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Fantastic Fest 2019: In conversation with Director Michael Paszt and Ian “Vampiro” Hodgkinson

“Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro” premiered at Fantastic Fest on Friday, September 20. The film dives into the impact that professional wrestling has had on Ian “Vampiro” Hodgkinson and his new life navigating the management of a lucha libre federation in Mexico while simultaneously raising his daughter in Canada.

We had a chance to speak with director Michael Paszt and his subject, Ian “Vampiro” Hodgkinson, at Fantastic Fest. Read below for the full interview and check out our review of the film here.

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Ian “Vampiro” Hodgkinson and Michael Paszt | Photo credit: Jack Plunkett

You were in attendance for the premiere of the film at Fantastic Fest. What was that experience like watching it with an audience?

Michael: That was awesome. It was a lot of fun. It was great. They opened up another theater for the Q&A that was simulcast. Fantastic Fest for me is amazing. Fantastic Fest is probably the number one genre fan festival in the world. You’ve got other festivals like TIFF and Sundance and — but this is total fan festival. So when people come to watch these movies they’re celebrating horror movies, sci-fi, lucha, you name it. One of these fans and people coming to see a film are worth 10. It’s because they’re so passionate. I’m a fan too. Whenever it comes together it’s horror films, it’s metal, it’s punk, it’s everything all comes together and it’s just a big celebration. And that’s what I love about Fantastic Fest.

Ian: This was the first time I’d ever seen it. It was great. I’m so proud of Michael and his version of my world. I wouldn’t have been able to tell the story he did. So I thought it was great. And the reaction of the people afterwards was great. I don’t know if the right word is relieved, but it was… it was emotional for both him and I to see so many people so moved by what he did. It was great.

How did this story come to you? Were you a fan of Ian prior?

Michael: The story came to both of us. We’ve known each other for years on and off. And we bumped into each other, and we hadn’t spoken in many years. I found out that he was living in Northern Ontario Canada and he was flying, commuting; leaving on Thursday and going to Mexico City to do the shows and then going to Los Angeles and then coming back Sunday night to be with his daughter to make lunch for her in the morning, just like I do, just like every other family does. And that really touched me. I was like, ‘oh my God.’ I felt stupid that I would be complaining that I have to commute on the subway to work but this guy’s commuting. How many miles and kilometers is that? And like [he] does that every single week. And I was like, ‘I don’t get that.’ I was blown away with that commitment and that it’s for his daughter and that for us was like, ‘That’s the heart of the story.’ And that was it. I love lucha, I love all of that. And that was the big thing and the focus and all around it this is, you know, it’s extra and the gravy.

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Ian “Vampiro” Hodgkinson and daughter Dasha

You open up about a lot of personal things with your daughter and the sexual assault you suffered when you were younger. Was it hard for you to talk about those things on camera?

Ian: I’m a weird guy. I’m kind of anti-social. It’s real hard for me to deal with people at any level. I think that’s why I’m so successful as Vampiro. Because that’s my outlet. So I didn’t really ever let anybody in ever, ever. I say in the movie when my daughter was born not even her mom could change her diapers — I would. I was so overprotective. I’m the kind of person that you’re either in or out. And there was something about Michael that just I never questioned it. I trusted him one hundred percent and it was no issue. It wasn’t even a thought between any of us it was just like, ‘yeah, man let’s go.’ It’s just what happened and was supposed to happen. You couldn’t have written it or couldn’t have shopped it around looking for a director. This was meant to be and he was the one and that’s it.

Can you talk about the early days of your career moving from Canada to Mexico City and the explosion that happened around Vampiro?

Ian: There’s nothing to compare it to, because when I got there in the late ’80s the Internet wasn’t even around. Cell phones weren’t even around, so there was no benchmark. There was nothing to to bounce it off of. I literally showed up in Mexico with 80 Canadian dollars in a duffel bag and a one-way ticket. I had no idea what was coming. It’s kind of like when the Spaniards invaded Mexico, they sunk their ships and weren’t going home. A lot of what happened to me — the explosion, the pro-wrestling explosion in general, the hardcore style of wrestling, the immersion of rock and roll into wrestling at the extent, I did it. I was more about that than the actual wrestling. There were guys who had rock-and-roll characters but there was never a real rock-and-roll kid trying to find what he was going to do in life.

There was nothing to compare it to because there was a new genre. So a lot of what happened to me was a new thing in our industry and didn’t exist before. There weren’t girls coming into an arena looking at a guy like a pop star. That didn’t happen, and it was a conflict down there because a lot of the guys didn’t know how to treat me. I got beat up a lot in the beginning but then when I saw that I was the moneymaker I got protected beyond words. It was a mind trip. It was very psychologically damaging because there was nowhere to go for guidance. So it was a lot to deal with as a young man and extremely lonely. A lot of young guys are like, ‘I want 5,000 Latina girls begging for me.’ I would come home and to be lines outside my apartment and girls waiting for sex, there’s no other way to tell you. But it sucked because it’s like three weeks ago when I was living in a car you wouldn’t even give me a quarter. Now I’m here and you don’t know my name and you’re telling me you love me. I don’t want this. It was really hard.

