Fantastic Fest 2019: Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro
“The great thing about pro wrestling is it has a great entrance plan but a shitty exit strategy.”
Vampiro is a legend in the world of Lucha wrestling. Ever since his debut in the ‘80s, the rock and roll vampire from Canada has been one of the largest stars in the business, working for a myriad of different companies and being a hero to millions. Nail in the Coffin tells this story, but the film is less interested in Vampiro and more in Ian Richard Hodgkinson, the man who plays Vampiro.
Ian fell out of love with playing Vampiro long ago. He’s pushing 50 and there’s no end in sight to his career in the business that has punished his body and left him barely able to walk. His doctor warns that he’s one bad move away from paralysis. He tries to find a place backstage where he can manage talent and direct without getting physical, but he always inevitably laces up the boots to head back to the ring one more time. As he admits, he badly wants to quit but he needs to prove to himself that he’s still able to do it. It’s a story sadly all to familiar to the average wrestling fan. Your heroes can’t stay away, no matter how much they should. On one level, it’s nice to see them do their thing one more time, but it can be heart wrenching to watch them not perform to the level that they once could.
The film pays special focus to Ian’s relationship with his teenage daughter, Dasha. She’s the light of Ian’s life, his main motivation to both continue his career for monetary reasons and to end it to have more time to spend with her. The film follows Vampiro as he’s backstage directing at AAA’s Triplemania XXV pay-per-view event. He’s spinning plates: directing the cameras, timing the entrances, dealing with the inflated egos of various performers, and all the while he’s sneaking every second he can to call and text Dasha to ask her how her day has been. He’s a good father, the dad he never had himself. Ian’s childhood was especially troubled; he was sexually abused by a priest at a young age and quickly turned to drugs and rock and roll to soothe his pain. His sincere love of all things rock and roll and horror is what lead to the creation of Vampiro, his wrestling persona. The film also tells the bizarre story of how he ended up in wrestling and in Mexico (this tale somehow includes touring for a year and a half with Milli Vanilli).
As far as the documentary itself, Nail in the Coffin is well made and well intentioned. The decision to have Vampiro’s story take a backseat to Ian’s is wise. A sheeny wrestling doc is all well and good, but knowing the stories of the specific men and women behind the masks is vital. The film ends with a depressing stinger, that Ian has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and that he is still wrestling. This sport kills and something needs to change.