One of the most captivating wrestling documentaries ever put to film, ‘Nail In The Coffin: The Fall and Rise Of Vampiro’ centers around the world of semi-retired professional wrestler Ian Hodgkinson, known the world over as Vampiro. An undisputed lucha libre legend, Hodkinson spent years striking fear into the hearts of his opponents, all while battling his own demons outside of the ring. In addition to tracing the intriguing history of one of professional wrestling’s most enigmatic figures, director Michael Paszt uncovers a much deeper and enduring story. Granted unprecedented access to the world of Vampiro, Paszt expertly documents his subject’s struggle to balance the pressures of being the driving force of one of the world’s most iconic promotions, Lucha Libre AAA in Mexico City, while simultaneously raising his teenage Dasha in remote Northern Canada. Told through an engaging collection of personal home videos and intimate interviews with his closest friends and family, ‘Nail in the Coffin’ is an unfiltered look into the life of a single father grappling with his legacy, mental health, and mortality. Ultimately, the film serves as testament to one man’s unwavering dedication to his daughter and the unrelenting power of the human spirit.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with director Michael Paszt and the legendary Vampiro to discuss the making of their powerful documentary, the bonds they formed along the way, and what the future holds for one of professional wrestling’s most captivating personalities!
“Nail In The Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro” is a powerful film. Michael, how did you find yourself immersed in the world of Vampiro and what made this a story you wanted to bring to the screen?
Michael: That’s a good question. I really had no intention of getting into the filmmaking world. I work in distribution and production, but I hadn’t thought about directing a documentary. I grew up on wrestling and I lived in Mexico years ago. I wrote for Súper Luchas and that’s where I got to know the culture and the people. I knew Ian from back then and, 18 years later, we reconnected at an airport. We were talking about our lives and he was telling me about how he was commuting from Thunder Bay to Mexico City to Los Angeles and back again, all before Sunday, so he made sure he could take his daughter to school. I was blown away by that. We started talking from there and the conversations always came back to him and his daughter. I felt that story needed to be told. I was at the point in my life where I had two daughters and, in that position, you often think about family and what we do as parents to support our kids. I think that is something everybody can relate to. At the end of the day, this film is about family and the heart of this story was always the relationship between Ian and Dasha.
Vamp, you lived the majority of your life in the spotlight but remained guarded in many ways. I can’t imagine it was easy to let someone in and hand over the reins, so to speak.
Vampiro: No. I think when we spoke about it originally we agreed that was the only way to go about it. It was either all or nothing. Michael took a courageous leap of faith and there was no point in me offering an opinion because it would ruin his vision of the story. It was kinda like, “If you do this, don’t ask me to be involved. You just do your thing because I’ll mess it up.” I didn’t want to be responsible for that. It was one of those things that I don’t think I could have done with anyone else. He just hit it out of the park. If we would have put blinders on it, tried to slow things down or hide things, what would be the point of doing a documentary?
Michael, as a fan of wrestling, it had to be a unique experience to be a fly on the wall in that world. How did that impact you as a filmmaker?
Michael: Yeah, it was pretty cool. We’re pretty nimble when it comes to being a fly on the wall and that really worked to our advantage. There were basically two of us, so we were able to adapt to Ian’s schedule fairly easily because he is everywhere! It would be, “OK. Get on a plane, go here. Get there, do this. Get back on the plane … ” and so on. When we were at Triple Mania for example, which was a really awesome moment, it was really cool. It was the 25th anniversary and we got dropped in there and we had the ability to be a fly on the wall. We were able to observe everything, and it was quite intense because it’s a very, very alpha environment. It’s something I’ve never really experienced. You don’t want to look at these guys in the wrong way! [laughs] I loved the access as a fan but there was a lot going on. There was so much going on. I think we called it organized chaos and that’s really what it is. Ian is this ringmaster that’s in there and trying to keep it all together. Our whole goal was to not become distracted by all the noise that is going, follow Vampiro and the drama will follow him. It was cool. I think Ian said it best when he fashioned it as, “It’s a bit like going to prison.”
Vampiro: Ya know, I’ve been thinking about that. We’ve been saying that all week. I haven’t been to prison; I’m just throwing that out there! [laughs]
Michael, what was the biggest challenge for you in bringing the film to life?
Michael: My biggest challenge was the editing process. You can imagine shooting for three years and having a massive archive, we needed to get through the weeds. Finding our story was kinda like threading a needle. We got that with Daniel Palmer. He edited a few episodes of “Darkside of the Ring” and he’s a brilliant story editor. Once we found the heart, it was smooth sailing from there.
You were both at opposite ends of the spectrum with this film. What were your biggest takeaways from the experience?
