Pro-wrestling is simultaneously idiotic and ridiculously fun. Much more than a sweaty display of homoeroticism (though it’s that, too), wrestling is an intricate, semi-improvised artistic display, where epic stories are told via physical action, and where – despite its reputation — athletes are risking their necks on a regular basis.
The key to eliciting a response in wrestling is personality and charisma; your ability to both communicate your intentions and feelings to a crowd, and to get them cheering and/or booing you appropriately. However, if you don’t have a lot of personality or charisma, you can supplement this reaction with a great GIMMICK. In pro-wrestling speak, which I’m going to minimize here, a gimmick is simply your character. Are you a tough talking, beer swilling, ass-kicking redneck? A yellow-garbed, flag-waving, leg-dropping superman? Or maybe you’re a turkey? Or a ninja turtle? Or a.. whatever THIS is?
Since imagination is at a premium in wrestling, often these gimmicks are ripped-off wholesale from popular culture, or whatever is making headlines at the time. Remember when Sgt. Slaughter renounced his pro-USA gimmick and started working for Iraq in the build-up to Desert Storm? Or when Robocop rescued Sting from an attack by the Four Horsemen? The crossover between pop-culture and pro-wrestling is a feeding frenzy, and horror films were certainly not immune. Hell, one of the most popular gimmicks of all time — The Undertaker — is basically just a wrestling zombie. But for this article we’re going to dig a little deeper, and look at a whole heaping handfull of horror-influnced gimmicks that have littered that often wacky world of professional wrestling.
10) Mankind (and others)
We’re going to start with a catch-all of those wrestlers who were generally horror-themed, like the aforementioned Undertaker, and his “big red machine” brother Kane, the wrestling vampire Gangrel, The Yeti (who was dressed as a giant mummy for some reason), Abdullah the Butcher, The Boogeyman and all of those other spooky gimmicks that were usually too vague to connect with a particular film property.
I did want to briefly mention Mick Foley’s Mankind character, which was massively popular in the late 90s and early 2000s WWE/F. While the gimmick eventually evolved into something very different (involving Foley putting a sock on his hand to attack his unluck opponents with a “mandible claw”), its origins were rather obviously meant to be influenced by Hannibal Lecter from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and even the mask was supposed to resemble the famous mouth-covering mask worn by Anthony Hopkins in the film. Since it moved away from these humble origins quickly, it’s a bit of a stretch. But, hey.. ten is a lot.
9) The Zombie
Perhaps unsurprisingly in an entertainment form as exaggerated as wrestling, there’s been a lot of crossover with the living dead. There’s even an entire film called PRO WRESTLERS VS ZOMBIES which features notable grapplers “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (RIP), “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Kurt Angle, Shane Douglas battling an endless horde of reanimated corpses. This is something that exists.
When the legendarily hardcore Extreme Championship Wrestling was resurrected (*sigh*) by the WWE for a new show on SyFy (yes, really), fans were concerned that the show would be a watered down, ridiculous version of the promotion they knew and loved. To both mock and quell these fears, the very first episode began with the introduction of indie wrestler Tim Roberts as THE ZOMBIE, a shambling, ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE-esque, wailing idiot who was immediately singapore-caned to death by ECW legend The Sandman. Fans were relieved to discover the extreme promotion they knew and loved was BACK.
And then it immediately became a watered-down, ridiculous version of ECW, just like they were scared of. Oops! Also, Tim Roberts then died in early 2015 at the too-young age of 38. So, this was just a bummer all around.
8) Doink the Clown
From John Wayne Gacy, to that scene from PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE with the clown doctors, to — of course — Stephen King’s IT, people have very legitimate reasons to suffer from Coulrophobia (A FEAR OF CLOWNS. DUH), and it was really only a matter of time until a pro-wrestler yoinked equal parts Tim Curry’s Pennywise and The Joker to create a new kind of wrestling gimmick. Matt Osborne first appeared as Doink back in 1992, and – despite his pedigree – was really more of an annoying dick than a true villain; throwing water at opponents and distracting them rather than, say, murdering them. Still, he was pretty entertaining for a while there, until Osbourne’s drug problems got the better of him and he was replaced in the gimmick by Steve Keirn, and eventually went full-on comedy (with Doink sometimes accompanied by an array of identically dressed dwarfs).
