Directed, Shot and Edited by Lee Demarbre Written by Ian Driscoll Produced by Robert Menzies
Cast: Ian Hodgkinson - The Champ (Vampiro) Ana Sidel - Maya Martin Kove - Bob Depugh Phil Caracas - Carlito Dave Courtney - Tlaloc Oren Hawxhurt - Fighter#1 (Luke Hawx aka Altar Boy Luke.) Aaron Katz - Minuteman #1 Joey Munoz - Bar Bouncer (KAOS) Talia Russo - Bunny Aaron Aguilera Joseph Meehan (Joey Ryan)
Lee Demarbre and Ian Driscoll are a team of Ottawa film makers and Fantasia Film Festival veterans who have previously created Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter and Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace. In 2006, they started following around Ian Hodgkinson aka Vampiro to make a documentary film about his life going from a Thunder Bay kid - homeless on the streets of Montreal, eating out of garbage bins - to being the “Hulk Hogan of Mexico”. While they were shooting the documentary (due out later this year) Vampiro told Lee and Ian an idea that he had for a film…
Within a month, they had a script, a budget (pennies) and were shooting The Dead Sleep Easy, a “Mexican Wrestling Gangster Movie” in Guadalaraja with many actual Guadalaraja gangsters in key roles because, “our Line Producer had never made a movie before and when he read the script and saw Gangsters described in the script and instead of hiring actors to play gangsters, he hired real gangsters!” - Lee Demarbre.
When Lee and Ian came to Montreal to deliver a sneak preview, I HAD to be there. Vampiro? Acting? In a Mexican Wrestling Gangster Movie? Filmed by Canadians? The mind boggled.
Here is what I was expecting: A train wreck. A glorious train wreck. A bad movie that revelled in its badness. (Which is as good a description for their first two films as any.)
I didn’t get my train wreck.
And I couldn’t be happier.
This film is so dirty, so gritty, it is like a lost 70’s film (including the obligatory 70’s psychedelic scene.) Every one in the film is a son-of-a-bitch. The nicest character in the film, the one who has been saved, the one who wears white? He got there by shooting his best friend in the face with a shot-gun. This is a film about the damned.
Remember the scene at the beginning of The Wild Bunch where the kids are forcing two scorpions to fight a group of fire ants before setting them all on fire? This film might as well take place in that fire.
Vampiro plays “The Champ”, a broken-down, drugged-out former wrestling champion barred for life from wrestling because he killed a man in the ring, now earning his drugs as a mob enforcer. Martin Kove (the evil Karate master from the Karate Kid series) is his psychopathic, Peckinpah-obsessed part-time Videographer, full-time assassin, quasi partner.
While stumbling through life like a drunk lurching from lamp post to lamp post, a cross between Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant and Stacy Keach in Fat City, Vampiro bumps heads with most of the Wrestling Society X roster including notably Joey Ryan, KAOS, Alter Boy Luke and Aaron Aguilera.
A few quick caveats for wrestling fans:
While the film is set in Mexico, don’t expect to see high flying Lucha Libre action. The style used is more like a dirty bar room bastardization of Mixed Martial Arts, which fits the tone of the film perfectly.
Oddly, the Champ’s fall from grace hinges around a rigged fight that he was supposed to lose and didn’t, echoing the story of Daredevil’s Dad Battlin’ Jack Murdock and countless film noir boxing films. Only where Jack gets killed for costing his mob boss money, the Champ becomes the indentured servant of Dave Courtney’s Tlaloc. For me this matched the 70’s vibe of the rest of the film in that it hearkened back to the days when kay-fabe was still alive and people could believe that someone would actually bet money on a pro wrestling match. .
Wrestling fans will also note the odd echoes of the lives and tragic deaths of Rikidōzan and Bruiser Brody.
The one place where the film falls down a little bit is in the editing. The pacing and the beats just seem a little off like an out-of-shape fighter with a bit too much flab. And I really don’t need to be told that you are flashing back to “Then” when you are also giving me the flash backs in black and white. It is also somewhat redundant to tell me that I am looking at the Day of the Dead celebrations. Not only is the information unnecessary and redundant, but it works against the more subtle vibe of the rest of the film.
But that’s quibbling. Ultimately, this is a quantum leap forward for both Director Lee Demarbre and Writer Ian Driscoll and easily the best English language wrestling film ever - ranking only behind The Foul King and The Calamari Wrestler for the World Title.
Most shockingly? Vampiro can act!
“One reviewer told me it was the best performance by a wrestler in a film since Roddy Piper in They Live. - Lee Demarbre.
Granted, it’s not a terribly crowded field, but I would argue that it’s the best acting performance by a wrestler in a film ever.
This film will not be easy to find, but it will be well worth the search. Expect it to make the Festival circuit before a DVD release.
For Los Angeles residents, Ricardo Montalban (!) will be presenting the film at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre on March 27th and 28th. The Director, Writer and most of the cast are expected to be there.
Argo should come with a seal: Ben's Best. (backofthehead.com) SPOILERS. Really a terrific movie by Ben Affleck. I think it's the best of the three he's directed so far. Thoroughly enjoyed every second of it.