Documentary Review: 'Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro'
Heartbreaking documentary on the toll of professional wrestling on life and family.
If you were like me in the early 2000’s you probably wrote off the wrestler, Vampiro, as another failed experiment during the death throes of World Championship Wrestling’s final days. His was a face among many chucked into a stable of wrestlers, referred to as The New Blood, and because the group was about 30 wrestlers strong, not many stood out. Vampiro would have only one memorable moment during that time, a program with wrestling legend Sting that ended with a savage but ultimately failing match that took place in a graveyard.
That, for me, was the beginning and end of Vampiro. Not being familiar with wrestling in Mexico, I had no idea that the man had arrived in WCW as a legend. World Championship Wrestling did absolutely nothing to fortify the legend of Vampiro. They made little to no effort to explain that in Mexico, Vampiro De Canadiense was wrestling royalty, a man on the level of their Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage, standing shoulder to shoulder with Mexico’s biggest stars.
For me, it wasn’t until seeing the new documentary, Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro, that I found out where Vampiro stands in wrestling history. Vampiro is a genuine legend, a man who learned Lucha Libre wrestling as a Canadian teenager who went to Mexico on a hope and a prayer. As Ian Hodgkinson, Vampiro’s real name, tells it in the documentary, he didn’t have the physique, he didn’t have the move set. All that Vampiro had was the look, the charisma and the willingness to take a beating while learning as he went along.
Learn he did, and within months of starting in Mexico, in the early 1990’s, he was rising up the card. But, Nail in the Coffin is not necessarily about Vampiro’s rise to legend status in the ring. Much of the runtime of the documentary is dedicated to Ian Hodgkinson’s life at home where he is raising a teenage daughter while commuting from Canada to Mexico to work as a producer and occasional wrestler for the Triple A promotion.
Vampiro’s daughter Dasha is the center of her father’s world. While in the midst of running one of the biggest wrestling shows of the year, we see Vampiro turn away from the action just to facetime with his daughter. It’s an unexpected portrait of a man who looks so unusual in the ring to be so wholesome and dedicated to family life. Naturally, this wasn’t always the case. Vampiro has many debauched stories of drugs and women to tell but the light in his eyes only fully comes on when he speaks of Dasha.
That’s what ultimately makes Nail in the Coffin a heartbreaker. Keep a close eye on Vampiro during interviews and you can see a desperately ill at ease man. The inability he has to relax, anywhere other than when selling injuries in the ring, is telling about where this documentary is headed. It’s a devastating ending and one given weight and emotional power by all that we see before it. The foreshadowing is deft and natural. Never exploitative or forced. If you look for it, you know what is coming but it doesn’t take away the fraught emotional impact.
Many will, of course, dismiss Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro as just a wrestling story. They will decry the sport as a low class con and ignore the aching, brilliant humanity on display. I feel sorry for those who don’t give a story like this one a chance because it has a power and emotionality that is on par with any great human story. Vampiro may not be a heroic figure by any means but he’s a sympathetic and fascinating person.
Give Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro a chance and I believe you will be as compelled and moved as any wrestling fan will surely be. It’s the story of a wrestler but it is also the story of father and a daughter and the strange curveballs of life that make such relationships so complicated and compelling. The documentary was shot off and on for most of Dasha’s life with snapshots from her youth through today as she graduates from high school. It’s a powerful portrayal of a life and one given even more weight by a final moment heartbreaker.
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is available on streaming rental services on Friday, September 4th.