FILM REVIEW: NAIL IN THE COFFIN: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro covers the highs and lows of balancing a life as a career professional wrestler with fatherhood


Director Michael Paszt chronicles the crazy rock and roll luchador life of Ian Hodgkinson, a man who became an international wrestling icon known as Vampiro in his youth, but now struggles with injuries from his glory days and a frayed relationship with his daughter as he tries to leave the wrestling world behind.

The world of professional wrestling is a really fascinating one. While, on one hand, fans are mesmerized and enthralled with the characters, athleticism, and storylines that make up the bulk of what mainstream viewers watch weekly on their favorite sports-entertainment shows on cable TV every week, there is an equal fervor in many to see the behind the scenes intrigue and personalities that bring these larger-than-life characters every week. Wrestling in something of a secret society amongst those involved; one where workers pay their dues by making their way up the independent and international scenes and work their way up the ladder through a combination of luck, hard work, and charisma to try to capture the imagination of fans and matchmakers to the point where they can become a draw for that promotion. Some can become a phenomenon, a veritable rock star to fans in their prime. For many, escaping the lure of the squared circle after their prime can become difficult; especially if money, personal circumstances, and the adulation one garners from performing become factors. These are all elements that are explored in director Michael Paszt’s documentary NAIL IN THE COFFIN: THE FALL & RISE OF VAMPIRO, an in-depth pro wrestling documentary with a personal point of view that hits VOD on September 8th.

The subject of Paszt’s documentary is Ian Hodgkinson. Ian is a single father living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada; one trying to forge a loving relationship with his teen daughter Dasha, whose life he has been largely absent from. But to do so, he has to spend most of his time in Mexico City, working as a talent liaison and producer for a Mexican lucha libre promotion called AAA, which is producing its biggest event of the year as we meet him. Ian was a professional wrestling legend in the 1990s as a character called El Vampiro Canadiense, a gothic heartthrob in the mold of Anne Rice’s Lestat whose charisma and good looks enraptured the hearts of the female fandom of Mexican professional wrestling, known as lucha libre, and catapulted him into international stardom. It is through this period of fame that he meets his eventual wife and has his daughter Dasha. But the demands of the grind of performing as a wrestler, around the world for most of the year as his career continues to grow as he becomes a performer in the United States for one of the biggest promotions in the world make being present as a father almost an impossibility. Today, Ian bears a terrible physical cost for his years of fame as an in-ring performer and has transitioned into a behind-the-scenes role largely. But as this documentary shows us, the clash of wills and personalities backstage and their individual issues and psychology make producing the show backstage almost as stressful and difficult as being in the ring and the cost it bears on his relationship with his daughter is just the same.

Paszt frames this documentary from Hodgkinson’s point of view, showing the audience how his life’s story has shaped his path and how he is looking to redeem many aspects of his life through his herculean work schedule. It’s clear that Hodgkinson is a hard worker and is passionate about the work he does and takes it personally. That’s what makes it harder when you see how the hard work he’s putting in affects the quality of his relationship with his daughter when he is working hard to not find himself tied to killing himself performing in the ring so he can be around for her. On some levels, it is reminiscent of subculture documentaries like George Hickenlooper’s 2003 documentary on KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, The Mayor of The Sunset Strip; where we see the highlights of a life lived in the punk scene and the difficulty of finding a normal life once that ebbs. We see the highs of Hodgkinson’s career as Vampiro, from his fame in Mexico, his marriage, his stardom in the United States headlining with The Misfits, and with some of the biggest wrestlers in history. But we also see the difficulty in his career today, as he has to moderate backstage conflicts between bruised egos in the ring and even break up fights between former wrestling stars who have fallen off sobriety. It’s in this situation where we feel for Hodgkinson and see how important it is to repair his relationship with his daughter. That thread is the heart of the film and we see from her point of view how hard her life has been without him. The connection between the two is the anchor of the film and really grounds the film outside of the world of wrestling. It’s The Wrestler meets Little Miss Sunshine, but it is real and affecting.

In a moment in time when behind the scenes wrestling documentaries are getting a lot of attention, NAIL IN THE COFFIN really stands out as a human story about the consequences and emotional weight of a life in a subculture and not just another story about pro wrestling. It feels real and you root for Ian and his daughter to find their life together outside of wrestling and the ring and that is the kind of behind the scenes reality behind the curtain that really matters.