Welcome back fiends and ghouls! Let me lay something on ya; you cats are luckier than a vampire locked in a blood bank, because this week I’m joined by fellow Team Retroist member diabolical Dollar Dave! If you are unfamiliar with double D’s work here at the Retroist you really owe it to yourself to rectify that situation with the utmost of haste! Dave provides some of the most detailed, in-depth articles on the wacky world of pro-rasslin’s glory days that you could ever hope to read! So, now that the introductions are out of the way, let’s let Dollar Dave whisk us away to a strange land where ghosts and pile drivers combine in the pale light of the midnight moon:
The wrestling business at its core is just media. Some wrestling characters are based in realism, while others are more abstract. One of the things I love about the business is that nothing is off limits. Over the years, there have been cowboys, cross-dressers, rock, movie, and porn stars, superheroes, and of course, horror inspired wrestlers. Tonight on a special Saturday Night Frights, we are going to look at some of the best, and yes, the worst, terrifying (or unintentionally funny) wrestling gimmicks ever.
The most iconic horror themed character ever is the Undertaker. The “Dead Man” showed up on WWF television in 1990, after a few forgettable years in WCCW and WCW. He was originally billed as Kane the Undertaker, though the name Kane was soon dropped (but saved for a later date). Undertaker was a macabre, sinister undead entity. Over the years, he developed into the “Lord of Darkness”, and later a dark priest of some kind. “The Phenom” summons lightning and fog, and controls the house lights. Nearly impervious to pain, he defeated Hulk Hogan for his first of 7 world championships in 1991. He was so successful in fact, that the company created more characters to expand his world.
Paul Bearer arrived on the scene in early 1991 when he took over the management of Undertaker from Brother Love. He had already worked in WCCW and the USWA as Percy Pringle III for over a decade when he joined the WWF. An actual mortician, Bill Moody’s white faced and shrill voiced Paul Bearer became an icon for over 2 decades, one of the most famed wrestling managers ever. Holder of the sacred Urn that controlled Undertaker, father of Kane, and manager of Mankind, he was the glue that held Undertaker’s universe together. He passed away in 2013 and was inducted into the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame.
Glen Jacobs had many bad gimmicks until he was repackaged as Kane (hey look they found a use for that name), and introduced by Paul Bearer in 1997. Allegedly burned as child by Undertaker in a fire that killed their parents, the masked Kane was coming for vengeance. The pair has fought as enemies and tag team partners over the years as Kane’s gimmick evolved. First masked, then unmasked, and back again, the “Devil’s Favorite Demon” is a 3 time world champ. Through “hellfire and brimstone” he comes, now a master of the same fire that burned him. It was later found he was the bastard son of Paul Bearer and Undertaker’s mother, and he once impregnated Lita, but she miscarried his demon seed. Also a horror film star, Kane was a sadistic killer with a hook and chain in “See No Evil”.
Mankind was introduced in 1996. A sophisticated idea by Mick Foley, he was an improvement over the original “Mason the Mutilator” concept. He rocked to symphonic music, screaming “Mommy!” while playing with rats and pulling out his own hair during promos. While he advanced the character away from its roots quickly, for about 2 years, he was a very fitting piece of Undertaker’s universe.
The short lived gimmick of The Executioner had a few brief appearances in 1996 alongside Mankind and Paul Bearer. He was in actuality, the former Freebird, Terry Gordy. Wielding a plastic axe, he helped defeat the Undertaker in a Buried Alive match, before being decimated by him at WWF: In Your House 12. Gordy left soon after and retired. He died from a heart attack in 2001.
WCW’s Dungeon of Doom faction was a stable with a horror and mystic basis. This group was an expansion of Three Faces of Fear, which didn’t work either. Led by the mystical Taskmaster (Kevin Sullivan), there were a mass of followers over its 3 years whose sole purpose was to destroy Hulkamania. Kamala the Ugandan Giant, The Zodiac (Ed Leslie), Meng, Lex Luger, Big Van Vader, and Loch Ness (Martin “Giant Haystacks” Huane) were just a few of its many, many members.
