INT. VINCE MCMAHON’S OFFICE. VINCE MCMAHON is thumbing a STEAK AND KETCHUP TORTILLA. Across the table, an EMPLOYEE sneezes. The GENETIC JACKHAMMER turns around and fixes him with a deathly stare. Panicked, the EMPLOYEE hastily exits the office. An ASSISTANT walks in.
ASSISTANT: Mr McMahon, I just spoke to Netflix and they want to know how we’re promoting Army Of The Dead?
VINCE: Army of the what now?
ASSISTANT: Uh, Army Of The Dead? It’s a zombie movie starring Dave Bautista?
VINCE: Well dammit that’s easy! We’re the goddamn WWE! How do you think we’d promote a zombie movie starring THE ANIMALLLLL Batista?
ASSISTANT: Oh great, I’ll call Dave…
VINCE: Call Dave? What? No, GET ME THE ZOMBIES GODDAMNIT!
Fact or fiction? You decide. But at WrestleMania Backlash, WWE did indeed promote Zack Snyder’s Dave Bautista-fronted undead vehicle by having a group of zombies hobbling around the ring, causing chaos and eventually “eating” The Miz and John Morrison. The internet took this about as well as you can expect, with many fans promising not to watch a minute of WWE programming until tonight’s episode of Monday Night Raw. However, wrestling does have a long and storied history with the ungrateful dead. No matter what you thought of last night’s proceedings, they were merely the latest in our sport’s long fascination with this horror movie staple.
In fact, you can draw a direct line between pro wrestling’s greatest ever character and the moment a group of corpse-painted Performance Center detritus tried to eat Maryse’s husbands brain. The Undertaker was such a consummate zombie, they nicknamed him “The Deadman”. While also dabbling in the lucrative worlds of funeral directing, biker nu-metal fanboying and satanic cults; Undertaker found time to die and be resurrected on an almost-annual basis. The zenith of his recuperative efforts surely came when Yokozuna, abetted by every heel on the planet, sent him to heaven (via the Titantron) at the 1994 Royal Rumble.
It should be noted at this point that Kane was considered for inclusion here, but ultimately disqualified for surviving the fire in which Undertaker killed their mother. An impressive feat, especially considering he escaped from it without any visible burns. But sadly not enough to get into our exclusive club.
The Undertaker was such a memorable example that even his “Deadman” nickname was a by-word for the genre. Our next entrant was very much his opposite in both the wrestling ability and “being labeled correctly” stakes. At Halloween Havoc 1995, WCW fans were introduced to The Yeti. Except, he wasn’t a yeti. Presumably due to a mishap at the costume store, the Dungeon Of Doom’s secret weapon to kill Hulkamania was not an abominable snow-demon but instead a Universal Monsters knock-off Egyptian mummy. Played by 7’2 future Raven’s Flock member Ron Reis, the lumbering undead did manage to lock Hogan in a bearhug that you really wouldn’t want your parents to walk in on you watching, but failed to kill Hulkamania. That was of course killed many years later, by a hidden camera and Hulk Hogan himself.
If it’s “does what it says on the tin” accuracy you’re after, you will love our next entry. Yes, it’s ECW legend, The Zombie. When the revived and now WWE-owned ECW debuted on the Sci-Fi Network in 2006, rumours were abound that the channel demanded content that would fit within their niche. Eschewing a golden opportunity for WWE Hall Of Famer William Shatner to appear, the company instead chose to appease their Sci-Fi overlords with The Zombie. Playing the role with a straight-bat, independent wrestler Tim Arson came out in shredded clothes and with mono-syllabic grunts as his only speech. He was swiftly destroyed by The Sandman and never seen again. Still a more dignified ECW career than Mass Transit (R.I.P New Jack).
Bringing our tour through the graveyard of pro wrestling bang up to date is The Fiend. An unusual choice perhaps, but stay with me. The character is very much a mixture of popular horror tropes. Possessed dolls to rival Annabelle and Chucky, a Leatherface indebted skin-mask, and anyone who doesn’t find children’s TV presenters disturbing obviously doesn’t watch the news. But The Fiend qualifies for our Zombie World Order (because when you’re ZWO, you’re ZWO 4 Afterlife) by virtue of his recent destruction and resurrection at the hands of Randy Orton. The Legend Killer burned the proprietor of the Firefly Funhouse to a crisp, and when he returned from certain death his look changed to more closely resemble that of the walking undead. Well, that and a discarded burrito. But putting his status as a particularly bad walking advertisement for Taco Bell aside, this new iteration of The Fiend certainly carried all the zombie hallmarks, and applied them in a modern way. I must also offer an honorary mention to the wonderfully kitschy 2013 B-movie Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies, in which Roddy Piper, Shane Douglas, Kurt Angle, Jim Duggan and Matt Hardy square off against vast swathes of the living dead. It really is every bit as fun and ridiculous as it sounds, and well worth checking out.
WWE’s zombie lumberjacks at WrestleMania Backlash were far from universally loved, and I am certainly not trying to change your mind if it wasn’t for you. But all I ask, is that you acknowledge that zombies have their place in wrestling history. Why would I go to bat for them so passionately you ask? No reason…braaaaaaains. Braaaaaaaaains!