Vampiro: I learned so much. I learned how to be accountable for my errors. I became accountable and began to understand that everything that has happened to me, even my injuries, happened because I was involved in it. It’s nobody else’s fault. Becoming accountable is a long journey and one I am on every day. I’m learning about my errors, mistakes, insecurities, mental health issues and whatever else and discovering it’s no one else’s fault. I don’t talk about it in public for sympathy. I talk about it publicly to show you that if you hit the wall, confront yourself and break down your ego, you can go on in life and become a better person. Michael afforded me that opportunity to grow. Ya know, I’m pretty anti-social because of my phobias, fears, PTSD and all that stuff. However, being around Michael gave me that security because I saw the way he could just let me be me and to function. This was the first time I wasn’t Vampiro. Instead, I was Ian explaining who Vampiro was. I didn’t know how to do that. Then I had to do it in English, and I wasn’t really used to speaking to anybody in English because I was living in Mexico. The more I analyze it; I think it’s a great tool for anybody who is going through any kind of drama in their life with mental health issues to watch and see what he did and what Michael pulled out of me. Don’t just look at it as a guy who was, obviously, beyond cool in wrestling. That would be me! [laughs] I’m kidding! Don’t just look at it as this guy who has this relationship with his daughter. Look at it as this guy who is dying and is below zero. Then, there is this gentleman who did his first movie dealing with that. Even though it’s me and my relationship with my daughter and me and my relationship with wrestling, it’s also about Michael’s artistic vision. It’s an amazing experience if you understand how to read between the lines, if that makes sense?
Michael: There was a moment I found fascinating. We had agreed to do the film and we know it was happening. When push came to shove and we showed up there in Mexico City, it was like, “OK, Ian. It’s on.” He said, “You do your thing.” There was a different side to him, and it was a bit of a struggle because I put him in that position. I really appreciate the fact that he gave us the trust but there was a bit of a push-pull in those initial moments because he didn’t want to express himself and he was also going through a very, very rough time in his life. He was hiding a lot of things from us and he knew we were going to start digging and finding things. Part of this movie is, like he said, is him growing. I learned a tremendous amount through working with him and Dasha in terms of how to work with people. It was a fantastic experience.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the film is Ian’s time as a bodyguard for Milli Vanilli. They reached an incredible level of fame in a short period of time. Ian, how did seeing that first-hand impact you in a professional sense?
Vampiro: Honestly, I think it’s the greatest education I ever had because I was a fly on the wall. I was their bodyguard and if you have ever been a bodyguard for high-level people who are kinda weird, you have to do some strange things and you see strange things. At the same time, you can’t let that affect you. There is some shit that goes down and it’s a real mind-trip! It was a great education for me because I got to see people come from nothing to becoming the biggest stars on the planet. That position also allowed me to interact with other celebrities and businesspeople in Hollywood at a very high level. I always knew I was going to be Vampiro, so that was a really great opportunity for me to study what was coming or at least familiarize myself with it. It wasn’t like sailing a ship on the ocean, it was like sitting in an inner-tube and jumping into a tsunami! [laughs] Their fame was Elvis-like and it was the boom of the MTV tour era. We did a world tour with Marky Mark, New Kids On The Block, Paula Abdul, Lisa Lisa and The Cult Jam and Tone Loc. That was the tour! I hate to break it to ya but Milli Vanilli isn’t the only artist out there who doesn’t sing live. If you argue with me, I will show you videos that will blow your mind. So, that opportunity was a great thing. I saw what the pressures of fame can do to you. The only thing you hear people say is, “those two guys faked it.” Well, a young man lost his life. Other people involved, who were holding those puppet strings, made a lot of money and got away scot-free. Fabrice [Morvan] has had to rebuild himself in the public eye and withstand 30 years of abuse because of that shit. Was everybody swerved and did everybody get taken by it? Yeah, they did but I hate to tell ya, but pretty much everybody else that you believe in is phonier than a mothefucker! The greatest thing I learned from that time is how stupid artists are and how misinformed we are as the public as being fans of these people. Oh my god! You’d be shocked to knock that this headphone case has more brains than half of Hollywood but that’s just the way it is.
“Nail In The Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro” serves as a key to unlock your world. When people go to your social media after watching the film, they are going to see something very inspiring. It’s the Resurrection of Ian Hodgkinson in many ways. Tell us about what has gone into rebuilding yourself both physically and mentally post-documentary.
Vampiro: I believe this film was my life-preserver. I was going under for the third time and I was drowning. Emotionally, spiritually, physically and financially, I was a mess. I was dying from the metal health issues, heart issues and head issues. I wasn’t diagnosed correctly. Once we figured all of that out, Michael put it out there and everyone else who was involved with this movie would be Part 2. You’ve seen me sick; you’ve seen this amazing film but now what? In terms of what I’ve been doing, I’ve been a vegan, plant-based eater, for about five years now. I’m completely drug-free from pharmaceuticals. I’m a major supporter and advocate for medicinal marijuana use. I’ve also begun a spiritual journey where I’m practicing ancient techniques from ritual magic to meditations. I’ve been studying other things as well and I’m learning how to be more in tune with the harmonies and vibrations of the universe. So, I’m healing myself through ancient medicines, Chinese medicines, things from Egypt and Africa and through the tones, vibrations and meditations. I probably meditate around eight or nine hours a day. Getting those frequencies back is really helping me beat Alzheimer’s. What I’m doing is using myself as a live Guinea pig in front of the world, thanks to Michael’s movie.
