Saturday, May 10, 2008

WRESTLEMANIAC (2006) d. Jesse Baget

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

When making a movie, pandering to your audience is not always a bad idea. If a film maker knows the tastes of the viewers, giving them what they want makes sense. The science fiction film maker is most likely to be guaranteed a degree of success if he includes starships, interstellar battles, ray guns and creepy aliens. The directors and producers of a romantic comedy will get the girls and couples in the seats if they make sure the film moves from one dreamy location to another, mixed with charming interior shots and lots of close-ups of starry-eyed lovers looking at each other. When Jesse Baget, the writer, producer and director of WRESTLEMANIAC put his project together, he wisely utilized some seemingly surefire ideas. However, when all you do is paint by the numbers and don’t consider the other elements of your movie, it won’t be quite the success you hoped for.

WRESTLEMANIAC (aka EL MASCARADO MASSACRE) is the story of a group of “associates” led by Alfonse and Steve, who are driving through the Mexican desert looking for a location to shoot some amateur porn. Joining their escapade are the luscious Dallas and Debbie, the stoner Jimbo and perpetually drunk Daisy. As it becomes obvious that the porn team has lost its way, a brief stop at an apparently abandoned gas station for a “nature break” leads to the group to hear the story of the ghost town Sange de Dios from a broken-down hermit. As the group tries to find its way back to the freeway, Steve tells them the story of why Sangre de Dios is not truly a ghost town and the legendary wrestler who was sent into exile there. Ignoring the warnings of the hermit, Alfonse and Steve take their group into the ghost town, where it seems that all the terrifying elements of the legend of “El Mascarado” are true.

One would think that building a story around a killer wrestler, setting it in a creepy Mexican ghost town and putting two supremely hot, scantily clad beauties in harm’s way would be a slam dunk formula for a film aimed at people who would find such fare enjoyable. In some cases, the formula does work. As a youngster growing up watching Bruno Sammartino and Chief Jay Strongbow on UHF Saturday morning wrestling, the lure of a wrestling horror film is unmistakable. The setting of “Sangre de Dios” does look old, abandoned, unpleasant and somehow unholy. The characters of Dallas and Debbie, played by Leyla Milani (aka Leyla Razzari) and Margaret Scarborough, are some absolutely wonderful eye candy. Even the inclusion of the venerable Irwin Keyes as “The Stranger” helps to add an air of legitimacy to this film. There are some very fun moments of wrestling humor, lore and even some “squared-circle” action. The camera men unquestionably knew what they had at their dispense when it came to the ladies and they were certainly shot lovingly and even lecherously, which isn’t a bad thing. There is even an eclectic soundtrack/score that mixes Mexicali strains, Rock & Roll and some classic-sounding horror incidental music. If it sounds like this film works for you, it very well might. There is no doubt that Jesse Baget started off with an Ace or two in his hand. When it came around for his turn to draw, he picked up a few worthless cards and ended up with a very mixed hand.

WRESTLEMANIAC has several problems with it, most notably the character of Alfonse, played by Adam Huss. Alfonse is such an irritating, moronic, worthless piece of dung that he rivals Dana Carvery’s character of “the Turtle Man” in MASTER OF DISGUISE as the most infuriating character of the last ten years. If it was Adam Huss’s choice to play the character that way so that he would be such a prick that his demise would be enjoyable, then Adam Huss is an underrated actor with great potential. Be that as it may, creating an asinine character just to be the fodder for destruction at the hands of a slayer STILL doesn’t work. While I must admit that watching the Alfonse character get hurled around the derelict church was very satisfying and I could have watched another five minutes of such brutality, it doesn’t make the film better or the story stronger. By the time Alfonse’s greasy aura has been erased from the film, the damage was done.

While the camera work in this film was better than I had hoped for, fully expecting a plague of “shaky-cam” locusts to descend, the direction of the night time lighting left a lot to be desired. While it was daytime, everything looked pretty good and there were some night time scenes that were effectively shot and lit, particularly the stalking scenes of Dallas by El Mascarado in the bus and the old diner. When you’ve got beauties like Miss Milani and Miss Scarborough jiggling down scabrous hallways, you want to be able to see those delightful curves and coppery skin lit effectively. What made the Alfonse-hurling scenes enjoyable was I COULD SEE THEM. That wasn’t always the case for the rest of the night time segments. In fact, there was a scene when Steve and Debbie ran into what would later be seen as El Mascarado’s sanctum, but upon entering the fully darkened chamber Debbie says “I can’t see anything”. I wanted to grasp her hand and whisper supportively, “That’s alright, neither can I.” As I have said before, someone needs to establish a seminar where all film makers are taught the difference between establishing moodiness using shadow and just making things too dark.

The extras menu of WRESTLEMANIAC is thin and not terribly illuminating. There is a five and a half minute featurette called “Wrestling the Maniac: Behind the Scenes of Wrestlemaniac”. Since it is set to heavy metal and has precious few comments by the crew and casts, it plays like a music video and is about as educational. There were a few “behind the scenes” clips/shots that were entertaining. There is an audio commentary with producer/writer/director Jesse Baget, director of photography Tabbert Fiiler and actor Adam Huss and a selection of trailers. While this seems like a lean set of goodies, and it is, I am not sure that more would have been better unless there was a massive photo gallery of glamour shots of the actresses included. The strength of this dvd, if strength it can be called, is in its prurient appeal of violence and skin.

WRESTLEMANIAC is certainly not the worst horror film I have ever watched, neither is it the goriest, nor the sleaziest or the silliest. It has a somewhat original premise, plays what few cards it has fairly effectively and as a result, it may very well appeal to a slice of the viewing population. That is probably what Mr. Baget had in mind and if that is what he was after, it may be said that he succeeded. In the end, there weren’t enough laughs to call it a “horror-comedy” and there weren’t enough scares to call it a “suspenseful” film. It used some of the tried and true conventions of the genre and was a film I didn’t hate. I suppose that could be construed as “high marks” in today’s world of mediocrity and misery.

No comments: