5 Ways Horror In Pro Wrestling Is A Goofy, But Perfect Marriage
Schlocky storylines, over-the-top climaxes, tropey characters overacting, crazy costumes and effects, variable levels of production quality, and long autograph lines for niche-level stars at comic book conventions. Am I talking about horror movies or professional wrestling?
Throughout the years, pro wrestling has dipped its hammertoe into the horror pool several times, and not just the time when Chucky cut a promo on Rick Steiner.
Sometimes it succeeds in provoking shocking titillation or providing stakes using buckets of blood. Other times … well ...
The Undertaker And Kane
First off, the Undertaker gimmick should NOT have worked as well as it did. When Mark Calaway first donned the black hat and duster in 1990, there was no way he could have predicted that he’d be that persona for the next 30 years. In fact, the Undertaker character is arguably the best, most enduring pro wrestling character ever created. It’s especially impressive since The Undertaker was created by the same guy who came up with a wrestler who thinks he’s a boat.
What certainly helped the Undertaker character thrive over the years was the continual reinvention over the past three decades. The Undertaker went from being a Western zombie mortician to the Phantom of the Opera to a cult leader to a biker to an MMA warlock and back again.
But you can’t get to be The Undertaker without going through monster-of-the-month feuds against the schlocky likes of racist caricatures, naked giants that never heard of Manscaped, and even your own mirror image … sort of. However, if you’re talkin’ Taker, you’re eventually going to chat about his brother Kane.
Now Kane is the Undertaker’s younger brother who survived a fire that Lil’ Taker started, killing their parents and disfiguring him. Decades later, he was released/escaped a mental institution to get revenge on The Undertaker through the confines of professional wrestling for some reason. Kane was essentially WWE’s Freddy Krueger, but instead of killing you in your dreams, he’d kill you in theatrical combat, and instead of being an alleged pedophile, he was an alleged necrophiliac.
Taker and Kane would feud, make up, feud again, and make up again, and it would later turn out that Kane’s disfigurement was psychological because the man behind Kane’s mask, Glenn Jacobs, wasn’t really a burn victim. If you want Kane’s whole deal, WWE summarized his story pretty well during Kane’s anger management therapy:
So yeah, Kane and The Undertaker went through a lot of goofy stuff, both in stories/matches together and apart. However, while the two of them were able to showcase some great moves and personality later in their respective careers, their initial years in WWE had them both portray silent, relentless monsters ala Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. While those matches aren’t the five-star grapplefests that modern wrestling fans enjoy, they brought a sense of desperation and horror in their opponents in a “How can I stop this guy?” way, much like the victims in slasher films. WWE also did course-correction here and there, like when Kane originally did matches under a harsh red light, and then the powers-that-be wisened up to stop.
However, even though both are retired now, it doesn’t mean they don’t cheesily scare people anymore. The Undertaker just resurrected in the form of a choose-your-own-adventure style Netflix movie, Escape the Undertaker. Meanwhile, Kane is terrorizing the local government of Knox County, Tennessee as its mayor.
For many years in the past, wrestling fans would be treated to a special spooky October wrestling show dubbed “Halloween Havoc.” Created by World Championship Wrestling, Halloween Havoc would be the standard wrestling pay-per-view with high profile matches, but would usually include some scary stipulations or horrific specialty matches thrown in for the season.
The very first Halloween Havoc in 1989 featured Sting and Ric Flair teaming up to face The Great Muta and Terry Funk in an electrified Thunderdome, which was a closed-off cage with weapons attached to the cage’s lid along with “electrified wires” to shock participants. Halloween Havoc 1991 saw the first (and last) Chamber of Horrors match, which featured two teams fighting it out in a cage that contained an electric chair (excuse me, “Chair of Torture”) that sparked and fried Abdullah the Butcher with fireworks.
For 1992’s Halloween Havoc, there was “Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal,” in which Sting had to spin a giant buzzsaw to see what crazy match he’d have against Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The promotional video had a bar full of misfits chanting “Spin the wheel, make the deal!” with eye lasers and everything:
So would they fight in a death match? In a cage? With barbed wire? Nope. The wheel ended up landing on a coal miner’s glove match. A coal miner’s glove match is just a wrestling match that gives the wrestlers the option of climbing up a pole to get a chain-wrapped glove to hit their opponent.
Based on all the other options on the wheel, this was like advertising the possibility of getting a gift certificate to Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s Steakhouse but ending up getting a coupon for Jack-in-the-Box fries instead. Still, Jake got bit in the face by his own cobra so that’s pretty scary.
While the Halloween Havoc pay-per-view remained dormant for 20 years, it rose from its grave and became a new annual NXT special that hopefully will provide cheeky horror fun for fans for years to come.
The Dungeon Of Doom
Before we all knew better, one of the goodest good guys in the goodest parts of the good world was Hulk Hogan, and World Championship Wrestling thought that if you’re going to have wrestling’s goodest good guy, you’re going to need some monsters for him to fight, right? Thus, WCW decided to dust off 1980s WWF booking and create a stable of villains for the Hulkster to fight against, known collectively as The Dungeon of Doom.
From a horror/monster movie perspective, Hogan was a handlebar mustachioed Godzilla, and the Dungeon of Doom were all the monsters he’d have to fight in Destroy All Monsters or Godzilla: Final Wars. Only, it played out more like Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein.
“The Taskmaster” Kevin Sullivan led the DoD under the guidance of The Master, which was veteran wrestler Curtis Iaukea covered with pancake mix. The Master yelled a lot about how Hogan was the “Great White Bengal Tiger” that the Dungeon was destined to destroy. Referring to Hogan as “Great White” anything feels like some odd real-life foreshadowing.
