If there's anything I have as much of a passion for as horror movies it's professional wrestling, which has been a lifelong obsession of mine since well before the days my parents allowed me to make friends with guys like Jason and Freddy. Not surprisingly, it's been the horror-inspired characters that I've always found myself gravitating towards - guys who looked and acted like they belonged inside the confines of horror films, more than they did the squared circle.
With WWE's Wrestlemania 30 on the horizon, taking place this Sunday night, now's the perfect time to shine the spotlight on some of the scariest grapplers in the history of the business, which is precisely what I'm here to do today. So here are 10 professional wrestlers who have channeled the spirit of horror cinema over the years, and have brought together my two biggest passions in life!
I'll never forget my first introduction to Kamala, which came courtesy of a VHS tape at a friend's house, in the formative years of my childhood. On the tape was a segment from a 1980s WWE broadcast, which saw the 'Ugandan Giant' consuming a live chicken, with the feathers of the ill-fated bird dangling from his mouth and stuck in his beard. Unbeknownst to me, the segment was of course faked, but it nevertheless forever made me terrified of the character, who truly felt like a cannibalistic madman that had been plucked from the wilds of Uganda. Kamala was oftentimes escorted to the ring by a handler named Kim Chee and always wrestled barefoot, further driving home the idea that he was essentially an untamed animal. Though the character was toned down in later years, Kamala remains one of the scariest wrestlers to ever step foot inside the ring, and one of the few to actually strike fear in my childhood heart.
When it comes to horror-inspired pro wrestlers, they don't get any more iconic or well-known than The Undertaker, who is one of the greatest entertainers in the history of the sport. Undertaker made his WWE debut in November of 1990 and was essentially portrayed as a dead guy who was totally impervious to pain, with an urn serving as his source of undying power. It wasn't long after his debut that Undertaker acquired a manager in the form of the late Paul Bearer, nor was it long before the character become one of the most beloved in the company. Coming to the ring in a black trench coat and stetson hat, and escorted by both Bearer and an eerie, funereal theme song, the Undertaker made a name for himself by zipping his opponents inside body bags and stuffing them into caskets, usually after delivering his deadly finishing move; the Tombstone Piledriver. Undertaker is still a member of the active roster to this day and he puts his undefeated 21-0 Wrestlemania streak on the line this coming Sunday, against formidable opponent Brock Lesnar. May you Rest In Peace like so many before you, Brock!
Charles Wright has cycled through countless different gimmicks throughout his career as a professional wrestler, and though he didn't quite achieve the height of his success as the Papa Shango character, it's nevertheless Shango that remains the most memorable to me. You need only look at the above picture to get the gist of the character; a voodoo practitioner who wasn't above using his devious dark magic on his opponents. Decked out in creepy skull face paint, wearing a necklace made of bones and carrying around a smoking human skull, Shango became known for casting all kinds of spells on his opponents, most memorably placing a curse on the Ultimate Warrior, which forced him to uncontrollably vomit in one particularly nauseating segment. The character lasted only about a year in the company, which was plenty long enough to leave a lasting impression.
One of the most successful wrestlers in the history of the sport is no doubt Mick Foley, who has become a New York Times bestselling author, several times over, in the wake of his celebrated career inside the ring. Though he made his wrestling debut in the 1980s, under the name Cactus Jack Manson, Foley became a bonafide superstar when he came to the WWE in 1996, repackaged as a deranged, mask-wearing character named Mankind. The idea behind the character is that he was basically a total nut job, and he would often self-mutilate, ripping out chunks of his own hair and stabbing himself in the leg with a fork. He was said to live in boiler rooms with his pet rat and he'd often scream out for his 'Mommy.' Mankind's main mission upon entering the WWE was to destroy the Undertaker, and Paul Bearer ended up jumping ship during their brutal feud, and becoming Mankind's manager. Mankind eventually become a beloved character, like Foley himself, and in the later years of his run was a whole lot less terrifying than his original incarnation.