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Ian “Vampiro” Hodgkinson

Was there anything that you didn’t expect when you started following Ian for this documentary?

Michael: I think just being a filmmaker I was like, ‘That’s not evil.’ I try not to have a judgment right on his life which is where I watch it.

We let the camera, you know, roll point-and-shoot. And then we put it together and then, and then it’s up to the audience to have a decision they want to make about all of that. There are some really special moments in there. There’s a few moments I did that with — the restaurant scene for example. What was really cool because, as a filmmaker, you want to get the most, but how do you get those moments right? So Dasha and him were there having their dinner and when we had the camera in the back and we were far away with just letting it roll. We wanted them to kind of talk about some certain things we and I said to Dasha, ‘Dasha this is your chance; ask him anything you want. You’ve got him on the spot. He’s not leaving this seat. So ask him,’ right? So then she’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re right,’ and they started eating and that’s when she started asking the questions. And Ian can’t leave, right? And that’s just a genuine moment that was there. For me was yeah, it was really special. And then the doctor too because he complained to us that Ian doesn’t listen. I said, ‘Well, we’re gonna film this. This is your chance to lean into him about that.’ He said, ‘Okay, I’m going to do that.’ Those were nice moments where we just kind of sat back and let it roll and let it play out right. So it was cool.

We started this journey about two and a half years ago or so — three years ago and just growth. And how we’ve changed and grown ourselves. Ian, three years ago he was in a dark point in his life at 350 pounds, and even myself — I was unhealthy and in between all this it just changed. And it was cool. He has a daughter and I have two, a 13-year-old and 8-year-old. We have that connection but also other people have connections. The president of El Rey Network started talking about Ian and his daughter and he started talking about daughters because he’s got daughters too, who are 17 and 18. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when he gives an analogy of, you know, the growth of a child and it was an amazing moment for us because this is a guy who’s a president of El Rey Network and he turns around and just started talking about fathers and daughters and the insight that he offered was beautiful because he was talking about his daughter and he’s talking about Ian’s daughter and talking about my daughter, and we’re all kind of all going through this together. So it was really cool.

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Ian “Vampiro” Hodgkinson and Michael Paszt | Photo credit: Jack Plunkett

At the end of the documentary we find out about the diagnosis and that you continue to fight. Can you talk about that and why you don’t stop?

Ian: Why should I? Right? It’s like I’m going to die anyways. I could die today. I could fall down the stairs and die. I got a diagnosis, so what? What am I going to change my whole life and ‘oh poor me’ and be unhappy and probably get depressed and die? Malcolm Young from AC/DC, they said he had dementia and took him out of the band and he died a couple months later. If you’re a rock-and-roller you play rock and roll until you die. Mick Jagger has had a heart attack. What did he do? He did everything possible to get back on stage. It’s like, yeah, okay I’ve got head trauma. I’ve been hit in the head for 30 years with steel chairs and I’ve been punched a million and thousand times. So yeah, of course I’m going to have head injuries and head trauma. Okay. And I mean it’s like some people are born — they go blind or some people they get cancer. I mean fuck. So stop complaining. You’re going to make it worse either so fine tune the engine and go a different route and keep the speed up and keep the volume loud. Am I bad to be around now because I have Alzheimer’s? I mean there’s a million billion people in the world who have it. I’d rather be a light and a middle finger than like, ‘Yeah, I got to take care and I’m going to be in a rest home.’ Fuck that. They might as well shoot me.

I told my daughter, ‘I’ve been doing this since I was 14. I’m 52. If I make it to 60 it’s a miracle. I’m going to make it cause I want to meet your kids. That’s the only thing that’s going to keep me alive. But I’m not going to slow down. I’m just going to continue to jump off buildings and continue to play rock and roll at full speed; I’m going to continue to run into the wall and hit it and get up and laugh and do it again. That’s what I do. But I love you just the same and I’m going to be here for you.’ So it doesn’t change shit. I figured if I got these diagnoses and stuff like that and I shake but fuck, so? I still look pretty cool, you know what I mean? It’s like you just got to go. It doesn’t phase me. That’s the point.

So many people are in shitty situations. I’d rather be me than be in that situation where you’re unhappy. I’m the master of my destiny. I wake up every day and this is what I’m going to do and I’m living my life my way. The key to success and riches is being able to do your thing your way under your circumstances. That’s wealth. That’s the basic human right. And I’m pretty wealthy because I’m doing things my way.

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