[PRO WRESTLERS VS. ZOMBIES screens Monday March 31st at 7:00 pm at the Capitol Theatre. One showing only!]
Review by Bob Ignizio
The plot of PRO WRESTLERS VS. ZOMBIES is set in motion when Shane “The Franchise” Douglas (playing himself) kills his opponent in the ring. It's ruled an accident, but given that Shane was none too pleased about the guy making out with his girlfriend, it just might have been intentional. That's certainly what the victim's brother thinks, and as so often happens in situations like this, he performs a sacrifice to reanimate the dead and rents an old abandoned prison. The guy then hires Shane and a bunch of other wrestlers to come to the prison and put on a private show where, unbeknownst to the wrestlers, their opponents will be zombies. From that point on, it's pretty much all bloody bodyslams and gory grappling.
Despite being the reason for all this undead mayhem, Douglas is more of a second lead in the film. The real star/hero turns out to be “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, with Adrienne Fischer, one of the few cast members not just playing themselves, as female wrestler Sarah Schuman. Other notables appearing include ring warriors “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Matt Hardy, and Kurt Angle. The rest of the female cast members are mostly “models”, with Taya Parker having the distinction of being 2009's Penthouse Pet of the Year. That same year Reby Sky won the title of “Miss Howard [Stern] TV”, although in fairness she is a pro wrestler in her own right as well.
Given that the cast are almost entirely used to playing over the top caricatures in the ring, the acting is about what you'd expect. Not subtle, but certainly not wooden, either. What heavy dramatic lifting there is largely falls on the three leads. Douglas does fine as long as he's doing his heel routine, but when the film makes an awkward attempt to generate pathos he simply isn't up to the task. Surprisingly, Piper doesn't come off that well here, either. He's got a fairly extensive acting resume including a couple of personal favorites (THEY LIVE, HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN), and while he's never been in danger of winning any awards, the guy is generally a capable actor. Here he just seems uncomfortable much of the time, and given how far of a step down this is even from the B movies he usually stars in, I can kind of understand that. Schuman probably comes off the best. She doesn't exactly make her barely written character interesting, but she does the best she can with what she was given.
Much of the dialogue (and some of the plot) feels like it was made up on the fly, and based on what little I've read online about the film's production, I have a feeling that's what happened. Piper's role was originally supposed to be played by Mick Foley, and on set re-writes resulted in writer/director/producer Cody Knotts having to add a role for himself in the film. Whatever the budget was, my guess is the lion's share went to hiring the wrestlers, but Knotts probably could have saved himself at least some of that money. There are so many wrestlers here that, unless you know who everybody is already, it's hard to keep track of everyone. And is so often the case with micro budget horror, the soundtrack is a collection of mediocre metal from bands no one has ever heard of that, even for a metal head like me, starts to grate on the nerves after a while. The end result of all these issues is a film that feels cluttered, clunky, and cheap.
If nothing else PRO WRESTLERS VS. ZOMBIES delivers on its high concept premise. It's got zombies and it's got pro wrestlers. It's got zombies being ripped in half by pro wrestlers, wrestlers being chomped on by zombies, zombie wrestling... in short, just about every potential scenario involving zombies and pro wrestlers you could imagine is realized at some point in this film. So if that's what you're looking for in a movie – and I know for some of you reading this, it is – you should be happy. More discriminating cinephiles may be less pleased, but then this movie wasn't made for them. 1 out of 4 stars.