Review: Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro – Fantastic Fest 2019

In 1991, a 20-year-old, punk-rock-inspired Canadian made his debut in the Lucha Libre AAA ring. A decades-long career followed for Ian Hodgkinson, the “Canadian Vampire,” and Michael Paszt’s Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro chronicles the latter decade of this career, particularly honing in on his declining health and his relationship with his daughter.

Other threads come and go in the process of this exploration: the history and influence of Lucha Libre (this one could be a movie onto itself, and if such a movie exists please let me know; I will watch it), the differences between Lucha Libre and U.S. wrestling, the process of directing a show on the grand scale of a pay-per-view wrestling event, etc.

One or more of these threads is bound to compel a viewer to one extent or another. For me, what is most exciting is the behind the scenes process of the wrestling event, where egos flaring can drastically alter the course of a show and, more importantly, injure someone. Ian’s role in these proceedings can be fascinating at times. We see this engagement immediately, with Ian clutching a headset, barking orders as an interlude between matches unfolds for a live audience.

The contrast to this high pressure environment is Ian’s home life in Canada—he travels back and forth between Canada and Mexico to do his job. The Canadian segments show a different set of pressures, those involving his daughter and the medical ramifications of his wrestling career. The downside is these segments are presented in a more traditional documentary format, with semi-staged scenes, talking head interviews, and biographical context accompanied by archival footage.

The father-daughter relationship is the emotional core of the film, and it provides moments of insight into this wrestling world and Ian’s current conflicted place within it. But the way by which the film oscillates between telling this story and one about the impact of Luchador wrestling and its stars is uneven.

For fans of the sport, there will certainly be kernels throughout that make the film worth investing in. For the uninitiated, there is some perspective given to the many layers involved with the profession. But it doesn’t go deep enough in either direction of its narrative focuses—Ian’s personal life and the professional life. The breadth of topics within this subject matter compete for time with the character study, so neither come out the other end fully explored.

What does aid the character study is the access to Ian throughout his daughter’s life. Interview footage from multiple years is provided to us, and it does start to round out this narrative about the emotional complexities of this lifestyle. Armed with this extensive footage, Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is a worthwhile experience, if not a slightly lacking one.

 

Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro: B-

 

As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

 

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