical damage by more performances. Director Michael Paszt allows these scenes to play out without judgement, but also without cutting away from the harsh reality. Older footage of Ian with a younger Dasha is touching, creating a fully-formed portrait that it is impossible not to be moved by.
An enthralling story about one man’s incredible dedication to a business that has not always been kind to him and his further adoration of his daughter and wanting to create the best life possible for her. Despite numerous personal and professional setbacks, his drive to make it all work is impressive and frequently sad, especially as the physical toll of his career becomes clear. By the end of the film, you’ll feel like you have an understanding of him, but also want to reach out and tell him he’s doing a wonderful job. Stay with this one right through the credits too.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is available from Indemand | Comcast | Spectrum | Charter | Dish | Sling TV | Vubiquity| iTunes | Google Play | Vudu | Xbox | YouTube | Amazon | Fandango Now | DirecTV | Breaker | Alamo On Demand.
A blu-ray release is available through Epic Pictures.