Although controversial, Ian “Vampiro” Hodgkinson is one of the most beloved foreigners in lucha libre culture. From a rockstar luchador in the 90s to an excited backstage producer in AAA, his story is definitely unique. But, in his documentary “Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro,” filmmaker Michael Paszt expands beyond the wrestling aspect of Hodgkinson’s life by exploring his most human side.
On September 4, the documentary will have a run in select theaters around the United States and eight days later, on September 8, it will be available on VOD and digital platforms. Ahead of these release dates, I talked with Vampiro and Michael Paszt about their experience shooting the “Nail in the Coffin”, their love for pro wrestling and Vampiro’s rise to fame in Mexico.
Financing can be a nightmare for indie filmmakers and finding money to support a documentary about a Canadian lucha star sounds tricky. So, where did the money to finance the film come from?
Vampiro: Stole it from a bank. Michael did, not me.
Michael: The story behind it is pretty cool. The initial money came from a broadcaster in Canada called Super Channel. A friend from there called us looking for specific sports content and we mentioned that we had a project with the luchador Vampiro. All of a sudden his eyes went wide because that’s exactly what they were looking for. A story about a canadian in Mexico was perfect. He was also invested because of his own story. During a visit to Mexico City, he went out with his son to buy cowboy boots and in the store he encountered a masked luchador that was there to get his wrestling gear. He was shocked to see that luchadores really do wear their masks daily, plus his little boy was looking at the luchador like he was a superhero. He never forgot that, and when I told him what we were doing with Ian in Mexico City, he was completely invested. That’s when the financing came together and then De Angeles Films in LA came aboard to help us with the rest.
Even though the documentary explores Vampiro’s rise to fame in Mexico, the main focus of the story is the relationship with his daughter Dasha. So, when did they realize this was the thread they should follow?
Vampiro: Michael had the vision. I said to him: ‘I don’t think you should ask me to have an input in the story because the way I’ll tell the story will be completely different from your vision. So that magic, it’s all Michael. I’m the handsome on-screen and Michael was the brains behind it.
Michael: For me, it happened right away when we bumped into each other and started talking about our lives. He told me all about what he was doing, and how he was commuting from northern Ontario to Mexico City to Los Angeles and back again. He did all that to raise a daughter. It was amazing and I wanted to explore it. And that’s the heart of the story. You’ve got wrestling and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s important to have the human interest. It doesn’t matter what job you have, we all have families to support and we can relate to that. What he was doing was absolutely insane in terms of the lengths he was going in order to raise her. It was incredible. Throughout the 18 years of knowing him, he always had the same passion and determination to look after Dasha. Of course, there are many things to talk about in the film, but from day one the plan was to have their relationship be the heart of the story.
In “Nail in the Coffin” you will find a lot of footage. Vampiro’s vignettes in AAA, guest appearances on Mexican TV, matches in WCW, clips of him working in Milli Vanilli’s crew, and much more…
Michael: We had an amazing archive of material and lots of research. When putting everything together we worked with Danny Palmer who’s an incredible editor working at Vice. He worked on Season 1 of “Dark Side of the Ring” so he was very familiar with wrestling material. We went through a big research process in which we threaded the needle for the story. That was a really tough part because we had so much stuff.
Vampiro: This guy Michael… I’ve never even seen my wedding… but he has footage of my wedding in that movie!
Michael: If there was footage, we could find it. We were digging everywhere for stuff. And yeah, he didn’t even know that we found his wedding footage. He saw that at the premier of the film and turned to me very surprised about it.
At the time of shooting, Vampiro was simultaneously working as producer in AAA, announcing in Lucha Underground and trying to raise a teenage daughter. In the middle of all this, what was the biggest surprise Paszt encountered?
Vampiro: That I’m better looking in person and all my stories are true.
Michael: The moment I like best, that also surprised me, is probably when they are having dinner. That was a special moment that we had. Of course, we had some other cool moments like the Triplemania stuff. However, for me, the heart was always the father and daughter relationship. When we finally got them in that moment, we sat back in the corner and filmed about two hours. They eventually forgot about us so they ended up talking and we captured some very special moments.
“Nail in the Coffin” has some must-see footage for wrestling fans. Paszt was able to shoot the behind the scenes drama happening during Triplemania XXV, including the Sexy Star-Rosemary controversy and a nasty incident involving an intoxicated Jeff Jarrett. Was there something Vampiro would have changed about the way he handled the situation?
Vampiro: Not at all. What am I supposed to do? It’s live television. The version everybody has is not really what happened. I was right there and know why it happened but it’s not my business to talk about it. No, I wouldn’t have changed anything. I was producing Triplemania, I was in the show, Michael is doing a movie, I’m focused on that. This is a professional thing. There was a lot going on. Things happen. If they were getting angry and wanted to fight, what are you supposed to do? I’m not a babysitter, we are adults, we are professional. I spoke to them. I sanctioned them and dealt with the situation. If they continue on and on, or go to the press afterward then they are not professional and are only worried about ego, and don’t care about the product. I’ve got to focus on the show, I can’t worry about who’s angry backstage.
