While professional wrestling has never shied away from exploiting popular culture for its own gains (see WCW’s Oz, an embarrassing Emerald City tie-in — or better yet don’t), there have been surprisingly few actual horror movie based wrestling gimmicks.
Sure you had the horror-influenced grapplers, such as the Undertaker, the barely trying Frankenstein knock-off El Monstruo, the Voodoo Priest Papa Shango, and the Yeti (a member of the ill-fated Dungeon of Doom who looked more like a mummy wrapped in soiled toilet paper than a Himalayan snow-creature)…But where were the slashers? The big two, WWE and WCW, were reticent to base their wrestlers on cinema’s homicidal lunatics for two reasons:
Licensing issues (although concerns over a Marvel lawsuit didn’t exactly stop Hulk Hogan’s mercifully short-lived Mr. America masked wrestling gimmick)
Credibility. Admittedly, this is a reach as cred has frequently been thrown over the top rope when it suits wrestling’s top brass…but how could you have someone like Tito Santana go mano a mano with Pinhead from Hellraiser and make the audience believe that El Matador had a snowball’s chance in hell? Thus, it was up to the foreign and regional promotions to pick up the slack. What follows are some of the few attempts at combining horror movie icons and sports entertainment.
In the mid 80s, Canadian wrestler Karl Moffat donned a pair of white coveralls and a hockey mask and gave himself the Jason the Terrible gimmick. Jason cut a swath of destruction throughout Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling, eventually feuding with the fed’s top babyface (good guy) Owen Hart (RIP).
Moffat was a large man (6’4 and 275 lbs) and Jason the Terrible was a terrifying and cool gimmick.
While Hulk Hogan was busy fending off the likes of Dr. D David Schultz and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff over in WWF, poor Owen had to take on the undead terror of Crystal Lake.
Moffat, whom Chris Jericho described as “an arrogant prick” in his book, A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex, is currently driving trucks in Vancouver, B.C. and is by most accounts a pretty nice guy.
Sunday mornings in Memphis, Tennessee meant Memphis Wrestling. The promotion, which was white hot up until the early 90s, was known to do a batshit insane thing or two, including bringing in an inebriated and in-character Adam West to challenge Jerry The King Lawler.
They also had a wrestler named Nightmare Freddy who dressed exactly like the Springwood Slasher, complete with mask and bladed glove. Amazingly, Nightmare Freddy was brought in as a babyface and got a big pop.
Nightmare Freddy was played by Doug Gilbert, who later took the gimmick to Japan, where he still plies his trade.
Keeping it in the family, we turn to Doug’s brother Eddie Gilbert.
Eddie began his career using the “Hot Stuff” angle, for which he is best known and was part of the Hot Stuff International heel (bad guy) stable.
For a stint, he feuded with Nightmare Freddy as The Boogeyman, a character modeled after Michael Myers of Halloween fame.
Here he is in a three-way watch against the aforementioned Jason the Terrible and also Grave Digger. He’s also known for breaking character during one of the Nightmare Freddie / Freddy matches, even doffing his mask. No video of that unfortunately.
Most know Mike Kirchner as Corporal Kirchner, a wrestling commando of sorts who had a brief stay in the WWF. The Corporal never reached the heights of other enlisted rank grapplers such as Sgt. Slaughter, and spent most of his time in the WWF counting the lights on the ceiling. He was then dishonourably discharged for drug use, if you don’t mind our body-slamming that metaphor to death.
What many don’t know, however, is that after his spell in the WWF, Kirchner headed over to Japan and wrestled under a mask as Leatherface. Taking inspiration from the cannibalistic killer in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Kirchner became the only wrestler to learn an armbar in an abattoir.
Leatherface wrestled an insanely-brutal hardcore style, doing everything his namesake would do to his opponents save for hanging them up on meat hooks. He was quite over (popular), but personal problems again got the better of Mike when he was arrested and jailed for six-months for assaulting a fan.
Here’s a Leatherface VS Freddy match. As one wag put it: “I always like how relaxed the copyright law is in Japan.”
Art Barr is considered by many to be one of the most underrated wrestlers ever. Barr was incredibly popular in Mexico were he formed a highly successful tag-team with the late Eddie Guerrero.
But before that, Barr wrestled for Pacific Northwest Wrestling out of Portland as Beetlejuice, based on the character from the Tim Burton film of the same name. Barr would paint his face, dress in rags and sprinkle flower on himself so as to emit dust clouds whenever he was struck. The character would awkwardly dance his way to the ring, usually followed by a bunch of kids. Barr later had a cup of coffee in WCW as “The Juicer”, (probably an ill-advised nickname given how steroid-addled wrestling has become) before heading south of the border. Barr passed away in 1994 from a drug-related heart attack.
This is a bit of a cheat as the diabolical doll never actually wrestled, much less appear in a ring, but that doesn’t make it any less memorably awful. In WCW, Rick Steiner, the Dog-Faced Gremlin (yep, that was his nickname), was feuding with his brother Scott, now dubbed Big Poppa Pump.
For weeks, every time Rick would wrestle a match, diabolical laughter could be heard throughout the arena. Fans were buzzing about its origins. Boy, were they upset when it turned out to be Chucky from the Child’s Play films.
“Mean” Gene Okerlund was interviewing Rick when the laughter was heard again. Suddenly, up on the screen was Chucky! Poor Gene and Rick had the unenviable task of keeping a straight face while interacting with the doll, who was there to promote Bride of Chucky under the guise of “threatening” Steiner. The arena crowd was dumbfounded and poor Rick looked like he’d rather be polishing latrines than participating in this nonsense. WCW had more than its share of embarrassing moments (Sting and his buddy Robocop come to mind) but this was a distinct low point. Still, the segment, as embarrassing as it was, is well-worth watching just to see ol’ Gene-O bellow “Get that Dummy out of here!” to a giant television screen.
From Tennessee’s Continental Wrestling, Lord Humongous (Mike Stark) was under the tutelage of Jimmy Hart, brought in as foil for Jerry The King Lawler in the mid 80s.
inspired by ripped off from Mad Max 2, he went on to feud with the equally humongous Sid Vicious.
And just to make things more confusing, Sid then adopted the Humongous gimmick a few years later, one of several wrestlers to do so all the way through the 90s. One such grappler was Emory Hail, another Jimmy Hart find who at roughly 6’8 was brought in to work with Hulk Hogan. Hail also battled as The Machine, lifted from the Nic Cage movie 8mm.
But let’s be honest here: the overalls, the hockey mask…Before he morphed into a hybrid Demolition / Mad Max character he was basically Jason Voorhees.
The Humongous gimmick is still circulating somewhere on the indie wrestling circuit. Like Jason, he’s an unstoppable force.