A documentary about the life and career of Ian Hodgkinson, known as Vampiro in Mexican professional wrestling. Eye-opening and intimate, but too tragic at heart to sell the viewer the sport.
Ian Hodgkinson was a young hockey player in Canada who in the 1990s discovered Mexican wrestling. He jumped into that scene feet first, as El Vampiro Casanova Canadiense, moved to Mexico and learned both the sport and the language. Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is a documentary directed by Hodgkinson’s long-term friend Michael Paszt about Vampiro’s career, from his sensational arrival to his more recent role as fight producer. The film looks at his impact on lucha libre in Mexico; as well as the reverse, the impact of the sport on the man himself.
Billed as a sports documentary, Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is all about one celebrity athlete, rather than the sport of wrestling (or its Mexican variant) itself. This is not something for a novice wrestler to watch in order to learn techniques or rules; but if you have an interest in the culture of sport and the part it plays in social history, there is a huge amount of value in this film. It includes archive footage from interviews and fights at various times in the career of Vampiro, as well as his fans. The film is not a linear biography, mind you: Hodgkinson himself is thoroughly involved in the documentary, and the retrospective is broken up with a huge number of contemporary interviews with colleagues, friends, former rivals, and his teen daughter.
As remarkable as it sounds, Hodgkinson essentially commutes each week from Canada to Mexico, semi-retired from wrestling itself, but still utterly involved in the “industry” (the word he uses, rather than “sport”). He is in near-constant contact with his daughter, and the closeness of their relationship is touching to see. But for him, it is clearly painful: he loves his daughter, Dasha “more than God”, and knows his career is not healthy for either of them, but by now knows no other. He declares alternately that he both hates and loves wrestling: it initially gave him new focus after an early life of drugs, abuse, and petty crime, but the career has broken him many times over in return.
I admire resilience in people – who doesn’t? – and it is fascinating to look closely, as Nail in the Coffin does, at a public figure who presents as an embodiment of resilience. It is a very intimate film, perhaps enabled by the talent (or friendship) of the director, and so we get the chance to look underneath the surface and discover the anguish Hodgkinson goes through each time he gets in the ring, and each time he reluctantly draws away from it. Broken bones, arthritis, cancer, head injuries… none of it stops him, but perhaps it should.
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is clearly a film with a bias: the focus is on one man, and the documentary is made by his friend, after all. The bias is managed carefully though, with many sides of Hodgkinson being presented, and many different people contributing. Judging by the number of times we see a doctor declaring Hodgkinson should stop wrestling, it’s apparent that Paszt’s friendship is of a concerned nature. Paszt’s key filmmaking experience is as a producer, rather than director, and it shows in the choice of music and the professional quality of the film’s production. He has a knack as a director too, though: the film has no obvious, rigid structure, and neither is it over-dramatic, yet the story of Hodgkinson’s life and career flows like a play.
Overall, Nail in the Coffin presents an inspiring picture of a person who left home in order to change his life and indeed did so. To me, though, the turmoil in Vampiro’s every scene and Hodgkinson’s every decision mean that it is more sad than inspiring; perhaps presenting a tragic case study, as if one’s life can be changed for the better, but there may be a price to pay. There is somewhat too much blood and swearing for Nail in the Coffin to be a film for the family. But you might want to show it to your kids if they are thinking of going into extreme contact sports.