It’s Allhallows Eve, the night for ghouls and goblins to roam the streets. Pro wrestling has done a lot of horror-movie-inspired matches over the years—some great, some cringy and silly. Here is a smattering of the coolest variations of horror movie wrestling, along with comparable horror films to check out.
Kevin Sullivan vs. Blackjack Mulligan
Championship Wrestling From Florida, Aug. 1984
Horror movie comparison: Angel Heart (1987), Prince of Darkness (1987)
There have been dozens of wrestlers over the years who have done a Satanic cult leader gimmick; you can’t throw a rock at an indie without hitting some guy wearing a heavy metal T-shirt and 666 written on his forehead. Most of the time, it is pretty corny; whether it is Malakai Black or Bray Wyatt, they are all just versions of the “I want Kevin Sullivan, mom!” “We have Kevin Sullivan at home” meme.
Sullivan was inspired by Eastern mysticism, Satanism, and Charles Manson, and he was the straw that stirred the drink in the state of Florida for much of the 1980s. We are blessed to have lots of freaky Sullivan promos and angles on tape (tossing ink in the eyes of Dusty Rhodes’s sister, corrupting Olympian Bob Roop, bringing out Mike Davis as the real Dusty Rhodes), but most of the big arena matches from that era are either heavily clipped or missing. This bout—a “Hangman’s Noose” match with legendary babyface hero Blackjack Mulligan—was short, but a great example of the demonic Sullivan’s intense brand of wrestling.
Sullivan came to the ring to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and was accompanied by minions in ghoul makeup carrying snakes and the Fallen Angel (a.k.a., the late Nancy Benoit) in a leather bikini with a choke chain around her neck. Sullivan jumped Mulligan (clad in his cowboy hat and American flag bandana) before he could get into the ring and before you could say boo, Mulligan was bleeding from punches and chair shots. Mulligan was able to fire back, but was soon cut off when the Lock (one of Sullivan’s lackeys) threw a live python in the ring, bouncing off of Mulligan. “Superstar” Billy Graham then ran in to help beat Mulligan (and attempt to hang Mulligan with the noose) before Mike Graham ran them off. The match was more of a taste than a full meal, but you got a great sense of the kind of chaos that made Sullivan such a sensation. Sullivan is probably best known for his run in WCW with the Dungeon of Doom, which was a sanitized, PG version of the exploitation/grindhouse/creepshow stuff that the Prince of Darkness was doing in his prime.
Chamber of Horrors Match: Abdullah the Butcher, Big Van Vader, Cactus Jack, and the Diamond Studd vs. El Gigante, Rick Steiner, Scott Steiner, and Sting
WCW Halloween Havoc, 1991
Horror movie comparison: Evil Dead II (1987), Army of Darkness (1992)
The rep that this match has, to the extent anyone talks about it, is as a piece of Wrestlecrap, an entry on a listicle of dumb WCW moments (along with the destruction of Sting’s speedboat or the Shockmaster or the Kiss Demon); it is much better than that, though. To be fair, this match had some silly stuff—the “ghouls” extras in white makeup and dust carrying out the stretcher, the switch on the electric chair falling down and needing to be propped back up by the referee, the idea of an electric chair in a wrestling match—but a lot of that stuff kind of worked in the chaos of the match. Why were jobbers in black masks and unitards popping out of coffins? Who knows, but it did lead to the Steiners manhandling them, and the Steiners being unprofessional with jobbers always rules. The refer-eye camera (an incubatory GoPro taped to the head of the referee) is a bad idea, but it led to some cool Sam Raimi-ish shaky POV camera shots. The electric chair is an absurd idea, but the actual pyro when Abdullah the Butcher got “shocked” looked awesome, almost like a pre-Onita FMW explosion. The match also had prime Steiners, Sting, and Vader throwing shots at each other, Scott Hall doing his Razor Ramon shtick before he was Razor Ramon, Abdullah the Butcher bleeding and making scary faces, the 7-foot-7 failed Atlanta Hawks center prospect El Gigante wandering around and being tall; all cool things.