The most important takeaway is that you can overcome anything and change your life. Since the Corona virus started, I’ve finished four University courses and I’m about to graduate and get my degree as a psychologist. At the same time, I’m learning the art of editing and producing television, in addition to a million-and-one other things. I’ve also been practicing speech for my live spoken word tour, in three languages. So, yeah. I was dying. Yeah, the world was falling apart, and I was having a horrible time, but it was all my fault. I’m the one who made the choice to get better, but it was Michael’s movie that motivated me to take those steps. What is motivating me to get better is the reaction from the people who are saying I’m a role model again. That is my life’s blood and what makes me go! That’s where we’re at!
How has your connection to your fanbase evolved in the past several years?
Vampiro: The rebirth and access to a whole new public is because of this movie. The things I talk about on social media isn’t about wrestling. I ask the fans not to bring it up. You can but it provokes anxiety. That is one of the things I needed to get away from, my past life. We can talk about wrestling and what’s going on now, but I know what I did 25 years ago. I was there. I have a lot of gratitude toward the professional wrestling industry. That’s something else Michael taught me. Ya know, Vampiro was a bad motherfucker. I don’t even remember Vampiro because of the head trauma. If you ask me what I did in the ‘90s, I couldn’t tell ya. Even if you gave me $100 million right now, I couldn’t tell ya what was in that movie. I would have to watch it to remember it. That is how bad that is. It’s interesting, the majority of fans I have now on social media have nothing to do with wrestling. They are mental health people or people who are appreciating the fight. When I steer them toward the movie, I say, “I didn’t do it by myself. I had a team.” Michael is part of that team. I think it goes a long way when people see that you are accountable, accessible, humble, don’t give a fuck and if something bothers you, you say it. I think they are all expecting me to be this semi B-level celebrity who’s going to be kissing ass and hoping for my next gig. Well, here’s to that! Double middle fingers! I am who I am. So, I think that is happening with my connection to the people. That’s my perception but what Michael saw from the outside, he captured on film. That’s what I think. Is it right? I couldn’t tell ya.
What are your short and long term goals moving forward?
Vampiro: Part of my new show features a cooking segment, so today we are shooting in the kitchen. I’m also getting ready for my spoken word tour for next year, so I’m starting to produce that show right. Write it, edit it and make it happen! That’s my goal. Now, that this movie is over, he’s gonna forget about his old friend and go on to Oscar greatness! I think that’s his goal! [laughs] Then he’s gonna go back to his boy band. Just what I heard; I don’t know. [laughs]
Michael: Yeah! [laughs] I’m just so happy to finally get the film out there and get the reaction from everybody. I’m really excited about that. We have a great Blu-ray of the film coming out at the end of the month. There is about an hour of extras on the Blu-ray with a lot of insight into stuff that didn’t make the film. On top of that, I’m one of the managing partners of a company called Raven Banner, which is a distribution company. We sell movies around the world, so we are representing 10 to 15 other filmmakers and their films. We are bringing them to major film festivals around the world and that’s a full-time job, as well. Pushing independent film and independent genre movies is what we love, and we’ll continue doing that. If I get another chance to make a film, then great! If not, we will just keep pushing forward!
You’re both blazing your own trails and I love it. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Michael: For me, it’s all about family. At the end of the day, that’s what matters. Take what we’ve seen with Coronavirus, for example. When the world stops, where is the first place you turn? Your family. It’s not necessarily your blood family. It could be any circle that you have. I think that for me is the biggest thing. Seeing Ian with his daughter has been a very motivating factor for me.
Vampiro: I’m just blessed. I’m lucky. I’m a difficult person to be around. Imagine that, I was very rebellious and then you throw in the mental health stuff and that’s not easy to deal with. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, Epic Pictures. Thank you, to the fans who support this. The biggest part of this is sharing my journey with you. It’s self-care, learning how to be accountable and understanding that things can change but it’s on you. That’s what I’ve taken away from this. If I can give that to somebody else and they can have a better quality of life, then I’m a winner.
It’s impossible to watch this film and not walk away inspired. Thank you for your time today guys and I look forward to the next chapter in both of your stories.
Michael: Thank You, Jason. I really appreciate your time.
Vampiro: Thanks, man. There are a lot of things coming, so be prepared, dude!
Follow the continuing adventures of Vampiro on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. ”Nail In The Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro’ is available on VOD now. The film hits Blu-ray on September 22nd, 2020 via Epic Pictures. Pre-order the Blu-ray now at this location.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.