Running Time: 75 mins
Director: Jesse Baget
Starring: Adam Huss, Jeremy Radin, Leyla Milani, Rey Misterio Sr.
When five young Americans cross the border into Mexico in search of locations for their independent pornographic movie they inevitably find themselves lost in the wild, untamed land of Latin America. Ignoring advice from a local stranger (played by Irwin Keyes) they happen upon a deserted ghost town and the legend of El Mascarado – a fabled Mexican wrestler who was experimented on to bring home Gold in the ’68 Olympic Games and subsequently turned into a deranged killer. But when the legend turns out to be not only true but masked, hulking and stalking them in the dusty Sergio Leone style streets the film-makers find themselves in the fight for their lives against someone who’s far from shy when it comes to grappling.
Wrestlemaniac is something of a quadruple threat as it appeals to Horror, Hixploitation, Mexiploitation and Lucha Libre fans. I am a self confessed fan of all of these genres and as such have to wonder how in the hell did it take seven years for me to get around to finally watching this. Granted, horror fans will probably get less out of it than fans of the other genres but it’s loyal and cleverly loyal to the codes and conventions of horror. Most conventional American horror movies adhere to a moral code which (when broken) sees the transgressor of said code suitably punished. A van of five young Americans on the look-out for a locale to shoot a porn movie is a severe moral breach and in the terms of horror code makes them acceptably available for terrorising, mutilating and ultimately death. It’s a long standing code, and one that some fifty plus years on from Psycho is one that is still as relevant as ever.
Narratively the film is hampered by its loyalty to genre codes and conventions as it operates as a straight forward chase-and-kill horror with splashes of Mexi and Lucha Libre thrown in for good measure. Though saying that there are a few nice little twists and turns along the way and one in particular that will get the Libre fans of their feet. Baget’s script is smart in that he knows how to create a genre movie, and how to make it not just work across multiple genres but have it feel simultaneously belonging to all these genres at the same time without it coming across as messy and disjointed. Behind the camera Baget is just as strong, the highly masculine eye of the lens leering and lingering in a way that’s reminiscent of the world according to Corman. His camera work is not without a mischievous sense of humour and it’s this humour that really endears the film to you. It’s evident in the writing and the shooting of the film that Baget is a huge horror fan, not to mention a huge wrestling fan but the real pleasure are the cheeky little set pieces littered throughout. No more pleasing or cheeky than Dallas’ (Leyla Milani) contortion tricks in an effort to evade El Mascarado (Misterio Sr.).
Adam Huss (as Alfonse) makes for an interesting lead. He’s the alpha jock of the movie and as such comes with suitable expectations of character but he is a flawed man. One with dreams of being “the next Scorsese” until he discovers there’s more money in filming people trading O faces because “who gives a fuck about Taxi Driver anymore?”. The use of Huss (by Baget) as almost a Marion Crane type of lead is interesting, fitting and helps demonstrate how little cinema has changed over the decades. At the end of the day what we found scary then we find scary now and even the backbone of Alfonse can not stand up to the might of the brawling stalker. Margaret Scarborough (Debbie), Catherine Wreford (Daisy) and Zack Bennett (Jimbo) do the best with what they’re given but by and large they’re little more than horses at a bullfight as they’re served up one after another as the legend of El Mascarado grows, his origins become clear, and his possible weakness apparent. Jeremy Radin (as Steve) is excellent. He’s a horror enthusiast, a wrestling nut and the closest thing to a physical representation on screen that the director and audience will get. His characterisation is somewhat refreshing as typically the huskier the physical form in cinema the more diluted the character but he is one of intelligence, humour and carries the movie very well. Leyla Milani gives a confident and attention grabbing performance as Dallas but for large parts of the film is forgotten or left to the side and though it’s wonderful to see her return to the screen when she finally does grace the lens she’s a relative stranger having been given little to do other than flash a bit of leg and go along with Alfonse’s plans. She is the leading lady of the piece in all respects but character development and it’s the lack of any real sense of
that allows the film to falter ever so slightly in the final third.
Surprisingly, Wrestlemaniac is an incredibly entertaining, thrilling and enjoyable. Rarely have I watched a film that has so much going for it. Granted there are a few issues about two dimensional representation but that, by and large, is a failing of all four genres in which the film is playing. If it was as refined as it is endearing then Wrestlemaniac would be the undisputed champion of genre cinema rather than a promising supporting bout on a heavily populated undercard.