The real standout from this match, however, was Cactus Jack. This was his first big PPV match (after wrestling on a few WCW pay-per-views during his prior WCW run), and we all know Mick Foley can take things to another level when there is a spotlight on him. Cactus got a heavy wooden coffin lid dropped on his skull, took an amazing bump over the top rope, full speed, into the cage, and his face was soaked in blood. This was Cactus—back in WCW, on PPV, with the chance that he might never get back there again—going full force to make sure everyone remembered his name. He added the horror to what was otherwise kind of a goofy match, and that combination of slapstick and gore really made this match memorable.
Jason the Terrible vs. New Jason the Terrible
IWA Japan Who Is the Best, July 1994
Horror movie comparison: Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Jason X (2001)
The original Jason the Terrible had been a Japanese indie sleaze for years, and he was challenged by the New Jason the Terrible, who was played by Southern wrestling icon Tracy Smothers. This was a casket match, and unlike the ornate coffins you would see in Undertaker matches, this was a plain wooden box, like something you might use to bury an Old West card cheat who got shot in the back. New Jason almost immediately took Old Jason to the balcony of Korakuen Hall (a place which saw lots of terror over the years, sort of the Amityville Horror house of wrestling venues) and tossed his hockey mask to the crowd, which did make it easier to tell them apart—that and the fact that New Jason wrestled exactly like Tracy Smothers, including flipping off the crowd, which isn’t the way I imagine Jason Voorhees would deal with heckling fans.
The match itself was a huge brawl with some phenomenal spots, including an Asai moonsault by the original Jason, which isn’t something you normally saw from a 6-foot-1, 275-pound individual, especially in 1994. There were some nicely-timed Undertaker sit-ups by both wrestlers, too, with both guys popping out of the coffin like a prop in a Halloween lawn display. OG Jason bled a ton and ended up losing the match when New Jason powerbombed him through the wood coffin, with his head breaking the side of the coffin in a way that looked both unplanned and unpleasant. New Jason was then joined by his buddy Leatherface and they chased fans through the building, terrorizing women and children alike.
Kane vs. Undertaker
WWE Unforgiven, 1998
Horror movie comparison: Freddy vs. Jason (2003), The Exorcist III (1990)
This is the most famous of all of the spooky stories in pro wrestling. While the future twists of this feud would get sillier and sillier, the buildup to this match was relatively straightforward. Paul Bearer turned on the Undertaker, claiming that the Undertaker set fire to his parents’ mortuary as a child, killing his parents and his brother, Kane. Bearer then said that Kane didn’t in fact die, but had been hidden away, scarred for life from the fire. Kane then debuted by attacking the Undertaker at the first Hell in a Cell, and later interfered in a casket match between Taker and Shawn Michaels, throwing Undertaker into a casket and setting it on fire. Taker had refused to fight his brother, but after the casket BBQ,Taker fought and defeated Kane at WrestleMania. This all led to the first-ever Inferno match, where the two men wrestled in a ring surrounded by fire.
There had been fire matches in wrestling previously, most of which were notable for being totally out of control and dangerous. The Original Sheik and Sabu teamed up to face Tarzan Goto and Atsushi Onita in a fire match in FMW which nearly burned down the entire ring. W*ING Kanemura had the skin burned off of his back after getting powerbombed into a pool of gasoline. This was a WWF version of that, where the fire was more of a special effect than something that would kill or maim the wrestlers involved. Still, it was quite a spectacle. It was set up so that the flames would flare up when the wrestlers took bumps, and it felt like an epic fight in a burning building. Kane at this point was still a novel character and had that Michael Myers, slow, “impending death”–feel to his work. There were a couple of truly iconic moments, including Undertaker doing his running dive over the flames on Kane and Vader (who were brawling on the floor), and Kane getting his arm set on fire to lose the match (there was clearly some sort of protective wrap on the arm, but it was still a guy with his arm on fire). The Taker and Kane saga would get run into the ground over the years, but here, it was still awesome to see the resident demon having to face an even more evil demon from the depths of his past.
Chainsaw Charlie vs. Tarzan Goto
Indie World Vol1 Fuck Dem Up!, May 1998
Horror movie comparison: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Chainsaw Charlie was a gimmick that the iconic Terry Funk used for a bit in the WWF, for some reason. It was always obviously just Terry Funk with a chain saw in his hand and pantyhose on his head, and they never bothered to pretend otherwise. He went ahead and brought that gimmick to Japan to face off with puroresu ghoulie Tarzan Goto in a huge Korakuen Hall brawl.
