That Time The Undertaker Possessed a Guy

You can’t talk about horror and wrestling without talking about The Undertaker. Over his 30 years (!) in the business, I imagine he’s the guy most people think of when they consider moments where horror and wrestling intersect. He’s a 6’10, undead mortician with mannerisms borrowed from Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. He’s been “killed” more than once (including a truly ridiculous moment where his storyline brother Kane put him in a burning casket). Yet, he kept on coming back. While he admittedly evolved his gimmick to become more human as the business became more grounded, he still had a strange, dark aura around him. Indeed, until very recently, he never gave out of character interviews. Nowadays, you can’t get him to shut up. He’s even appeared on Joe Rogan.

One of my favorite Undertaker moments is in the utterly insane clip above where he straight up possesses a backstage interviewer in order to play mind games with his opponent Randy Orton. You can’t make this stuff up. Wrestling is often ridiculous and absurd, and I think fiction could benefit from trying a similar approach. We writers take ourselves too seriously oftentimes, and that’s fine, but also, if we’re crafting fantasy worlds where normal rules don’t apply, why not go full-on mad with it? Have your character possess someone. Why not?

With the release of my book PANDEMONIUM, I’ve been thinking a lot about times where wrestling and horror intersect. It’s a truly whacky book, full of comic-book violence and all sorts of wild characters. The Undertaker’s storied career has run the gamut of what can happen when horror tropes invade professional wrestling.

Hitman

I finished reading HITMAN, the autobiography of Bret Hart, earlier this week. Those who will tolerate my talking about wrestling know that he was my favorite worker. Even when he turned heel in 1997, I still secretly wanted him to win. I recognized even then (I was 13) that the man was an artist. He knew how to tell stories. He had a way with words. His matches looked like real fights.

HITMAN came out in 2007 or 2008, but I put off reading it due to its length. Plus, I wasn’t really into wrestling at the time. I cycled out of it, going all in on musical endeavors from 2003 to 2010. I didn’t start watching wrestling again until 2015, and a lot of it started with revisiting some of Bret’s promos. Some critics say he was never a good talker, but I don’t know; he had a down-to-earth, working-class character that I always vibed with, and still do.

The book, at 546 pages, is quite a doorstop, and it spans his life from a childhood growing up with eleven siblings and a wrestling promoter father to the unceremonious end of his career after a botched kick to the head from Goldberg.

I’ve talked at length with Kelby Losack and J. David Osborne about spoilers and that we kinda, not so secretly, love them. In a memoir of a wrestler whose career I’ve followed, spoilers were inevitable. I knew how it would all end. I knew his little brother Owen would die in a terrible in-ring stunt. I knew all about the Montreal Screwjob. I knew about the way Bret’s career would end.

And yet, I couldn’t stop reading. I honestly believe that a truly good artist could have the surprises in their work ruined without adversely affecting the enjoyment of the work.

HITMAN is such a book. Bret writes with the same down-to-earth, working-class sensibilities he brought to his wrestling persona. He writes with an honesty I long to see in everything I read.

I know that every time I talk about wrestling I alienate my audience, but seriously, if you want a well-written, heartbreaking and insightful book, you could do a hell of a lot worse than HITMAN.

Fan Service is Sometimes OK

My partner and I finished watching the second season of THE MANDALORIAN last night. I really enjoyed it, aside from some filler episodes, and it got me thinking about the idea of fan service.

Fan service is seen as a derogatory term among the more cynical among us. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it can be detrimental. WWE frequently relies on stars of years past in order to get a ratings bump, and it often comes at the expense of newer talent. So many horror titles released these days often read exactly like something written in the 80s (a time many consider to be the genre’s boom). Both cases leave new and interesting avenues unexplored.

What’s interesting about THE MANDALORIAN is that it treats fan service and nostalgia as rewards or Easter eggs. Creators Jon Favreau and Dave Piloni do a great job of forging new ground with an already compelling narrative, giving longtime fans rewards for sticking around, but without alienating newer audiences.

This is something all writers can consider if they hope to build a readership from the ground up. I reference my book MANIA in nearly everything else I’ve done. Since writing PANDEMONIUM, I’ve started finding ways to incorporate a wrestling angle into each story. That’s fun, but I can always find more ways to reward longtime readers without compromising new storylines or saddling myself with the burden of writing unnecessary sequels.

It’s been on my mind a lot lately. Part of what I (and a good portion of my readership) enjoy about my work is my unwillingness to be pigeonholed. Interesting, but how do I work within those parameters to broaden my audience and connect with readers old and new?

I have a few ideas, but I’d love to hear from you.

