Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Rey Misterio, Leyla Milani, Jeremy Radin, Adam Huss, Margaret Scarborough, Zack Bennett, Catherine Wreford, Irwin Keyes
Written & Directed by Jesse Baget
As hardcore Mexican pro wrestling fan Steve will tell us, El Mascarado was an enormously popular luchador that legend says was the subject of a Frankenstein-ish experiment by the Mexican government to create the perfect wrestler back in the 1960's in order to win the gold medal for wrestling at the Olympics (apparently no one bothered to tell them there's a big difference between amateur wrestling and professional wrestling.) El Mascarado suddenly went insane in the ring and gouged an opponent's eyes out. Never heard from again, the lunatic luchador was said to have been taken to the Mexican desert and left imprisoned in a walled-up ghost town called "Le Sangre de Dios," where he's said to still lurk today.
Yeah, I fully realize how idiotic that all sounds; the stuff really bad Troma movies are made of. But Wrestlemaniac is not Troma-esque in the least. It may have been made for a low budget but it doesn't look like a cheap production. It may boast an outlandish premise but it doesn't play out in an insultingly stupid manner. It is, dare I say it, a clever movie - a clever, low budget slasher flick with an outrageous premise. Wrestlemaniac is a breath of fresh B-movie air, a truly creative entry in a genre that generally suffers from a maximum deficiency of new ideas.
Though the basic mechanics to Wrestlemaniac will never be called original: attractive twenty-something's broken down and trapped in an isolated location with a killer picking them off one at a time, this particular killer is a true original and it's this killer and how he operates that makes Wrestlemaniac a damn good time. How many slasher movies have you seen about a masked killer that preys on a group of horny idiots, stoners, and nubile vixens? A ton. How many of them featured a masked killer that was an insane luchador (Mexican wrestler) who still, in his crazed mind, believes himself to be competing under the rules of lucha libre (Mexican wrestling), beating his victims to death with his bare hands and then - just as many big wrestling matchs in Mexico come with mask vs. mask stipulations that states the loser gets unmasked - rips the person's face off and pins it to his wall as a trophy in much the same way collectors of lucha masks display their souveneirs?
A small vanload of budding filmmakers and starlets are heading to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to film an amateur porn movie. You got motor-mouthed braggart Alphonse at the wheel, a former film student living out his Boogie Nights fantasy, having decided porn is much more lucrative than trying to be the next Scorcese. Then there's Steve, the Spanish-speaking, lucha-lovin', Mexican-American cinematographer who looks like he could be the kid brother of Lost's Jorge Garcia. Rounding out the amateur pornographers are the Jon Heder-esque stoner Jimbo, waifish stoner Daisy, who spends much of the film passed out facedown on the floor of the van, and a pair of buxom bisexual porn starlets actually named Debbie and Dallas.
Dallas is played by the quite flexible Leyla Milani, no stranger to wrestling having been a former WWE Diva Search contestant. She can now be seen opening briefcases on "Deal or No Deal" and I'm guessing "Deal or No Deal" required her to sign a morals clause given how she's the only female in the movie who doesn't get naked. That's not to say there aren't plenty of chances to ogle her, uh, talents. The film clearly pokes fun at the horror movie cliché of a hot babe in skimpy clothes being chased by having her already clad in a tight white top and Daisy Duke shorts when running for her life, a chase that will come up with scenarios that cause her to get soaking wet and lose her shorts along the way. It's almost coy the way it occurs, though the numerous random close-up shots of tight female buns throughout the movie are anything but subtle.
Other than standout Steve and Dallas' ample bosoms (They most certainly standout!), these characters represent your usual assortment of lunkheads and bimbos typical to slasher movies. I'm willing to give them a pass in this case since the least of the bunch die quickly, all the actors are capable in their roles, and writer-director Jesse Baget's screenplay manages to avoid the typical slasher victims' pitfalls of making these shallow characters boring dolts or cringe-worthy in their obnoxiousness. There may not be much depth to the characters but they work just fine here.
Having taken a wrong turn and gotten lost in the middle of Mexican nowhere, the group makes a pitstop at a seemingly abandoned gas station that turns out to be populated by the prerequisite creepy old man who gives potential slasher movie victims an ominous warning they'd best heed. The great character actor Irwin Keyes plays a decidedly non-Mexican Mexican, the hermit who tells them of a shortcut they could take but doing so will lead them past the ghost town of La Sangre de Dios. He specifically warns them not to stop there lest they put their lives in jeopardy. Lucha fanatic Steve instantly recognizes the name of the town from the legend of El Mascarado and insists they stop and check the place out. They'll do just that; breaking down the locked gates to do so and breaking down the van along the way, too. Alphonse will decide this dusty ghost town is a great place to shoot their porn flick. It also turns out to be a great place to get beaten to death by a psychopathic ex-wrestler.
This could have easily played out like any other routine slasher flick, and for a few waning moments here and there it feels like just that. But once El Mascarado starts fatally grappling with them and tearing their faces off in triumph, it becomes apparent that Wrestlemaniac is not your typical hack & slash slasher flick. Jesse Baget has crafted a fresh slasher flick that combines humor and horror with an eccentric psycho that neatly balances everything into a fun, tidy package – less than 80 minutes in length. It's stylishly directed without over-relying on hyper editing, washed out colors, or the usual visual bag of tricks that far too many young horror filmmakers fall back on these days. Baget shows discipline, knowing when to go over the top and when to pull back, when to show you the gore in all its glory and when to leave stuff to our imagination; and with El Mascarado he's got one of the most original movie maniacs to come along in a long time.
Played by real-life lucha libre legend Rey Misterio (uncle of World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Rey Mysterio Jr.), El Mascarado is stubby brute, under six feet tall, yet still a more imposing madman than the seven-foot Kane of WWE Films' own See No Evil. Kane may be a more physically imposing monster but Rey Misterio imbues his masked madman with more personality and crazed menace than Kane's Jacob Goodnight. Though El Mascarado may appear a bit silly, what with the way he runs around shirtless in black & white wrestling tights, his crazy eyes highlighted by the wrestling mask he wears, Misterio's played a rudo in the wrestling ring long enough to know how to carry himself as a genuine threat, accentuated by the menacing ways Baget frames him. El Mascarado is one bad hombre and watching him manhandle victims is a hoot. What goes down during the confrontation with El Mascarado when they find themselves trapped in his personal lair simply has to be seen.
I'm reviewing the just released barebones PAL DVD of Wrestlemaniac (Originally entitled El Mascarado Massacre). I can only hope that an American distributor snaps this one up and fast. With all the uninventive, amateurish, and just outright horrible horror-themed crap that wastes space on video store shelves these days, a movie like this deserves a chance to be seen by the public. This is what WWE Films should have made with See No Evil. This is the sort of unpretentious, entertaining slasher flick that deserves to be showcased by the After Dark Horrorfest, not stale garbage like Dark Ride. It's not a perfect movie and it won't set the horror world on fire; just bloody slammin' fun. Wrestlemaniac is the stuff cult classics are made of.
3 1/2 out of 5
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