The match started with Goto meeting Charlie in the aisle and them sword-fighting with a chair and a chain saw. They brawled into the crowd and soon Charlie had blood staining his ridiculous-looking pantyhose mask—real gross-looking stuff. Funk looked like a guy who would jump out at you on a haunted hayride. Terry got thrown into barbed-wire boards and jabbed with broken pieces of wood, screaming and squirming the way only Terry Funk can. He was finally able to take over when he countered a Goto spinning toe hold (a signature Funk move Goto was applying just to be a dick) by kicking him face-first into a barbed-wire board. We then got broken bottles, more chair shots, and more shots with barbed-wire boards until, finally, Kai En Tai DX ran to support their WWF compatriot Charlie and started brawling with random Goto trainees. The whole thing ended in chaos, which is pretty much where it began and stayed throughout.
Iceberg vs. David Young
NWA Wildside, May 2002
Horror movie comparison: The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Re-Animator (1985)
Iceberg is a Southern wrestling icon; the legend is that he was an enthusiastic customer at Abdullah the Butcher’s House of Ribs & Chinese Food restaurant, where the Butcher spotted him and suggested he should get into professional wrestling. Iceberg took on the mantle from the Butcher—Iceberg is a gargantuan man (listed in this match at 600 pounds, but normally in the 385-450 range) with the agility to fly off the top rope and unquenchable blood lust. David Young is another mainstay in the South, one of Iceberg’s main rivals, and is known for his textbook spinebuster.
Before the match, Jeff G. Bailey, Iceberg’s manager and one of the more demented promos of all time, serenaded Iceberg with a graphic story of a serial killer dismembering his mother. Iceberg went after Young in that spirit, using his massive size and his signature potato peeler to brutalize the then–NWA Wildside champion. Young got back into it when Iceberg missed an avalanche on the floor and slammed into the ring post, visibly shifting the ring. Young carved up Iceberg a bit with the potato peeler and both guys ended up red. Bit of a goofy finish as the timekeeper called for the bell right as Young miraculously lifted Iceberg in his spinebuster; it seemed like a BS finish, and it was never really explained. Post-match, Bailey’s NWA Elite came in and laid out the entire babyface locker room (including a very young track-pantsed AJ Styles) with chair shots and enveloping Iceberg splashes, all while Bailey demanded Iceberg to crush them all to death. Real mad-scientist vibes from Bailey with Iceberg as his monstrous creation was released on the world.
L.A. Park vs. La Parka
AAA Triplemanía XVIII, June 2010
Horror movie comparison: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
This was a AAA Triplemanía main event, with L.A. Park (the original wearer of the skeleton outfit that was known as “La Parka” in WCW) taking on La Parka, the wrestler who replaced him in the outfit when L.A. Park initially left AAA. This match was for the rights to the La Parka name and iconography and it had the “anything can happen” feel of the best L.A. Park brawls. This was two ghoulish skeletons beating on each other with fists and chairs and smashing each other with violent topes. La Parka was desperate to prove that he wasn’t an imposter and tried to meet L.A. Park shot for shot before he eventually fell underneath the river of violence the original unleashed.
The match was part of a Shane vs. Vince–style feud, with Dorian Roldan feuding with his father Joaquin Roldan for control of AAA. L.A. Park is an agent of chaos, though, and at the end of the match he left La Parka twitching and convulsing on the mat after a martinete (otherwise known as the tombstone piledriver, a move forbidden in Mexico) on a chair. Park then grabbed a chair, knocked down his ostensible ally Dorian, and wasted the 55-year-old Joaquin with a chair shot, and then reveled in the wreckage of his actions.
Gypsy Joe vs. New Jack
NWA Main Event Wrestling, April 2003
Horror movie comparison: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Dawn of the Dead (1978)
New Jack might have been the most dangerous wrestler to see yourself opposite the call sheet from. He once sliced open an untrained wrestler, Mass Transit, during an ECW event, stabbed another indie wrestler in Florida with a knife, and tried to murder Vic Grimes by throwing him off of a scaffold in XPW. He spent time in prison for armed robbery as a juvenile and worked as a bounty hunter before getting into wrestling. The best wrestling gimmicks are based in real life, and there was virtually no distinction between New Jack the wrestler and Jerome Young the person.