Infected

Sick with a viral infection, so I called out of work. I’m a total wuss when it comes to illness. No respiratory issues, so I don’t think it’s COVID.

COVID does have a mutated strain, so I have read. That’s frightening and also exhausting.

I tried out my Twitch channel yesterday. Had fun, but definitely need to do more writerly things on there to set myself apart from all the gamers, but also to not be too writerly as to damn myself to a niche. Hoping to do a stream every Monday, so be sure to subscribe.

This is going to be a short one today, because I feel like crap, but I’ll leave you with this clip of “Macho Man” Randy Savage wrestling the Dynamite Kid. Two great workers of decades past, putting on a clinic.

5 Excellent Horror-Themed Wrestling Moments

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

Getting Over

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If you know me personally, or if you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m a huge wrestling fan. I don’t get to watch it as much as I’d like these days, but I still follow AEW, NWA, and WWE pretty closely. Mostly, I listen to podcasts and watch highlights. I admire the art so much as a form of storytelling. The character work, when done right, can be even more effective and believable than what we see in movies, on TV, or inside a book.

In the business, there’s a term, “getting over,” which refers to how much a wrestler connects to the audience. Like anything, it’s not an exact science figuring out how to connect. It usually comes from practice, trial and error, and an uncanny ability for listening.

This brings me to something that happened four days ago. I saw wrestler Scott Steiner (aka Big Poppa Pump, aka Big Bad Booty Daddy, aka the genetic freak, aka White Thunder, aka the mathematician) was trending on Twitter. He was a favorite of mine when growing up. He was the type of guy you loved to hate: arrogant, unhinged, and VERY talented in the ring.

He’s also the author of the greatest wrestling promo ever spoken, the literary merit of which is indisputable.

Listen to that. Seriously. Art.

He also owns a Shoney’s. For the uninitiated, Shoney’s is a buffet-style restaurant located mostly in the Southern United States. Its food is about what you’d expect, but due to Steiner’s celebrity status and the unveiling of that glorious billboard, he was trending on Twitter.

Mostly, I tweet about books. Sometimes, I use humor. Sometimes, I shill for myself. Usually, I couldn’t care less about what’s trending, but when I saw a favorite wrestler from the glory days of the sport on the sidebar, I had to take a look. Without a second thought, tweeted that photo along with the following text: “The billboard for the Shoney’s owned by wrestler and esteemed mathematician Scott Steiner. I know where I’m going after this pandemic ends.”

That was it. No hashtags. Didn’t ‘@’ anyone.

And yet…

As of this writing, it has been ‘liked’ 591 times, retweeted 139 times, and it’s inspired 30 replies.

I never get that kind of traction.

Will it translate into book sales? Doubtful. Is it a funny observation? Absolutely.

So, yeah, I ‘got over’ on Twitter this week. Pretty dope.

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No, Antonio, the Novel is Not Dead

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Something called an Antonio García Martínez unleashed a tweetstorm which basically boiled down to three things:

  1. The novel is dead
  2. Short stories are dead
  3. People with less than 600 followers aren’t allowed to have opinions.

I’m not taking his words out of context. I didn’t even want to write about this, because I don’t want to give the jerk the attention. But you know what? If people like him, who I honestly hadn’t even heard of before today, can breathe hot air on Twitter, I can talk some shit here.

It’s MY blog, bitch!

Let’s take a look at a few things. First, what the fuck is an Antonio García Martínez?

  1. Not a novelist. He wrote a book called Chaos Monkeys, which as far as I can tell, is a memoir about his life in the tech industry. He calls it an exposé. Not a novel.
  2.  Not a short story writer. Checks his biography on his website. Nope, not a short story writer.
  3.  He doesn’t know how opinions work. Everyone has them, regardless of how many Twitter followers they have. If he’s suggesting people with less than 600 followers shouldn’t voice their opinion, that’s some elitist bullshit.

So, are novels still being written? Don’t check Amazon or Wikipedia, I’ll save you the trouble. The answer is yes. I suppose a book written doesn’t necessarily have life, so maybe all these novels aren’t being read (or consumed).

Nope! People are still reading. Those who aren’t reading are listening to audiobooks, or their watching good TV, and guess what, Antonío, good TV shows are laid out like novels, chapters, backstory, theme and all.

What about short stories? Still being written? Yup. Still being read? Not a whole lot, admittedly, but there sure are a lot of fiction podcasts out there. Guess what their content is. You guessed it: short stories.

Oh, and, in case anyone’s counting, I have 604 Twitter followers, but I had opinions when I only had 599, and when Twitter wasn’t even a thing.

Listen here, chump, just because no one bought whatever shitty fiction you undoubtedly tried to sell doesn’t mean the art form is dead. It means you suck.