Oh, and Matt Osbourne eventually died in 2013 at the too-young age of 55. Because that’s pro-wrestling.
In case you’re starting to get pissed that this list is a sham, and that there’s no clear thoroughline between the evil clowns of cinema and Doink, then I’ll also mention there have been an array evil clown gimmicks since then — including the lucha-libre group Los Psycho Circus with members Monster Clown, Murder Clown, and Psycho Clown.
The Insane Clown Posse also have a rich and varied interest in the world of professional wrestling, if you care about that sort of thing. And you shouldn’t.
Let’s go to wikipedia for this one:
You’ve seen these “vengeful spirits” in any number of asian horror films; most notably RINGU and THE GRUDGE, and even going back as far as 1964’s incredible KAIDAN. Japanese independent wrestler Ryo Matsuri started using a ghost gimmick in the late 90s, wearing pale facepaint and dark circles around his eyes, as well as ripped and torn clothes to complete the SPOOOOOOOOKY look. Best of all, he coated his ring gear with flour (or some other dusty substance) to give the appearance of ashes constantly falling off him. Pretty cool!
The height of Onryo’s career was probably his appearance in the 2000 edition of the prestigious Super J-Cup tournament, where he managed to eliminate Curry Man (U.S. wrestler Christopher Daniels with a bowl of curry on his head. Seriousy), before being himself eliminated by Toryumon/Dragon Gate legend CIMA. But not before unceremoniously dropping CIMA on his head a few times.
Onryo wrestles to this day in his own spooky, horror-themed Japanese indie promotion called 666.
6) Mike Myers/The Boogeyman
Now we’re getting somewhere. While there have been a plethora of zombies and evil clowns and vengeful ghosts out there in the wrestlingverse, it’s SLASHER movies that have made the biggest impact on gimmickdom. Pretty much every major slasher villain has appeared in one form or another in a wrestling ring, though we’re mostly going to focus on larger promotions since we don’t want to see some 15-year-old in his backyard rocking a Pinhead gimmick. Dumb-ass kids. Anyway, just like in the movies, these generally-masked characters have had a multitude of wrestlers portray them, and not a one of them got permission ahead of time.
Mike Myers was brought to life in the squared circle initially (or, at least, notably) by the late, great “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert while teaming with his brother Doug as “Nightmare Freddie” (who we’ll get to in just a bit). Of course, it would be a bit on the nose to come out as Michael Myers, so Gilbert donned the Shatner mask as “The Boogeyman” instead. There. Completely legal.
Eddie Gilbert died in 1995 at the too-young age of 33, and since then there have been dozens of Mike Myers littering the North American and Japanese indie scenes, usually coming to the ring to John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN theme. Naturally. Need proof? Here’s a video of what appears to be a full grown man beating the hell out of a 12-year-old. So much for good taste!
5) Waylon Mercy
“Dangerous” Dan Spivey was a hulking 6’8 and had been wrestling professionally for about a decade before making his way to the WWF in 1995 for an abbreviated final run as Waylon Mercy, a soft-spoken, Southern man sporting a Hawaiian shirt, slicked-back black hair and a dagger tattooed on his forehead.
Introduced in a series of strange vignettes where Mercy would wax philosophic on topics ranging from picnics to worms, the character was actually ahead of its time – and didn’t quite fit into the cartoonish mid-90s era filled with wrestling garbagemen and hockey players. The gimmick was obviously based on the Max Cady character from CAPE FEAR, specifically the Robert De Niro version from the 1991 Martin Scorsese remake. Certainly not the first character you would expect to influence pro wrestling (especially four years after the fact), but here we are.
Oh, and Dan Spivey? Brother of television psychic Gary Spivey, who looks like this:
Somehow despite the array of ghouls, ghosts and murderers on this list, this is still the scariest thing by far.