Gypsy Joe was 69 years old when he came into this match, and was long considered one of the toughest wrestlers to ever step between the ropes. He had been wrestling in bloody hardcore matches since the 1960s and was well known for absorbing tremendous amounts of punishment while continuing to fire back. The first moments of this match were still cooperative pro wrestling, with both guys absorbing and selling each other’s blows, but at some point, New Jack felt that Gypsy Joe’s signature style of taking shots and lumbering forward was disrespectful (and was also enraged by the racial slurs thrown at him by the crowd). Jack started to throw full-force shots with chairs and a barbed-wire baseball bat, shifting from participating in a pro wrestling match into a felonious assault. However, despite the fact he was nearly 70, Gypsy Joe was Gypsy Joe, the baddest man on the block, and he took weapon shot after weapon shot and kept coming forward, shrugging them off like an undead shambler. Joe apparently was unaware he was in a fight; he would hit you hard and expected to get hit hard back, and was just excited to have a violent wrestling brawl. He even thanked New Jack for the match after it was over. You want to talk about a hardcore legend? It’s not the guy delivering the unprofessional beating, it’s the guy taking it with a smile, eager for more.
Fenix vs. Mil Muertes
Lucha Underground, Jan. 2015
Horror movie comparison: The Legend of La Llorona (2022), a scarier version of Coco (2017)
Lucha Underground had a fascinating and uneven four-season run. It attempted a mix of horror and sci-fi genre storytelling with pro wrestling. It had its fair share of misses and lost the thread completely by the end, but definitely was able to deliver some huge highs. This was the apex of Lucha Underground cool; its use of professional Hollywood set designers, camera, and lighting people created tremendous visuals that looked like something from Coco and The Legend of La Llorona. From the ornate flowered coffin to the Día de los Muertos costumed extras who accompanied it to the ring to the grimy underground fight club feel of the Temple, everything looked great.
The match itself lived up to the pageantry. This was Fenix’s coming-out party, and he took a huge beating from the demonic Muertes, getting his mask ripped and his face bloodied. He was able to fire back using his athleticism and speed, jumping around the Temple like a kid on an obstacle course, diving off balconies, and springing off of various ledges and gates. This article is full of Undertaker-inspired competitors, and Muertes brought a different flavor to the gimmick, adding more force and fury to the undead archetype, while still seeming impossible to put down. Great mixture of pomp and circumstance and hard, punishing violence.
Tank vs. Krule
ICW No Holds Barred Volume 29, July 2022
Horror movie comparison: Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
This was a monster fight between two of the scarier guys haunting the independent scene. Tank is 52 years old and has been brawling and bleeding in Southern gymnasiums since the mid-’90s; he paved the red road that Krule is lumbering down. He looks like the éminence grise of a violent biker gang, the guy who tells all the jokes and everyone loves, but is the first guy to swing the bike chain at someone’s head. He is accompanied by his backwoods cult leader Rev. Dan Wilson, who seems downright giddy to be the officiant at this wedding of demons. Krule is as intimidating and terrifying as anyone in wrestling. He stands 6-foot-8 with a creepy half mask and doll-eye contact lenses, and is willing to both dish out and absorb sick violence. There is nothing winking about him; he seems like the kind of wrestler a small kid would catch a glance of and then have nightmares about for years.
Krule opened the match with an over-the-top rope dive, and the match kept a frantic pace throughout, with both guys swinging light tubes and smashing each other with barbed-wire boards. At one point Tank brought out a bunch of spiked construction gusset plates, driving them into Krule’s chest. The finish was great, with Tank landing a bunch of Saito suplexes and Krule continuing to pop up—though a little more slowly each time. The final suplex kept Krule down, only to do a rising-from-the-dead sit-up and lock in a choke, which he used to put Tank out while staring unnervingly into the camera with his dead eyes. They have a rematch coming up in November for Krule’s newly won IWTV Independent Wrestling world title, and I imagine Round 2 will be as exciting as their first encounter.
Phil Schneider is a cofounder of the Death Valley Driver Video Review, a writer on the Segunda Caida blog, host of The Way of the Blade podcast, and the author of Way of the Blade: 100 of the Greatest Bloody Matches in Wrestling History, which is available on Amazon. He is on Twitter at @philaschneider.