Being part of a Writing Group
Being part of a Writing Group

The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – The Covid era and cinematic wrestling

  1. The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Introduction
  2. The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Carnivals and the counter culture
  3. The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Good versus evil
  4. The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Hardcore wrestling and the slasher film
  5. The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Monstrous bodies and body horror
  6. The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – The unkillable monster
  7. The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – A Word On The Devil
  8. The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – The Covid era and cinematic wrestling
  9. The Hammerlock of the Gods – Pro Wrestling and Horror – Conclusion

The Covid era and cinematic wrestling

From chaos comes opportunity, and adaptation and creativity can overcome adversity. The early months of 2020 witnessed the now all too familiar arrival of Covid 19 across the globe, bringing with it devastation to communities and economies almost everywhere. In the pro wrestling world, however, the major player, WWE, was able to successfully adapt. Owner Vince McMahon’s personal and financial links to the Republican Party helped him obtain government backing to provide wrestling content as an essential public service. WWE was still able to create and provide its weekly programs and its major pay-per-view events, to a global audience, albeit set in empty arenas.

This latter restriction however led to a number of creative innovations, not least of which were the introduction of cinematic style matches in the big pay per views. To explain, rather than presenting a live match between two or more combatants in a wrestling ring in an empty arena with a linear narrative, a beginning, middle, and end, the cinematic match allowed the WWE to pre-film a significant match in the same manner as producing a film or a video clip. Hence, the match could be stopped at any given point, and the performers made to go over their parts again and again until the producer felt they had achieved the perfect take on the performance, like real actors.

This technique was useful for performers who might be getting on in years and whose physical performance between the ropes was visibly diminishing (Undertaker) due to age and wear and tear, as it allowed them to take a break at any point of the action and appear fresh through the match in the finished article. More importantly for this discussion, the type of cinematic presentations the WWE tended to segue toward were inevitably those leaning into the horror genre. I refer in particular here to two outstanding pre-taped cinematic matches presented at Wrestlemania 36 in April, 2020. The majority of matches at this event were straight wrestling matches held in the company’s performance centre in front of only the camera crew and commentators. Consequently, the matches were rather forgettable, despite the best efforts to convey drama and excitement.

However, the most talked about matches after the event, and the ones the majority of the viewing audience remember fondly, were the two horror themed cinematic matches. The first of these was billed as ‘The Boneyard Match’. In effect a graveyard match, set in an artificial graveyard. The combatants were A.J. Styles, an excellent and lithe performer despite his age being past forty years, and WWE legend The Undertaker, wrestling what would turn out to be the final match of his over thirty year run as the character. As indicated earlier, despite his status, the performer behind the Dead Man routine, Mark Calloway, now in his mid-fifties, was really starting to show his age in the ring.

The structure and pacing of the match was perfectly scripted to accentuate the worthy wrestling and story-telling abilities of Styles, and to illustrate the immortal God-like supernatural powers of the Undertaker (oh how he must have appreciated those set breaks to catch his breath). As such, the story flowed like a typical horror narrative. The Undertaker, the unkillable monster (though it must be pointed out, that Taker’s longevity makes him beloved and the face in this scenario) is slowly bested after a long battle by his younger arrogant opponent, until, in the final denouement, as Undertaker is about to be buried in an open grave with a shrouded headstone above it by a grinning maniacal Styles, a huge spotlight appears over Styles’ shoulders, into which the Taker appears above and behind him as he realises his fate and slowly turns.

The bout ends with Styles being choke-slammed into and buried alive in the grave, and as a last act before Undertaker literally rides off on his Harley Davidson motorbike, he swipes away the shroud from the headstone to reveal the text – A.J. Styles 1977 – 2020.

The second cinematic match, billed the Firefly Funhouse match, featured the WWE’s most recent horror-inspired character, Bray Wyatt/The Fiend, and played upon Wyatt’s desire for revenge on WWE legend and now Hollywood star, John Cena, for an undeserved loss and metaphorical burial by Cena at a previous Wrestlemania six years earlier. Cena in his prime years as a perennial WWE champion was known for his penchant for burying young up-and-coming talent when he really should have been passing the torch and building the next generation of money-generating superstars. Wyatt was of course aware of this, and his creative talents and the scope of the cinematic match allowed him to weave an incredible narrative of personal redemption, half based in reality, and half in the fantasy world of wrestling. Like everything Wyatt did in the WWE, it leaned heavily on his obvious love of horror movies.

The bout begins when Cena arrives backstage in full attire ready for his match. He is then lured into Wyatt’s Firefly Funhouse by one of the latter’s puppets. The Funhouse, aired in a series of comical yet disturbing vignettes over the previous year, is a small brightly painted room where Wyatt himself portrays a sort of twisted Mr. Rogers character in the guise of a children’s television host. Though in Wyatt’s case, the Funhouse exists in his own version of Hell. The space itself represents the horror trope of the haunted house, in Wyatt’s version, it is populated by a range of twisted puppet characters. The space itself also plays on the horror trope of the thin veil between worlds, in which the laws of linear time and space do not apply. As part of the narrative, the commentators regularly profess that they have no idea where the Funhouse is, or if it even exists in linear reality. In horror parlance, the world of Wyatt is not dissimilar to the dream realm occupied by Freddy Krueger.

Hence, Wyatt takes Cena on what can only be described as a journey through his own personal Hell. Cena constantly appears in guises of himself in various stages of his long WWE career. In each of which he is tormented by Wyatt and his puppets, attempts to attack him, but fails to connect. What ensues is around fifteen minutes of totally surreal David Lynch style horror, as an increasingly flustered Cena (and kudos to the man for returning to the WWE and playing this role) is verbally tormented by Wyatt for ruining Wyatt’s original cult leader character by way of his selfish refusal to take a loss. Until finally an exhausted Cena finds himself in a wrestling ring in an empty arena, where Wyatt’s horrific masked alter ego, The Fiend, attacks him from behind, puts him in his signature finishing move, and finally pins him for the three-count, counted by Wyatt himself. Thus avenging Bray Wyatt’s devastating and unnecessary previous burial.

These two matches were the standout bouts of the card, and are still spoken of with reverence today.

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