When it comes to the world of professional wrestling, most wrestling fans derive as much pleasure watching people talk about wrestling as they do watching wrestling itself, and ever since Paul Jay released his controversial Brett the Hitman Hart documentary, Wrestling with Shadows, we’ve seen a number of excellent behind-the-scenes wrestling-themed documentaries made over the years.
For decades, pro wrestling has had its share of drama, both inside and outside of the ring and for devoted fans, wrestling documentaries have provided a candid and deeply personal look at the lives of some of the world’s most famous wrestlers. Many of these documentaries have been produced by the WWE of course, so obviously there’s a certain amount of bias that goes into making them— but every so often, a documentary produced outside of the WWE is released, and provides raw insight into the politics and backstage mechanics that often tear apart the lives of those involved. And usually, the best of these docs go out of their way to give viewers a different perspective on important events in wrestling’s history that fans would otherwise never see. Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro, the directorial debut from Michael Paszt about Richard Ian Hodgkinson, is one of those films.
Ian Richard Hodgkinson is a name most people won’t recognize but die-hard fans who’ve followed professional wrestling over the years will know who he is. Everyone else will know him as Vampiro or the Canadian Vampire, a living legend in Lucha Libre (Mexico’s version of the popular sport) and one of WCW’s most underrated stars. Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro follows his career from its beginnings in 1991, when the then 20-year-old, punk-rock Canadian made his debut, to his current job, working as a talent director for Lucha Libre AAA. For the most part, the documentary chronicles the latter part of this career, concentrating on his relationship with his daughter and his declining physical health.
Like most wrestling documentaries, the story it tells is at times a dark one— Nail in the Coffin doesn’t shy away from the realities of injuries, painkillers, and recreational drug use, nor the wrestler’s tragic past growing up. Vampiro has broken his neck and his back several times as well as suffered around twenty-seven concussions in his lifetime. He has a history of substance abuse and was recently diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and when he was younger he was molested as a teenager which led him down a path of organized crime working for the Montreal mafia before landing a gig as a bodyguard for Milli Vanilli. From there, he risked everything and heading to Mexico where he became a star before signing a lucrative dollar contract with the WCW (the title of the film is actually named after his WCW finishing move). That’s when he suffered a severe neck injury that sidelined him for three years and lost him millions of dollars.
Given its short running time, it’s impressive how much ground Michael Paszt covers. Other topics introduced include the influence of Lucha Libre and the differences between Mexican and U.S. wrestling as well as the process of directing a televised broadcast and the unexpected problems that can arise due to the backstage bickering between the wrestlers which can drastically alter the course of a show. It’s also interesting how Hodkinson claims he was never trained to be a professional wrestler and admits that it was his good looks and charisma that won over the crowd, particularly the female audience who helped him become a legend in Mexico.
Despite being the legendary wrestler who helped popularize Mexican Lucha Libre in the United States, what makes Nail in the Coffin different than most wrestling documentaries is how it places a larger focus on the relationship between Hodgkinson and his teenage daughter Dasha. Nail in the Coffin is first and foremost a documentary about a father— it just so happens to be a professional wrestler. Hodkinson repeats several times throughout the doc that he hates wrestling, and although those statements are likely not true, it does highlight that even when the shit hits the fan, he powers through the hard times in order to provide for his family. The documentary never makes you forget that Hodgkinson is first and above all, a father who constantly puts his daughter first. The father-daughter relationship is the emotional core of the film, and without it, Nail in the Coffin would be a lesser film.
Michael Paszt’s documentary could have made a better two-part series on a streaming service like Netflix given that there is so much ground to cover and not enough time to explore every topic addressed. For fans of the sport, there is certainly enough behind the scenes footage to pique their interest, but I also couldn’t help but wish we saw more of Vampiro’s most famous wrestling matches including his time working with WCW. Still, there is plenty of extensive footage to make Nail in the Coffin worth seeing, and despite the short running time, the film manages to be a fascinating character study that every wrestling fan should see.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 16, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Festival du Nouveau Cinema.