Ricky Banderas popped up on my radar during his time with the short-lived Lucha Underground promotion where he wrestled as Mil Muertes. I was immediately taken by his intimidating presence and impressive physique. His character was a luchador riff on The Undertaker. He had casket matches, employed dark magic, and surrounded himself with death imagery.
With the recent release of PANDEMONIUM, I’ve been thinking a lot about wrestling and horror, times and places where they’ve intersected. I can think of few cooler examples than the Man of a Thousand Deaths. The above video depicts one of his resurrections. We’ve got some spooky necromancy images and a super-sexy Salina de la Renta foreshadowing of his debut in Major League Wrestling, where (as far as I know) he’s currently signed. Super-cool stuff.
December 15th will see the release of PANDEMONIUM, the novel I co-wrote with splatter legend Ryan Harding. This bloody tribute to Italian horror and professional wrestling is up for preorder right now. Horror and wrestling have been longtime bedfellows. From characters like The Undertaker and The Fiend to cameos by the likes of the murderous doll Chucky, wrestling has never shied away from incorporating elements from the horror genre into its worked combat spectacle. Below are some of my favorite moments where horror and professional wrestling crossed paths.
Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker (Badd Blood: In Your House, October 5, 1997): The first and best Hell in a Cell match saw the iconic Undertaker batter and bloody the arrogant Shawn Michaels as revenge for costing him the World Title at the previous Summerslam. Hell in a Cell matches have been overexposed in the twenty-three years since, and have certainly lost their horrific aura as a result, but this one felt like something dark, something that, at thirteen, I wasn’t supposed to be watching. Pretty boy Shawn Michaels bleeds buckets, falls from the top of the structure, and takes a sickening chair shot to the head. I knew it was all a work, but I was totally engrossed. Shawn was a heel at the time, but he’d been my favorite for so long, I took no joy in how he was brutalized, even though he seemingly deserved it. But what really made this a true marriage of horror and the sport was the finale in which we saw the debut of Kane, Undertaker’s storyline brother who’d allegedly burned to death in a fire during his and ‘Taker’s childhood. He came out dressed in red and black and a truly sinister-looking mask to tear off the door of the cage and drop the Undertaker with one move. It was the culmination of long-term storytelling at its finest, and I was left breathless.
Jim Ross’s 4-Part Interview with Mankind (Monday Night Raw, May-June, 1997): Whether you love wrestling or not, you have to appreciate the dedication of Mick Foley to his art. He imbues so much realism into every one of his characters that it’s often hard to tell what’s real and what’s fantasy. Most infamous for the hell he’s put his body through throughout his career, his method acting is not something to be overlooked. The peak of his character work came in a 4-part interview conducted by commentator Jim Ross in the late spring of 1997. Each segment was shown during the WWE’s (then WWF) weekly show Monday Night Raw and delved into Mick’s childhood as an outsider and aspiring wrestler. It really humanized a character who had, in the year since his debut, been portrayed as a one-dimensional monster. This deepening of him not only cemented his status as a wrestling legend, it also had some genuine horror moments. From the anecdote of eating worms to the finale in which he attacks Jim Ross, Mick Foley comes across as truly unhinged and frighteningly human.
The Lick of Death (Lucha Underground, 2014-2018): The promotion Lucha Underground which ran on the El Rey Network for four short years is fondly remembered by me for lots of reasons. Most prominently, I was taken by the character of Catrina. The valet for wrestler Mil Muertes (lucha libre’s answer to The Undertaker), her ongoing gimmick was to crawl across the ring after each match and lick the face of Mil’s vanquished opponent. I don’t recall if there were any lasting consequences to these licks, but they had a cool, ritualistic quality that made the whole aura surrounding her and Mil all the more menacing.
Chainsaw Charlie debuts (Monday Night Raw, December 29, 1997): From Leatherface to Farmer Vincent, use of a chainsaw is a tried and true horror trope. As a fan of both horror and wrestling, imagine my excitement when Cactus Jack (the aforementioned Mick Foley) reveals a box containing his mystery partner for the evening, a box which legend Terry Funk subsequently cuts his way out of with a chainsaw and emerges wearing a stocking cap over his face. It was something straight out of good old hillbilly horror, and it was great.
Firefly Funhouse (Monday Night Raw, 2019 – Present): WWE fans have been vocal over the years about their handling of Bray Wyatt, but one thing cannot be denied: the man has incredible presence and great range. It was finally put to good use with the introduction of the Firefly Funhouse, a mock kids TV show with a sinister side, punctuated by the arrival of The Fiend (also played by Wyatt and wearing a mask made by none other than the Tom Savini makeup effects school). With these dual characters and balance of the insidious with the outright gruesome, Wyatt not only established himself as an actor on par with Mick Foley, but provided something for the horror fans in the ranks of the wrestling audience.
What are some of your favorite crossovers between horror and wrestling?