This chaotic landscape proved to be a challenging but insightful experience for Paszt.
Michael: The best words for it are ‘organized chaos’. It was a dream come true to be able to go to Mexico with AAA and go behind the scenes. That was awesome. The cool thing was that we were a small crew. There were only two of us and we got dropped into a snakepit where you’ve got all these alpha people and huge egos. It was very intense. I think Ian put it best: it was like jail. We had to follow him around to be safe. Fortunately, we had the ability to be like a fly in the wall and just watch and observe. That was really fun for us.
Having so much content available, was there something that was left out that Vampiro wanted to see?
Vampiro: I don’t think I should answer that question because this was Michael’s gift to me and my daughter. This was his vision. If I would’ve put what I wanted in the movie I would’ve changed the story completely. I didn’t make this so people could watch it and then pat me in the back. I know who Vampiro is and I’m very fortunate to be Vampiro but Vampiro is not me, he belongs to the people of Mexico City. Vampiro was born in Mexico. I hope that when people see that I’m all bloody and beat up, they know it’s because I wouldn’t back down and I wanted to give the people the best of me every single time. The people in Mexico who grew up watching Vampiro, they know who Vampiro is and I don’t need to tell them. This is something I wanted them to see: that I would die for my daughter. I would die for a stranger in the street. I would die for lucha libre. If you ask me to do something, I’m going to fight until I can’t move. I just hope that people see my commitment because that’s something I learned from the Mexican people: don’t quit, no matter what.
Shortly after his arrival in Mexico City, an inexperienced Vampiro became a lucha libre sensation thanks to his unique look and rockstar vibe. But as you may know, fame and youth are a dangerous mix…
Vampiro: I was too young. Before Mexico, I was living in the streets. I was living under a car in Los Angeles. From being homeless to becoming an icon in a week, it’s incredible. I was like 20 years old and I had all of that fame and power. It was too much. Nobody controlled me. Everybody was scared to tell me to stop, save money, study, learn or slow down. It was such a big explosion and I was making so much money for the promoters, that they didn’t care about my mental health, my physical health or my future. It was like: ‘just put this guy out there, give him pretty girls, give him drugs, give him money and see how long it lasts’. And I’m not complaining. I had fun and I’m not an angel. It’s not like I stayed at home praying and asking for forgiveness. Don’t forget who Vampiro is. The only thing I really really regret is that nobody helped me be a man. They tried to put people with me but I was wrestling five, six or even seven times a day. I was moving all over the country every day and it was too difficult. There was nobody to help.
In 1998, Vampiro headed to the chaotic landscape known as WCW. Did things change there? Or was it easier than Mexico?
Vampiro: I think it was difficult in both places. WCW, Japan, México. The problem wasn’t the company, it was me. I’m the one who got affected, I’m the one who wasn’t mature enough. I’m the one who didn’t know how to handle those problems. So even though they were very toxic environments, I didn’t have any guidance so it affected me a lot. I’m sure if I had guidance I would’ve looked at things different but it was too much of a shock to me seeing all this shit. I just didn’t handle it very well. I think the hardest thing was being very young and very famous. It didn’t matter where I was. Vampiro wasn’t famous because of wrestling. Vampiro was famous because of my scandals outside of the ring: dating Stephanie Salas, Pilar Montenegro and all these other girls. That’s what made Vampiro famous, not wrestling. So my head was a mess… just like it is today.
Pro wrestling means many things to different people. So right now, what’s the best thing about it, according to a lucha star and a filmmaker?
Michael: What’s cool about the industry right now is the competition. You’ve got WWE, AEW, AAA, Impact, and all these companies. We’re having a little renaissance with competition and the people who benefit from that are the fans. Ultimately, the best thing about pro wrestling are the fans. That’s something we can prove when watching the empty arena WWE product. If there was ever a question: are the fans part of the show? There’s the answer. When you watch the product and they remove the fans, you realize that you are missing the other character that completes the whole equation. You’re watching and it doesn’t feel right at all.
Vampiro: I think the best and most beautiful thing about pro wrestling is that it doesn’t have a language. The fans are fans worldwide. It’s all one family. It’s something you can do with your kids, partner, friends. You can have people from Japan, Italy, Mexico and United States in the same arena and everybody is going to understand the show and everybody’s energy will make that show special. Pro wrestling doesn’t have boundaries, nationality or language, it has a family. That’s the best.
“Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro” will be released in limited theaters on September 4, 2020, and will be available on VOD/Digital platforms beginning September 8, 2020. For more details on where to watch the documentary and Blu-ray pre-orders, you can visit this link.