From Kevin Sullivan to Dexter Lumis: Fear in Professional Wrestling, Part II

Fear in Professional Wrestling Part II

With Halloween just around the corner, it’s time to revisit the topic of fear in professional wrestling. One year ago, I penned an article showcasing the many examples of wrestlers that have instilled or defined dread, fight, and trepidation in the world of wrestling. Given the theatric nature of wrestling, this is a topic that should come as a no-brainer. The best wrestlers are known to make audiences feel a gamut of emotions, ranging from happiness to sadness to anger; why not fear as well?

Of course, what scares one person may not necessarily impart terror to someone else. As someone who enjoys horror in media, some of my favorite films include Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and John Carpenter’s Halloween. While I may be able to enjoy these on any given day, others may shy away from such media. Nonetheless, fear is a common trait that humans share. The ways in which professional wrestling brought this element to the forefront, through various performers, are nothing short of diverse.

Fear in Professional Wrestling, Part II

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Killer Kowalski – Old-School Fear in Professional Wrestling

When it comes to old-school fear in professional wrestling, few fit the bill like the late Canadian-American wrestling legend, Killer Kowalski. Make no mistake: Kowalski was an accomplished wrestler, working from the late 1940s well into the 70s, continually changing his style as the wrestling landscape around him changed. Kowalski is also credited for notable wrestlers including Triple H, Chyna, Eddie Guerrero, and Tommaso Ciampa. However, during a time when many members of the public still regarded wrestling as “real,” Kowalski was as imposing as the monsters in the “Golden Age” of horror that predated his career. Standing at 6’7”, it’s easy to see why.

Kowalski had the credentials, for lack of better terms, to go with his reputation. On October 15, 1952, he worked a match with Yukon Eric. During the match, Kowalski performed a knee drop, causing part of Eric’s ear to rip off. While Eric’s ears were already heavily cauliflowered by that point, resulting in fragility, this moment helped to establish Kowalski’s status as one of the most feared men in wrestling. Many years later, in 1972, he became the first man to pin Andre the Giant in North America. His adoption of the name “Killer” was well-earned, to say the least. Kowalski’s story is deserving of an editorial all its own.

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Kevin Sullivan, The Prince of Darkness

Based on height alone, standing at 5’9”, Kevin Sullivan may not be the first man one would link to fear in professional wrestling. However, “The Taskmaster” was one of the most fearsome men in professional wrestling. During his time as a wrestler, he formed such unions as The Army of Darkness in Championship Wrestling From Florida and The Varsity Club in Jim Crockett Promotions. Sullivan’s ability to build factions featuring imposing wrestlers was matched only by his ruthless in-ring style, the latter of which earned him gold across all promotions.

However, it may be his time in World Championship Wrestling that most wrestling fans remember Kevin Sullivan for. Alongside The Three Faces of Fear, and later The Dungeon of Doom, Sullivan was driven to kill Hulkamania. No, he didn’t wish to simply “stop” the sensation in question; he wanted to take Hulk Hogan out of the proverbial picture for good. Though Sullivan’s efforts to end Hogan were in vain, he was a feared individual during his time as an on-screen character. The self-proclaimed “Prince of Darkness” saw success as both a competitor and manager, but what about feared personalities that leaned entirely toward the latter?

Father James Mitchell
Photo / IMPACT Wrestling

James Mitchell, The Sinister Minister

Upon first glance, “The Sinister Minister,” James Mitchell, is anything but a white hat-wearing personality. Sporting a devilish beard, curled eyebrows, and mostly red and black attires, Mitchell’s presentation is akin to that of the devil in disguise. He first came to prominence in 1989 when he joined Smoky Mountain Wrestling. From there, he managed wrestlers across a number of promotions, including World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling, and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. Along the way, he recruited various men to champion his fiendish causes.

Many of the pairings Mitchell saw, throughout his wrestling career, made sense as well. When WCW introduced the supernatural Mortis, portrayed by Chris Kanyon, in 1997, “The Sinister Minister” was the perfect fit as a manager. His other notable alliance was with Abyss in TNA, which saw Mitchell lead the destructive monster to one victory after another. If Abyss fell out of line, Mitchell was quick to let him know what the score was. Abyss was borderline subservient to Mitchell, which made the latter seem all the more imposing. The fact that Mitchell remains active in wrestling, to this day, speaks to his longevity and how he embodies fear in professional wrestling.

Paul Bearer Fear in Professional Wrestling
Photo / World Wrestling Entertainment

Paul Bearer – When Reality Meets Fiction

In terms of spooky professional wrestling managers, discussion must include Paul Bearer as well. Though he began his professional wrestling career as the blonde-haired Percival “Percy” Pringle III, it wasn’t until he arrived in the World Wrestling Federation in 1990 when his career took off. Dying his hair black, donning a ghastly, white face, and carrying an urn, Paul Bearer became one of the most unsettling characters on WWF programming. I spoke briefly about Bearer in my previous column covering fear in professional wrestling, but his impact can’t be ignored.

A real-life mortician and funeral director, William Alvin Moody embraced the character of Paul Bearer, bringing it to life in a chilling fashion. This was especially true alongside The Undertaker. Bearer’s animated manner of speaking, including his signature declaration of “ohhh yess,” complemented “The Dead Man’s” more stoic, understated persona. With his urn in hand, Bearer could either command The Undertaker to commit punishment onto wrestlers or will him back into fights he struggled in. Bearer would continue to appear for the company in different capacities, though his first few years in the company remain his most chilling.