The Swedish Angel (Phil Olafsson) wrestled in the 1930s and 40s. His character was that of a simple mindless animal or caveman type who was large and imposing. He was often a foil to Maurice Tillet’s French Angel character. Like Tillet and Andre the Giant, he suffered from acromegaly (a growth disorder which causes disfigurement). He was somewhat of an attraction and was the Kansas City Heavyweight Champ in 1943. He also appeared in Mighty Joe Young, but should not be confused with….
Tor Johnson wrestled as King Kong and The Swedish Super Angel. In wrestling, he was pretty much the same character as Olafsson. He was big, sinister, dark, and mysterious. He appeared in some 30 films, mostly uncredited, until his famed appearances in the Ed Wood films. His face was used by Don Post as a mold of one of the best-selling Halloween masks of all time. His cult film status actually overshadows a pretty solid wrestling career.
Gangrel (David Heath) became a mid-level star in the WWF in the late 1990’s. Based on a clan from Vampire: The Masquerade; the character would rise through a flaming circle, with ominous music, and a goblet of “blood”. Gangrel drank the “blood” at ringside and spit it into the air. Along with The Brood (Edge and Christian), he would often give opponents a “bloodbath” after the house lights went down. The gimmick lasted about 3 years, before he returned to independent wrestling as the Vampire Warrior. It was a short lived, yet good terror gimmick, and he was also married to Luna Vachon in real life, that’s scary enough.
Kamala the Ugandan Giant (James Harris) was a character developed in the USWA by Jerry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler. Billed as a Ugandan cannibal, he was adorned with tribal markings which were actually copied from a Frank Frazetta drawing. He was managed by the likes Freddie Blassie, The Wizard, Percy Pringle III, and Kim Chee. Kamala’s career saw him wrestle the likes of Lawler, Hogan, Undertaker, and many others. His career defining moment must have been the time he appeared to have eaten a live chicken on WWF television. The gimmick stayed with him until his retirement in 2011.
Vampiro (Ian Hodgkinson) was a legend in Mexico before his short run with the WCW in the late 1990’s. Born in Canada, he began wrestling at 16, and while largely self-taught (like CM Punk); he credits Abdullah the Butcher as his trainer. The Vampiro gimmick kind of developed itself. He was put in the ring because he liked vampires, was good looking, and didn’t mind taking bumps. Before long, he was a top star in Mexico; particularly with the women (he was also called Vampiro Casanova). He still packs houses south of the border and in Japan to this day. Fun career note: worked as personal security for Milli Vanilli at one point.
Wildly misused Chris Klucsarits (Kanyon) became known to WCW fans as Mortis in the mid 90’s. One of a planned stable of wrestlers who were rip offs of Mortal Kombat, he battled Glacier (Sub-Zero) a lot. The gimmick didn’t last long, as Kanyon joined Raven’s Flock, but it was actually well executed.
And now for some guys you may or may not know. Likely if you are aware of them, you will curse me for reminding you.
Leatherface (Mike “Corporal” Kirchner) wrestles in Japan to this day. Look at the picture, and I think it speaks for itself. The Zombie (Tim Roberts) made one sad appearance on the WWE’s rebuilt ECW show on the Sci-Fi Network in 2006. Waylon Mercy (“Dangerous” Dan Spivey) was a short lived gimmick in the WWE in 1995; he was a blatant rip off of Robert DeNiro’s Max Cady in Cape Fear. The Yeti (Ron Reis) was an ill-conceived Dungeon of Doom member wrapped in bandages (presumably so no one would write about him here), often incorrectly referred to as The Mummy. The Mummy was actually a wrestler in the 1960s named Benji Ramirez. A great story talks about how he rode in costume from hotels to the arena, and one night got out to use the bathroom while the guys he was riding with were on a gas and beer stop. They drove off and left him, and so a crazy bandaged man, with no identification was nearly locked up and shot when townsfolk mistook him for an escaped mental patient. True story. I love wrestling.
Fangs a lot Dave, that was truly awesome! So until next week creeps; Stay Spooky!