4) Leatherface/Super Leather
Well, why not? Chainsaws are bad-ass. Especially when buzzing dangerously through a crowd of terrified Japanese fans. Like Mike Myers, it’s a gimmick that has been used by countless indie wrestlers, but was popularized by Michael “Mike” Kirchner, who found minor fame in the mid-80s WWF as military-themed wrestler Corporal Kirchner. I was a fan of Kirchner because he was one of the few WWF LJN rubber figures that I owned, which looked like this:
WOW! Anyway, Kirchner later slapped on a skin-mask and went to Japan’s W*ING promotion, which was best known for its elaborate wrestling death matches (ex: Barbed Wire Spider-Net death match, Scramble Fire Death Match, etc.). These matches piled on the bumps and blood, and Kirchner found great success.. until he severely injured a fan and ended up in jail for six months. While jailed, W*ING brought in a *second* Leatherface — played by Canadian wrestler Rick Patterson. Once Kirchner was out of jail, the two teamed together in a match where Kirchner went nutzo and legit almost killed one of the wrestlers.
Anyway, both Kirchner (as Super Leather) and Patterson continued to use the gimmick over the next decade or so, with the character notably appearing in the now-legendary IWA 1995 King of the Death Match tournament, which also featured American wrestlers Terry Funk, Terry Gordy, and Mick Foley.
In fact, Funk would later appear in the WWF in a variation on the gimmick, wearing overalls and a stocking over his head as Chainsaw Charlie. Apparently, the saw is family.
3) Nightmare Freddy
1-2 Freddy’s coming for you! Or, more like 1-2-3! Because, you see, Freddy apparently abandoned the whole child-murdering thing in the 80s to instead wrestle in Memphis as a GOOD GUY, played by Doug Gilbert — brother of later-Boogeyman Eddie Gilbert. Yes, he would come to the ring wearing a bladed glove and yes it was weird as shit. How weird? Just check out this music video!
Ridiculous? Absolutely. Oddly unnerving? Definitely.
You might think a gimmick like this might have a short shelf-life, but NOPE. Gilbert would eventually move on to Japan, where he would continue wrestling as Nightmare Freddy in W*ING and other assorted hardcore deathmatch promotions for years and years!
Ever wonder who would win in a battle between Leatherface and Freddy Krueger? Well, here’s your chance to find out.
Spoiler: It’s Freddy. Freddy wins.
Believe it or not, Chucky from CHILD’S PLAY has a bizarre and complex history in professional wrestling. In fact, here he is verbally sparring with Rick Steiner, who apparently can’t tell the difference between a human being and a puppet voiced by Brad Dourif.
But that was just a notably idiotic one-off. After all, in order to portray an evil wrestling doll, you would need a particularly diminutive wrestler, and the only place you’ll find a large collection of tiny wrestlers these days would be Mexico and.. oh..
Yes, that IS a grown man dressed as Chucky trying to murder a wrestling announcer.
Currently appearing for the AAA promotion, Chucky is played by the former Micro Misterioso, meaning that inside that mask is a 61-year-old man. Not having watched a lot of AAA in recent years, I can’t speak for his abilities, but I can say that watching him try to stab other mini-wrestlers on a playground is something that could never possibly get old.
1) Jason the Terrible
Jason Voorhees is a near-mindless killing machine with a seemingly endless appetite for the maiming and suffering of others, so it was a pretty natural transition to bring that into the squared circle. Compared to a lot of his slasher brethren, Jason’s gimmick could be copied quite easily.. Just grab a hockey mask and an axe, and you’re good to go.
There have been countless wrestlers who gave it a shot, but perhaps the most well-known is Karl Moffat, who had a successful run throughout the ’80s in Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling, bleeding at the drop of the hat while working with a series of future big names like Bret and Owen Hart and Chris Benoit.
Of course, a masked gimmick like this can travel easily, so there’s even a few more Jason The Terribles out there; including Tracy Smothers, who donned the mask for a time in the — you guessed it — Japanese W*ING promotion in the 90s. Occasionally you would even get one Jason squaring off against *another* Jason!
- [NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES] PODCAST #80: PLAGA ZOMBIE (1997) - July 25, 2016