Review: NAIL IN THE COFFIN: THE FALL AND RISE OF VAMPIRO Tells a Touching Family Story
Ian Hodgkinson is a well known Canadian wrestler, though he did not ply his trade here in the Great White North. No, Hodgkinson sought fame in the warmer climate of Mexico, bursting onto the Lucha wrestling scene at the beginning of the 90s in Mexico City. Women loved him! Men wanted to be him! He rose to fame under the guise of Vampiro, the Vampiro Canadiense.
Fortune and fame followed Hodgkinson and his bad boy persona, spurred on by popular 90s musical acts. He would eventually marry and have a daughter, Dasha. Seeking a better life for her he moved Dasha from Mexico City and who knows how many millions of people to the remote Canadian city of Thunder Bay, and it’s population of around 100,000.
But Hodgkinson is a wrestler for life. A committed member of the Lucha Libre AAA familia, he flies to Mexico City every weekend to work as a talent director, promoter and producer. For two years director Michael Paszt followed Vampiro back and forth between Canada and Mexico, to help us understand what motivates Vampiro and the lengths he goes through to provide for his daughter.
Archival footage takes us back to those early years, when Vampiro first appeared in 1991. Because of Vampiro’s success there was a bounty of information to pull from. Editor Danny Palmer, who recently worked with Jason Eisener on Vice’s Darkside of the Ring, helped Paszt cut through his own footage and those decades of archival footage.
Hodgkinson is a wrestler and a father first. He also has a Mexican paranormal TV show, he’s a cook, he’s got a punk rock band -- that’s him playing in the music video at the end of the doc with Mexican punk band The Garigoles -- and he’s a motivational speaker. Michael does not touch on these other things in the doc. but if you know the celebrity, you know what else he is doing. But like a Lucha version of Michael Corleone, wrestling kept pulling Hodgkinson back in.
It comes across as a love/hate relationship with the sport. Every weekend he tries to run the best show that he can but it means dealing with roid-rage and jacked up egos. But you see the passion he has for putting on a good show. You also see what this career has done to him physically. His body racked with arthritis there are days when he can barely move. It has taken its toll and his doctor back in Thunder Bay can only express his concern to Hodgkinson, about how far he is still willing to go to provide for his child.
His love for Dasha is clear as day. Thankfully, she looks like her mom. She is also insightful and could be wise beyond her years. He is raising a woman but she is also very much a teenager. There is one scene where the two are sitting in a booth having a meal together. He is bestowing wisdom upon her, handed down from another wrestling legend, Roddy Piper, and her only response to the moment is to suggest that he should get dreads again. The struggle is real, it is the nutshell of their relationship, of any father’s relationship with his daughter.
And then, I cried.
I don’t think It wasn’t a particular moment, rather a culmination of the footage of Hodgkinson doting on his daughter for the better part of an hour. Maybe it was the constant expression of his love for Dasha? The way she constantly blew his mind? The pride he felt for her, even at a young age, the wonder he felt about her, over something so simple as having her own purse and buying her own treats? Was it because it is something that I do not have? That I felt a sudden emptiness inside me? That I was missing something to have pride in, to want to protect, to do as much as he does for Dasha so that she will succeed and have every opportunity open to her?
But I get the appeal of Hodgkinson’s story to Paszt. It appeals not just to his own affection for Lucha wrestling and Mexico. With two daughters of his own I can see how the story of Vampiro speaks to him on that personal level also. According to Paszt, Nail in the Coffin now holds the distinction of being the only film at Morbido to make the audience cry. So I’m not the only one!
Paszt bookends his doc with emotional blues folk from Finnish singer-songwriter Mirel Wanger. He ends his doc with her cover of "I Wanna Be Sedated" by The Ramones, but he starts it with her song "To Be The One", sung achingly against a backdrop of footage of Vampiro, broken and beaten on the wrestling floor. It immediately sets the mood, immediately telling its audience, ‘This is not your regular wrestling documentary’.
O my little one
This is how it's done
You’ll play your part
And I’ll play mine
But your love drags me down
O my little one
Your bruises will fade
And your bones didn’t break
But your love drags me down
Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro is not a story about wrestling. Wrestling is merely the backdrop to the overall theme of family and the story of a father's love for his daughter. There is the Lucha familia at AAA, the familia that has provided a way of life to Vampiro so that he, as Ian Hodgkinson, may care and provide for Dasha. Dasha is the only family that Hodgkinson has been willing to move heaven and earth for. As much as his choices and lifestyle has taken its toll on him, as wracked with pain and hobbled as he may be, he will keep on wrestling, for her, for his daughter, metaphorically and literally.
Review originally published during the Morbido Film Festival in November 2019. The film will open in limited theaters on Friday, September 4, and then on a variety of On Demand and Digital platforms on Tuesday, Sepember 8, 2020. The Blu-ray can also be pre-ordered.