I’ve always been a movie fan, but for just as long I’ve been fascinated by the world of professional wrestling. In fact, during my weekly visits to the video store I often stacked a copy of Royal Rumble 1991 or The WWF’s Most Unusual Matches on top of the latest Jim Carrey film.
There was just so much to love about intensely sweaty tough guys threatening each other and then backing up those threats with cartoonishly violent attacks in the squared circle. Let me put it this way, the day I inherited my teenage neighbor’s LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars figures and ring, it felt like I had won the lottery.
Getting back to my video rental history, while Hulk Hogan’s star vehicle No Holds Barred was a frequent watch, there was one wrestling tape I never dared to take home for fear of the horrors that were promised by the VHS box art. That film is the very subject of this review, I’m talking about GRUNT! The Wrestling Movie.
Just look at that masked psycho on the cover, clamping on a vice like headlock and forcing the veins on his opponent’s head to pulse to the point of bursting. That’s terrifying. Luckily I had a friend who was willing to help me face my fears, you know him as the Retro Rambler.
When Mick reached out to suggest the wrestling film Body Slam! as a possible subject for an episode of my podcast SequelQuest, I laughingly said, “Not GRUNT! The Wrestling Movie?”, fully unaware that I would soon be challenged to watch and review this seemingly nightmare inducing piece of celluloid.
But like Shawn Michaels challenging Bret Hart to a 60 minute Iron Man match, I was up for the challenge. I tracked down the film on YouTube and the bell rang.
So what did I think of GRUNT! The Wrestling Movie?
The opening scene featuring a hard fought battle between “Mad Dog” Joe DeCurso and SkullCrusher Johnson played out exactly as my frightened young mind had always imagined.
It’s a frenetic, black and white brawl with a violent lightning storm as the backdrop to the brutality that in many ways plays like the climax of a slasher film.
As Mad Dog trapped his opponent in the ropes my heart was racing and then, like a scene out of the Will Ferrell film Blades of Glory he knocked SkullCrusher’s head off and I couldn’t hold back my confused laughter.
Was this poorly executed gore or a comedically timed gag? I had to know. As soon as the nervous wrestling commissioner was asked by a gaggle of reporters if SkullCrusher was still the champion despite his decapitation, I had my answer. I soon realized that GRUNT! is to pro wrestling, what This Is Spinal Tap is to heavy metal. At least it wanted to be.
When it comes to mockumentaries, I’m a harsh critic. I have Spinal Tap memorized (anyone want to book me for a one man show?) and I own every Christopher Guest film because I just can’t get enough of ridiculous characters looking to make it big in their own little subcultures.
Pro Wrestling has the perfect amount of weirdness to focus such a film around, but the secret to a good mockumentary is clever comedic voices and GRUNT! is basically void of such talent.
The film is almost cute with its attempts to create humor as fans, officials and fellow wrestlers are interviewed about Mad Dog’s sudden disappearance following his insane final bout, but unless you find whiney used car salesmen types and fake French accents to be the height of comedy, the laughs are few.
In fact, the only chuckles I got after Skull-Crusher’s head went flying were from forgotten shock jock conservative talk show host, Wally George, hamming it up while calling The Mask an idiot. But if I had to hear the actor playing the documentary filmmaker ask the question, “Is The Mask really Mad Dog Joe Decurso?” even one more time, I was going to lose my mind.
It’s literally all the film chooses to focus on, as this dominating new wrestler shows up using all of Mad Dog’s moves and creating buzz as to whether the infamous titan has returned. But luckily the film has other strengths besides making with the yuk-yuks.
For starters, the wrestling in the film actually looks pretty good. When The Mask is squaring off against El Toro, you really feel the excitement of the crowd and get a solid look at some real wrestling action.
As far as interesting characters, the only standout is the androgynous wrestler Adorable Adrian Street, with his wild make-up and hairdo. Add some S&M gear to the mix and he was at least visually entertaining to watch saunter across the screen.
The one familiar face that got me excited was Queen Kong aka Matilda the Hun from Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. This big loud-mouthed lady was the face of female wrestling in movies and TV during the 80’s to me.
I remember her popping up in the obscure comedy, How I Got Into College, an episode of Mama’s Family and the Aerosmith music video for “Love In An Elevator” to name a few. Her appearance in the movie is brief, but very welcome.
The other familiar face is a little less obvious, but undeniable. The design of The Mask’s cowel is clearly modeled on the make-up design of Gene Simmons from KISS. As a die hard member of the KISS Army I’m actually surprised I never heard reference made to this clear copyright violation among the fan community. Still, it did make the viewing experience more enjoyable.
I will give the film props for the climax which delivers on the hard-hitting action during a Battle Royal between all the film’s featured wrestlers for the vacant championship title.
It serves as a great bookend to the opening brawl and answers the question that the filmmakers just couldn’t stop asking about The Mask’s true identity. In the end, GRUNT! was absolutely the opposite of what I had anticipated all these years, but it wasn’t necessarily worth the wait.
This is coming from a guy who enjoyed the goofy nonsense of Ready To Rumble from the year 2000 starring former WCW Heavyweight Champion, David Arquette (it’s true, look it up). Unlike that idiotic movie, GRUNT! just doesn’t have a fully formed comedic sensibility that works.
If you want a time capsule of how the WWF’s competition was running their wrestling promotions in the 80’s it fits the bill. But in the end, I’m glad I left it on the rental shelf back in the day.