The other main cast was a bunch of wrestlers who Hogan worked with during his glorious 1980s WWF days under different guises, along with some other monsterly men. There was his ol’ pal, Brutus Beefcake as the zebra-weirdo Zodiac and John Tenta, a.k.a. Earthquake/Avalanche as The Shark …
The Ugandan Giant and racist stereotype Kamala …
And … Well, all of these guys.
Basically, Hogan and his friends, Randy Savage and Sting, would defend Hulkamania, Macho Madness, and Stinger Seasonal Affective Disorder against the evil forces of the Dungeon. They were a legit threat, too. Look at how scared Hulk was when he couldn’t feel the presence of Hulkamaniacs in the Dungeon Dimension, remarking on how the smoky water in the fountain was “not hot!”
While the goofy Dungeon of Doom would eventually succumb to Hulkamania, their peak was at Halloween Havoc 1995. The Giant lost a monster truck fight to Hogan, survived a fall off the top of Cobo Hall, won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship from Hogan later in the night, then hug-crushed Hogan with the Yeti, who, yes, looks more like a 7-foot-tall mummy than a sasquatch and, yes, is pronounced “YET-TAY” for reasons only Tony Schiavone knows:
It's one of the most bizarre pay-per-view endings in wrestling history, which considering pro wrestling history is not something said lightly.
Bray Wyatt/The Fiend
Even the more jaded fans of WWE respected the creativity of Windham Rotunda, the man behind the wrestler known as Bray Wyatt. Rotunda not only got himself over with one horror-based character, but with two scary gimmicks within the last decade. This is not only impressive on its own merit because he had to overcome the general public knowing him as “Husky Harris,” a name that the WWE creative team gave him because they couldn’t copyright “Overweight Otto,” “Flabby Franklin,” and “Your Body Type Is The Only Descriptor We Can Think Of Peterson.”
Rotunda, along with supportive members of WWE creative, helped develop Bray Wyatt, a Southern cult leader that was inspired by Robert DeNiro’s portrayal of Max Cady in the movie Cape Fear. The Wyatt Family would terrorize the WWE locker room with their size, strength, beards, and sheep masks.
With time, things cooled off, and questionable booking/ideas led to another repackage for Rotunda. Bray Wyatt would no longer be a disturbing Southern cult leader for tall beardos. He would become a demented children’s show host for kids and kids-at-heart that had disturbing puppet friends to teach children lessons. Picture if Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was more Pee-Wee’d Your Pantshouse.
During these vignettes, the cheerful Wyatt would refer to an alternative persona known as The Fiend, who would be the primary violent participant in Wyatt’s matches.
Rotunda had The Fiend’s clownish demonic mask made by horror icon/make-up artist Tom Savini. Then, to further cement that the old Bray Wyatt was dead, he had his trademark lantern look like the severed head of his former cult leader gimmick.
The Fiend had a great debut at SummerSlam 2019, where fans were dumbstruck until they cheered “THAT WAS AWESOME!” after the bout. It not only felt a refreshing take in modern-day WWE, but sales for shirts, toys, masks, cuce boots, and other merch featuring The Fiend sold like hotcakes.
While having a fearsome character in pro wrestling is great, but having him wrestle under a red light during matches sucks because most fans don’t want to watch wrestling under a Hawaiian Punch, Virtual Boy, or other dated reference lenses. It didn’t work with Kane’s character 20 years ago, so there’s no reason why it could have worked now.
Also, while it is important for the scary wrestler to instill fear, the point is to cheer for the good guy. Babyface wrestlers look silly if they appear too scared to wrestle, especially when their opponent is wielding a giant Harley Quinn hammer.
Essentially, The Fiend suffered because WWE didn’t course-correct on some things and didn’t commit to others. Basically, they did the opposite moves that steered Undertaker and Kane to long-lasting success. After some odd starts and stops with his push, like being lit on fire, then being okay again but melty, Rotunda was let go by WWE in 2021.
Well … Everything Else
There is so much crossover between horror and pro wrestling that it could take hundreds of Cracked articles to go through it all. I didn’t get into details about other WWE horror gimmicks such as Finn Balor’s Demon, Dexter Lumis, and Mankind, among others.
I didn’t even get to how inferno matches, barbed wire matches, exploding ring matches, and other specialty matches are meant to build suspense then reward the audience with violent shock and awe like in slashers and horror flicks. Many local and foreign wrestling companies had wrestlers break every copyright law to grapple as Jason, Leatherface, and Freddy Krueger. Hell, just Google “wrestlers in horror movies” and you’ll have a month-long marathon to enjoy.
Ever stop to wonder why there is so much horror in pro wrestling and pro wrestling in horror?
As I alluded to in the intro, horror and pro wrestling have a lot in common. Both are considered lowbrow by the mainstream. Even the most well-made and critically lauded horror movies are typically snubbed at the Oscars, and pro wrestling has never been nominated for any Emmy award in spite of its longevity on television. That said, the niche fan bases that are into it are REALLY into it, loving it, warts and all. They also go out of their way to support the stuff they like, big productions and small indies, with their money and social media. That’s why both wrestling and horror are going to last, both together and separately.
Professional wrestling and horror are a divorced couple that schedules biweekly sex appointments because even though they cannot seem to stay together long-term, goddamn it, when it’s good, it’s so good. Even when it gets goofy.
Top Image: WWE