Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Man Behind the Mask

by J.S. Holland

"Man, Evil is real. It is out there. Evil has a face, a look of its own and nothing else looks like it. But for it to be truly terrifying, for evil to do its job it has to hide behind the mask. Evil has to function in society, it has to rub elbows with all the good folks and decent people, it has to been seen smiling all the time as it lurks and lives and breathes its fetid breath down our throats everyday. We live with the horror that at any moment, at any time, that mask will slip off the person next to us and we'll see the face of true evil, true horror."

- Tobe Hooper.

I say, chaps, this here Dollar Tree store is somethin' else, eh what? I was just in the one in Middletown, KY and scored this amazing hardcover edition of Dan Madigan's Mondo Lucha A Go Go for only a clam, a bone, a sawbuck, one American dollar. As a longtime devotee of the noble tradition of Mexico's masked Lucha Libre wrestlers, color me stoked. I researched my way into the genre backwards years ago, after discovering Kentucky's "Appalachian Voodoo" tradition which is definitely influenced by Mexican rasslers - especially Grillo the Clown.

Wrestling expert that he is, Madigan herein covers every conceivable aspect of the sport, from psychology to kitsch to genuine athletic prowess to humorous anecdotes galore. One that gave me a chuckle in particular: "Many times the referee counts at a very leisurely pace to get to twenty. I've been at a few matches where one Luchador was knocked out the ring and ref started counting to twenty. At six I got up, went to the bathroom, got some tacos, a beer, stopped to talk to a friend on the way back to my seat, and when I sat back down the ref was at eleven."

What exactly is my attraction to an obscure genre of Mexican wrestling dating back to the 19th century which rose to global prominence after it began to dovetail with the concept of the horror movie, and after fantasy and reality switched places in the looking glass and neither El Santo nor Rodolfo Guzman Huerta (as his mother knew him) could tell who was who anymore, and which was which?

Partially, it seems to go back to those same pre-Cambrian genetic memories that draw me towards Japanese rubber-suited robots and bug-lookin' cops. And on another level, I'm intrigued by these men who have sculpted themselves into something larger than life (or as Grillo once sang, "larger than big"). I'm reminded of one of my favorite flicks, Inglourious Basterds, where the Hillbilly leader of the Nazi-killing Basterds ("Aldo the Apache") and their evil arch-enemy Hans "Jew Hunter" Landa fight World War II by measuring it in part by their own celebrity. Both the good guy and the bad guy in the film are very interested in their legend and reputation, asking others, "Have you heard of me?" and "What have you heard?"

Lastly, the mystery that is Mexico itself has to figure into it all, obviously. This land packs a powerful mojo and when its ley lines intersect those of Kentucky, something magical happens. Something powerful. Something profound. Also absurd and silly looking. But who can say it isn't beautiful?

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