Grunt! The Wrestling Movie
The Tragedy & Triumph of "Mad Dog" Joe DeCurso
Welcome to Pop' n’ Pizza, a weekly newsletter highlighting what’s new in pop culture and pulp fiction. WRESTLEMANIA — the Showcase of the Immortals — is only four weeks away, and to celebrate, I’m publishing wrestling movie reviews leading up to the big event. This week, I’m talking about GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE. 🍕🥤
GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE
Directed by Allan Holzman (FORBIDDEN WORLD), 1985's GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE begins with a hard-fought battle between professional wrestlers "Mad Dog" Joe DeCurso (Greg "Magic" Schwarz) and reigning champion Skull Crusher Johnson (Victor Rivera). The grainy black-and-white footage — an obvious homage to Martin Scorsese's RAGING BULL — gives the championship match an air of gravitas. A Big Fight Feel™.
After a grueling slugfest, "Mad Dog" traps Skull Crusher's neck in the ropes. Then, with his opponent subdued and unable to defend himself, DeCurso executes a flying dropkick that decapitates Skull Crusher. I'm not using colorful language here. I mean, he actually kicks his head clean off. It goes skippin' and a-jumpin' into the front row.
Next, we see news footage of Skull Crusher's manager, JJJ (Bill Allard), claiming that the champion has returned from worse — far worse — than this. Cut to Skull Crusher's headless corpse in a body bag, placed on a stretcher alongside the smaller, more totable Hefty bag that holds his severed head. The reporter's voice from the newsreel asks, "Can a man lose his head and still retain the championship?"
That's just the first five minutes of GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE. The next five minutes introduce us to Lesley Uggams (Jeff Dial), a documentary filmmaker who wants to uncover the truth behind the tragedy and what became of "Mad Dog" Joe DeCurso. Some believe that DeCurso killed himself, but Uggams suspects the suicide was a swerve and that the disgraced wrestler is performing as the sport's hottest up-and-coming attraction, "The Mask."
And then the actual movie begins. Apparently, Allan Holzman felt that GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE warranted a 10-minute prologue, like THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. So anyway, we get an opening credits montage set to Sha Na Na's "Wrestling Tonight," which name drops some of the film's stars, including "Exotic" Adrian Street and El Toro (Mando Guerrero), as well as WWF wrestlers who are in no way affiliated with this production (Jake "The Snake" Roberts and the Wild Samoans).
From there, GRUNT! reveals itself as a mockumentary (ala Rob Reiner's SPINAL TAP), taking us behind the curtain and introducing us to some of professional wrestling's whackiest personalities. Uggams teams up with Dr. Tweed (Robert Glaudini), the founder and president of the Mad Dog is Mask Fan Club, to interview key figures from DeCurso's storied career, including his former manager and ex-girlfriend Lola (Marilyn Dodds Frank), his old tag-team partner Captain Carnage (Bill Grant), and his foul-mouthed Patches O'Houlihan-esque high school wrestling coach Rocko (Billy Varga).
Uggams and Tweed follow "The Mask" and his manager, Angel Face (Lydie Denier of SATAN’S PRINCESS), as they tour the country. First, we see "The Mask" wrestle in a handicap match against the Grunt Brothers (Dick Murdoch & Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer) set to "Breakin' Bones" by "Exotic" Adrian Street, who croons:
I wanna hear the crunch
I wanna hear the cracks
I wanna hear the moans and groans
I learned all my life that I'm only happy breakin' bones
Next up, "The Mask" faces "a true son of the South" from Macon, Georgia, the masked bullfighter known as El Toro (Mando Guerrero). And then things get weird. "The Mask" and Angel Face appear on Hot Seat, a late-night talk show hosted by conservative pundit Wally George. Wally confronts "The Mask" about his identity, leading to the masked superstar assaulting George and his crew before being escorted out of the studio.
[According to Wikipedia, Wally George was married at least six times and had six children. One of those children is actress Rebecca De Mornay (RISKY BUSINESS), who George later threatened to sue for calling him a bigamist in the National Enquirer. He also makes cameo appearances in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD and REPOSSESSED (1990). He died of pneumonia in 2003.]
In Fresno, "The Mask" faces "The Human Pyramid" — four unruly dwarfs stacked high in an oversized robe. In a surprise twist, "The Mask" loses against the fearsome foursome and fires his manager. The next time we see him, he's on "Exotic" Adrian Street's talk show with his new handler, "The Golden Greek" John Tolos. Here, the movie's main event is booked: a Battle Royale for the world's heavyweight championship.
"There's a carnival-like atmosphere here tonight," explains the play-by-play commentator as the match begins. "You can feel the air of expectancy in the crowd. They didn't just come to see an old-fashioned brand of wrestling. They've come to see the blood-and-guts showdown that will crown the new prince of the wrestling universe!"
The Battle Royale features 12 men, including "The Mask," his former partner Captain Carnage, the aforementioned Adrian Street, American Starship Eagle (Dan Spivey), and the Russian grappler known as Commie Warhead (Jack 'Wildman' Armstrong). It's a head-butting, arm-wrenching, eye-gouging free-for-all as wrestlers are eliminated until the final two combatants are "The Mask" and Carnage. Carnage's neck is caught in the ropes — just like Skull Crusher's — as "The Mask" hits the ropes and prepares to deliver his patented Decapitation Drop Kick when the arena doors open and…
"Mad Dog" Joe DeCurso rides to the ring on a motorcycle. It's a swerve, brother! "The Mask" worked a shoot, or something, by pretending to be DeCurso. Clad in denim and leather, "Mad Dog" hits the ring and jumps in the way of the dropkick, taking the bullet for his former partner. Pissed that an attempted murder has been foiled, "The Mask" wraps a chain around DeCurso's neck — he's not leaving the squared circle until he beheads someone. To paraphrase Glenn Danzig, "The Mask" wants his skull. He needs his skull.
Seconds away from succumbing to death's sweet embrace, "Mad Dog" has a flashback to the time he beheaded a man and springs into action, reversing the hold and delivering a series of devastating maneuvers to "The Mask" and his manager. Finally, "Mad Dog" rips the mask off his opponent but leaves his head intact, showing how much he's grown as a person. DeCurso has found redemption. The babyface goes over, the heel is conquered, and all is right with the world.
GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE is a surprisingly competent wrestling comedy that makes good use of the mockumentary format. It's as if Christopher Guest (BEST IN SHOW, A MIGHTY WIND) directed BEYOND THE MAT — a spirited sendup of the sport that captures the essence of the '80s Rock 'n' Wrestling era.
You can rent GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE for $3.99 on Amazon Video or, if you’re a sophisticated physical media preservationist, pick up the Blu-ray on Amazon.
This article was originally published in THE ATOMIC ELBOW #35. Click here to pick up a copy of the world’s best professional wrestling zine.
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