No stranger to horror-inspired gimmicks, Glen Jacobs made his WWE debut in 1995 as Dr. Issac Yankem, the deranged dentist of Jerry “The King” Lawler. It was in 1997, however, that Jacobs brought to life a truly iconic in-ring monster, in the form of Kane, son to Paul Bearer and half-brother of The Undertaker. Story went that Undertaker had burnt down his family's funeral home as a youth, and though he believed that his whole family was wiped out in the blaze, Bearer revealed that Kane was very much alive, and was coming for revenge. It wasn't long before Kane indeed did arrive in the WWF, wearing a mask and full body suit, to cover his horribly scarred appearance. Kane was known for setting people on fire and it was the character that led to the creation of the first ever Inferno Match, where the ring is literally surrounded by flames. Like most of WWE's evil characters, Kane too has been toned down in recent years, and he now wrestles without the mask on, serving as a corporate lackey for Chief Operating Officer Triple H. And no, he's not actually burnt.
One of the coolest characters of the WWE's 'Attitude Era,' in the late 90s, was Gangrel, who was billed as a real-life vampire. Gangrel had the most memorable entrance in WWF at the time, which saw him rising up to the stage and surrounded by a ring of fire, carrying a goblet full of 'blood.' Prior to entering the ring, he would take a sip from his goblet and spew the blood into the air, which would often drip down his fangs and cover his white shirt. Gangrel rose to the epitome of his coolness when he formed a faction known as 'The Brood,' a trio of vampiric characters who would terrorize other wrestlers with 'blood baths,' which saw buckets of blood raining down from the heavens and covering their adversaries. At one point he joined Undertaker's Ministry of Darkness faction, which was comprised of a motley crew of fellow monsters and madmen.
WWE is known for recycling gimmicks, and The Boogeyman can in many ways be seen as a modern day upgrade on the Papa Shango character. Boogeyman debuted in 2005 and was introduced to audiences through a series of horror-inspired vignettes, which saw him reciting nursery rhymes, smashing clocks over his head and telling other superstars that he was the Boogeyman, and that he was coming to get them. More memorable than his in-ring matches were the Boogeyman's backstage and post-match antics, which generally saw him scooping up handfuls of live worms, and stuffing them into his mouth. He was also known for making worms rain from the sky and spitting them into the mouths of defeated opponents, solidifying his status as one of the most downright disgusting superstars in WWE history.
Okay, so I know I used the word 'memorable' in the headline for the post, and though this next wrestler is far from memorable, I simply wouldn't feel right not giving at least a brief shout-out to pro wrestling's very first – and to my knowledge only – zombie character. After acquiring fan-favorite independent promotion ECW, WWE made a brief attempt to revive the company, and it was in 2006 that the revival began, with the new ECW show airing on the Syfy network. On the show's very first broadcast, a character simply named 'The Zombie' was introduced, and after making zombie sounds into a microphone, he was demolished by ECW superstar Sandman. The Zombie was presumably created for the sole purpose of attempting to appeal to the Syfy crowd, and since it didn't quite work, he never appeared on the program again.
Though horror-inspired wrestlers here in the states don't typically make direct reference to actual big screen genre icons, things are a little bit different over in Japan, where a character by the name of Leatherface had an extended run in the W*ING promotion. Just like in the movies, Leatherface was clad in a human skin mask, wore a butcher's apron and carried around a chainsaw, and was fittingly known for competing in particularly brutal and bloody 'death matches.' Other characters in the promotion included knockoff versions of Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers, and if you're ever in the mood for a good laugh, we encourage you to look up some of their matches on YouTube!
THE WYATT FAMILY
The WWE's most recent horror-inspired gimmick is that of The Wyatt Family, led by mouthpiece Bray Wyatt, who is always flanked by fellow family members Erick Rowan and Luke Harper. The Wyatt Family debuted just last year and was introduced through a series of particularly creepy segments, which depicted them as a backwoods clan ripped straight out of a horror movie. Bray Wyatt is a Charles Manson-like character, speaking in riddles, while Harper and Rowan are silent but brutish characters, with the latter often sporting a plastic lamb mask – looking very much like one of the killers from You're Next. The Wyatt Family comes to the ring in total darkness, lit up only by a lantern that Bray carries, and they've made a name for themselves by getting inside the heads of some of the top WWE superstars. Bray Wyatt goes toe-to-toe with John Cena, at this Sunday night's event.
There are of course many others where these came from, and we encourage you to drop us a comment below and make your own additions to the list!
And if you're hungry for more wrestling fun, be sure to check out our list of nine professional wrestlers who became horror movie stars!