The Horrifying Transformation of Luna Vachon

To say that Luna Vachon deviated from the norm, from the mid-1980s through early 2000, would be an understatement. The adopted daughter of Paul “Butcher” Vachon and niece of Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, the real-life Gertrude Elizabeth Vachon seemed destined for wrestling. Though she began wrestling as a well-meaning performer, things changed in 1985. Following an on-screen encounter with Kevin Sullivan, who we spoke about earlier, who slapped her across the face, she eventually joined his Army of Darkness. It was here where she adopted the name of Luna Vachon, complete with a new character and mean streak.

Luna Vachon was imposing, to say the least, sporting a long-haired mohawk and a perpetual scowl. Furthermore, her gravely voice was equally iconic, sounding like a lead vocalist from a heavy metal band. During her time in the WWF, Vachon engaged in fierce rivalries with Sensational Sherri and Alundra Blayze. She also saw stints in WCW and ECW, though it was under the employ of Vince McMahon that she saw the lion’s share of her success and popularity. If you were a women’s wrestler, and you learned that Vachon was on the horizon, a sense of dread would likely follow.

New Jack – A Grounded, Visceral Terror

“Journey with me into the mind of a maniac.” If there’s one word that can be used to describe New Jack, it would be “unfiltered.” The personal life of New Jack is nothing short of complex, and even a mystery at times, but his professional wrestling career was undeniably chaotic. Having trained under Ray Candy in the early 1990s, Jack wrestled primarily in the southeast before eventually getting his big break in Smoky Mountain Wrestling. It was here where, alongside Mustafa Saed as The Gangstas, Jack created chaos, antagonizing the primarily Caucasian crowds in Tennessee and elsewhere. PG, New Jack was not.

The fear that New Jack embodies is unlike that of what one would correlate with horror-themed characters in wrestling. Jack wasn’t frightening because of supernatural abilities, but rather, his realistic approach. Of course, those that know Jack’s history will know this was taken to extremes at different points in his career. Mass Transit, Gypsy Joe, Hunter Red – Googling any one of these stories will show just how far “The Original Gangsta” took matters. Furthermore, his fear or remorse toward these actions was practically nonexistent, which made him that much more terrifying in a grounded, visceral way.

Ricky Banderas Mil Muertes
Photo: El Rey Network / Lucha Underground

Mil Muertes, The Man of a Thousand Deaths

As an action drama centered on pro wrestling, Lucha Underground was a TV show ripe for elements of horror. Throughout the show’s 4 seasons, there were many instances of fear in professional wrestling, one of the earliest being Mil Muertes. Allegedly the sole survivor of his family following a devastating earthquake, Muertes channeled his rage in the squared circle. Muertes left devastation in his wake, all the while accompanied by Catrina, who longtime WWE fans may know as former NXT Superstar Maxine.

“The Man of a Thousand Deaths” was one of the main antagonists of Lucha Underground, especially early in the show’s run. Sporting an old-school lucha libre mask and attire, he possessed a true “Final Boss” aura on the show. Muertes brought with him the intention of taking the souls of those that opposed him. This approach led him to become the second Lucha Underground Champion, not to mention crush fan favorites including Prince Puma and Fénix. Now known as King Muertes in Major League Wrestling, his destructive ways continue on a more traditional pro wrestling platform.

The Boogeyman – When Horror in Wrestling Goes Awry

He’s The Boogeyman and he’s comin’ to get you. It would be difficult to discuss the topic of fear in professional wrestling while overlooking where the element of horror goes off the rails. The Boogeyman is among the most prominent examples of this. Originally a Tough Enough contestant, the future worm-eating ghoul was brought into WWE. In the summer of 2005, vignettes aired, hyping the arrival of a character called The Boogeyman. Though the vignettes were somewhat spooky, the character proved to be anything but, reciting nursery rhymes before shattering a clock over his head. It took little time for the character’s chilling aura to dissipate.

While The Boogeyman can be unsettling, it’s less in a way that terrorizes and more so grosses out. This largely comes from his trademark consumption of live worms, which seldom failed to make the stomachs of fans turn. With that said, The Boogeyman felt like a character conceptualized in the wrong era. Jim Cornette recalled that the original character was meant to be an unhinged person who believed himself to be The Boogeyman, not an actual supernatural monster that WWE would ultimately portray him as. Perhaps if the company took a different route with the character, history would look back on him more fondly.

Dexter Lumis
Photo / World Wrestling Entertainment

Dexter Lumis – Modern Day Fear in Professional Wrestling

Shifting gears back toward legitimate fear, as well as turning the clock to the modern era, Dexter Lumis may be one of the most expertly played characters in WWE today. Anyone familiar with Lumis’s work in IMPACT Wrestling, as Samuel Shaw, will know just how well his character work holds up. Inspired by Patrick Bateman of American Psycho, Shaw was a deeply disturbed individual, pining for Christy Hemme and choking out those that interfered with his ambitions. These elements of horror would carry over as Shaw signed with WWE, which is where Dexter Lumis was born.

Unlike most horror in WWE, which is largely rooted in supernatural forces, Dexter Lumis embodies fear in professional wrestling in a more grounded way. From his cold stare to the methodical way in which he picks apart opponents, it’s easy to see why one would be unsettled by his sheer presence. His penchant for drawing served as an outlet, allowing him to express his desires to torture others. Though he recently picked up momentum as a fan favorite, as well as a new on-screen wife in Indi Hartwell, Lumis remains one of the most imposing figures in NXT. One can only hope that his path of destruction leads to bigger things.

Fear in Professional Wrestling, Part II – In Closing

As one can see, fear in professional wrestling takes on various forms. While it’s often associated with in-ring performers, it can also be applied to those that led said performers to victory time and time again. This is an interesting topic to discuss, not only as a wrestling fan but a consumer of all things horror, and one that I hope to revisit next year as well. Have a Happy Halloween, be safe, and be wary of the things that go bump in the night.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.