Here at GFR, we have seen all manner of fictional characters facing off against zombieszombies. We’ve seen rock bands fighting them. We’ve seen Dolph Lundgren fighting them. And we’ve even seen the world’s biggest asshole fighting them. (I’m talking about Carl on The Walking Dead.) But never before had we seen or even imagined a world in which some of the most popular professional wrestlers from the 1980s and 1990s would face off against hordes of the undead. Until now.
Writer/director Cody Knotts (Breeding Farm) has taken the zombie movie into the squared circle for his third film, Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies, a throwback horror comedy that sounds like a combination of silly YouTube skit and a 12-year-old boy’s wet dream. But it’s actually a rip-roaring good time for those who can appreciate the subject matter. Believe it or not, there are some people in the world who aren’t into either zombies or pro wrestling. So either leave those tools behind or tie them to the turnbuckle and force them to watch until they’re completely on board. And it shouldn’t take long.
The plot here is simple, nonsensical, and doesn’t take itself seriously. A jealous Shane “The Franchise” Douglas purposefully botches a move in the ring, killing his opponent in the process. It turns out that opponent is the brother of a man named Angus, who has the ability to call up an army of zombies through a Satanic ritual. His revenge plan involves hiring Douglas and a handful of other famed fighters as part of a special event held inside a prison. As you can imagine, this is all a set-up and the prison is soon ambushed. I know what you’re saying. “Couldn’t Angus have just put a bullet in Douglas’ head?” Probably, but we think it’s a sign of how ignorant Santanic ritualists are, rather than being a faulty plot point. How the hell else would zombies attack wrestlers?
With a fairly short runtime, Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies thankfully doesn’t take much time to get to the action, introducing the rest of its recognizable cast and switching the leading-man focus from Douglas to none other than Rowdy Roddy Piper, whom non-wrestling fans will certainly know from John Carpenter’s They Live, if nothing else. He is joined by Olympian Kurt Angle, former Hardy Boy Matt Hardy, Hacksaw Jim Duggan (Ohhhh!), Thomas Rodman, Rock of Love Bus winner Taya Parker, model (and Hardy’s wife) Reby Sky, and a handful of indie wrestlers and porn stars.
One of the biggest draws of this movie is the complete lack of CGI and dependence on practical gore and wrestling-like stunts, often performed by the actors themselves. You can only see a zombie get his head cut off so many times, but there’s no way I could ever get tired of seeing them get put into ankle locks and ripped apart by body slams. It’s obvious that Piper is the most talented actor on set here — though wrestlers playing themselves doesn’t really require too much pathos — and he delivers the film’s greatest one-liners, including one that sums the entire movie up in a musclebound nutshell: “This is fucking ridiculous.” Indeed it is, Roddy. Indeed it is.
But it’s also a ton of fun, and it shames many similar films that either draw their humor from terrible jokes or forego humor altogether. Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies flies its absurdist flag high, giving audiences sequences they’ll never find in any other films. It’s hard to say that kind of thing about any movie, much less one in the insanely derivative zombie sub-genre, but Knotts manages to bypass serious criticisms by reveling in subject matter that could probably never legitimately achieve high drama in anyone’s hands. It’s easy to conceive of critics knocking this film as compared to the Academy Award contenders, but if you’re making those kinds of comparisons then you’re completely missing the point.
The movie was filmed mostly in Parkersburg, West Virginia and uses local wrestlers in the film and local music artists on his hard-rock soundtrack that often comes in during the more action-heavy sequences. If you like slick guitar riffs accompanying people getting punched in the face, then you’ve got yet another reason to check this movie out.
Knotts, who also stars in the film as a slimy promoter, has created one of the only films I can think of that might have been a failure had it been made with a huge budget. The homegrown aesthetic and spirit behind it all is encouraging, and watching zombies get beat over the head with 2x4s is as awesome as it sounds. It may not be a perfect film by any means, but it endearingly succeeds in everything it sets out to do, and that’s about as close to perfect as you can get in cinema.
You’ll be able to check Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies out later this year when it hits VOD on March 28. You may also be able to catch one of its upcoming screenings as it travels to different cities around the country. Check out its Facebook page for up-to-date information. Until then, here’s the trailer.