This week I take a look at a forgotten made-for-TV classic, Mad Bull, starring Alex Karras AKA the dad from Webster AKA the middle class Philip Drummond. It’s one hell of a cheesy movie, but by wrestling movie standards it’s probably one of the better ones out there. It also reveals to us that life is hard for a wrestling heel, especially in the 1970’s.
Despite the sensational Charlie’s Angels-esque 70’s opening theme, we quickly learn that the life of pro wrestling bad guy, Iago “Mad Bull” Karkus, is not as glamorous as the music would lead us to believe. Iago is, for reasons that are never quite explained, the Rodney Dangerfield of Southern California pro wrestling. He gets dissed by his ex-wife, who also forbids their son from watching his matches; and Iago’s dad looks down on what he does despite having been a wrestler himself, but back in the old days when it was real. And this is just what he deals with as a regular person. As a wrestler, he gets shit on by the audience, which is a good thing, but also draws the ire of a deranged stalker who wants to kill him, which is a really bad thing. And the good guy wrestler he’s supposed to be feuding with, “The White Knight” Jack Braden, is a total dick to him for no reason. Seriously, there’s no backstory or anything explaining why he hates Iago so much. It’s not like Iago is some old timer holding the younger guys back, The White Knight is already the champion and the most popular wrestler on the roster when the movie begins. He has no real reason to hate Iago, unless he tends to forget that wrestling is fake.
On top of all these problems Iago has to contend with, there’s also the matter of winning over Christina Sebastiani, played by Susan Anspach, who displays some of the worst acting I’ve seen this side of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Man, was she horrible. Even by 70’s TV movie standards. And speaking of the 70’s, no amount of women empowerment or free love could have saved Christina from being made out to be kind of whorish. First, she reveals to Iago that she regularly dates the customers of the grocery store she works at, which is cool; but then Iago asks her out on a date, having just come back from a lunch date. Yet, she tells him she can’t because she’s involved with another man, who we later later find out is married. And then we find out it’s not the first married guy she’s been involved with either. Yet, she gives Iago shit for being a “phony” wrestler.
However, shit gets real, when Iago’s brother Anthony, who also wrestles as The Executioner, is mistakenly shot by the deranged stalker, Coley Turner. Again, like Braden, not much of a backstory is given as to why Turner is obsessed with killing Iago. Oh, they try to give him a Travis Bickle vibe, even going so far as to having him call out a bum and say, word for word, “Are you talking to me?” But this guy lacked any real motivation aside from not being able to tell that wrestling is fake and that he has to kill the bad men. He does come close to taking out Iago, after Iago naturally defeats The White Knight in a steel cage match. Luckily, Iago gets it in the arm. However, the best part to this entire sequence is the inept cop who’s on hand working, asking Turner “Hey, what are you doing?”, while Turner’s gun is in full view, aimed at Iago. But Turner gets his comeuppance outside in the parking lot, as rotund grappler, Yapopostky “The Cave Man”, and other fellow wrestlers corner Turner in his yellow pickup and flip the truck upside down and spin it around, like something right out of Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. Which only shows the absurd lengths wrestlers will go to to put on an entertaining show. Iago then makes it out of the coliseum and finds Christina waiting for him, willing to give this whole monogamy thing a shot.
The great thing about Mad Bull is the fact that it exposes pro wrestling to be a work. We get to actually hear the wrestlers guide each other throughout the match and call out spots. You have to give the movie credit for that. Granted, anyone with half a brain or over the age of five, even back then, knew it was fake. No other movie would attempt to even pull back the curtain this much until 2008’s The Wrestler, which again, wasn’t such a big deal for anybody with half a brain, or over the age of five. From the get-go we see that the wrestlers aren’t supposed to hurt each other and we immediately see what a dick The White Knight is, as he legit-breaks Anthony’s arm. You’ll definitely enjoy the wrestling in the movie if you’re a wrestling fan because it helps overlook the plot holes and horrible acting. However, during the final match between The White Knight and Mad Bull, they apparently break kayfabe and start wrestling “for real”. But for it being a shoot fight, the match plays out like most wrestling matches in terms of the wrestlers biding their time and going back and forth trading moves. Had this been a real fight, chances are it wouldn’t have gone on as long as it does in the movie. On a side note, not much wrestling jargon was used in the movie. Bad guys aren’t called heels, good guys babyfaces, etc. Even when Iago is explaining to Christina how another wrestler is riling up the crowd, he doesn’t mention anything about drawing heat. I guess they didn’t want to exposed too much of the business.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many cameos from well-known professional wrestlers in this film, unless you count Alex Karras who wrestled briefly in between stints of playing for the NFL. And, there’s also, H.B. Haggerty, who I’ve never heard of, and wrestled as Mr. Clean in the movie. Although it was nice to see what Ron Jeremy would look like 200 pounds heavier, and in a Tarzan get up, thanks to Yapopotsky. Seeing as this movie was made in 1977 and broke kayfabe, it made sense that no active wrestler who wanted to continue working as a wrestler would appear in a movie that shattered the whole illusion. My only gripe is that this movie could’ve used a lot more of Ernie Hudson, especially in the ring as Black Bart.
Star Rating: ****