Image courtesy of Fantastic Fest

In wrestling, the personalities are big and the tensions are always running high. Although it may be hard to believe, beneath their muscle bound, heightened exteriors, these folks are real human beings with families, fears, insecurities, hopes, and dreams. While they’re out there in the ring, larger than life, they seem invincible and godlike, but one peek behind the scenes can bring them down to size.

Michael Paszt‘s documentary, NAIL IN THE COFFIN: THE FALL AND RISE OF VAMPIRO focuses on Ian Hodgkinson, a Canadian wrestler who found fame in Mexico’s lucha libre scene during the early 1990’s. Pazst follows Hodgkinson’s story over the following decades, from his beginnings as an unlikely sex symbol and larger than life punk rock persona, to becoming a father, and his eventual retirement from the wrestling scene and attempts to settle into a normal life with his teenage daughter.

While being an intimate study of Hodgkinson as an individual, the documentary makes broader strokes in examining the social importance of lucha libre in Mexico. Professional wrestling has its roots in the country, being made famous by El Santo in the 40’s and turning into an international cultural touchstone. As someone who has very little knowledge of the industry, Paszt provides some much needed insight early in the film and it’s an eye opener.

In Mexico, the luchadores are seen as real-life superheroes, but instead of being locked to the pages of comic books, these masked crusaders who fight for the common people are completely tangible. Children can go to a match and see their idols fight in front of them with their own eyes. The fights are no joke, with blood literally mopped up off the floor after some bouts.

As the film continues, we focus more on Hodgkinson; he is, after all, the documentary’s focus. He’s a fascinating subject with showmanship to spare, genuinely engaging and filled with stories of his experiences. The wrestling aspect of his life isn’t even the most intriguing thing about him. He’s deeply involved in community services, being the head of citizen crime patrol group The Guardian Angels in Mexico City. He’s weathered and survived numerous injuries and illnesses, but most important of all, he’s a father to daughter Dasha, and the film focuses very heavily on their relationship.

Paszt weaves archival footage from various sources to tell Vampiro’s origin story, and what inspired Hodgkinson to take on his alter ego. The film jumps back and forth, sometimes in a disorienting manner between the early years, somewhere in the middle, and the later years. The film doesn’t give us many onscreen indications of when the footage is from, instead leaving us to figure things out chronologically by Hodgkinson’s drastically changing physical appearance.

I had no idea who Vampiro was before watching NAIL IN THE COFFIN, but came away feeling like I had a decent idea about who Hodgkinson is. His public persona made him a superhero, but underneath the makeup, tattoos and theatrical bravado, he’s very much just a man who wants the best for his daughter. The film doesn’t go much deeper into his personal demons or professional controversies.

Would I recommend the film for someone who has no interest in wrestling? It’s hard to say. I personally have never been invested in the sport, but Paszt focuses mostly on the human story. Is that human story incredible enough to justify spending an hour and a half with Hodgkinson? I honestly think it would resonate more with those with enough knowledge to place his story within the greater tapestry of professional wrestling as a whole. However, NAIL IN THE COFFIN is an undeniably sympathetic, well made study of its subject that perhaps could have asked harder questions.

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