With Netflix recently announcing that they’ve ordered a comedy series based on everybody’s favorite female wrestling league from the 80’s: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), I figured I’d finally get around to reviewing the quintessential 80’s women’s wrestling movie, American Angels: Baptism of Blood.
Lisa Kane is an aspiring pro wrestler who happens to work at a strip club based in Bakersfield, CA. One of the most depressing places for a strip club to exist. Before you get too excited, Lisa doesn’t strip at this club. Instead, she works towards her dreams of going pro by wrestling patrons in inter-gender shaving cream matches. Because actual wrestling schools or promotions didn’t exist in Bakersfield in 1989. And probably still don’t.
American Angels’ color commentator, promoter, talent scout, Diamond Dave, shows up to check out Lisa in action. After the match, he decides to offer her a gig while she’s showering. Naturally, she freaks out and Diamond Dave can’t comprehend why a woman who’s completely nude and trying to shower would be upset at him for trying to have a conversation. So, 15 minutes in and Lisa is topless and it won’t be the last time you’ll see her topless either. You’ll soon realize that Jan Sebastian, who plays Lisa, wasn’t hired for her wrestling experience, since Mimi Lesseos was hired for that purpose. No, as the movie progresses you’ll see that it had more to do with Jan being petite, having giant breasts and constantly erect nipples. Even with her clothes on, her breasts are on display in some way or another.
And while we’re on the subject, all the American Angels wrestle in those high-waisted thong swimsuits from the 80’s. And since they don’t sport their spandex tights underneath, you pervs will be glad to know that the Male Gaze is in full effect. But hey, the families attending the matches with their children don’t seem to mind. So, the wrestling is still PG. Then again, PG in the 80’s was a lot different than today’s PG rating. I’m just pointing out that these were different times. I’m actually surprised this type of attire wasn’t brought back by the WWE during the Attitude Era. Oh wait, it was. Actually, it seems like the WWE took many of their creative ideas for the women’s/divas division from this movie.
Lisa attends the tryout and impresses everyone by taking on the biggest woman there. The wrestling in the movie is presented as a shoot, so she’s picked based on her ability to actually beat someone bigger than her rather than her ability to perform. Lisa, along with Pam, who’s running away from a troubled past, and Maria Rita, the token Hispanic, are signed on to American Angels. And I’m not kidding about the token Hispanic thing. Maria Rita was specifically chosen based on the fact that a large part of the American Angels’ audience is Hispanic, even though she’s pretty green. Something the WWE made the mistake of doing 5 years ago.
Luckily, American Angels actually trains their wrestlers before they make their debut. They’re even given their own apartment near the training facility. It’s like some kind of New Japan dojo, without the terrible hazing. Unless, you count being welcomed into the league by being stripped of your clothes in the shower and being bathed in beer and cake as terrible hazing. Which is an idea the WWE ripped off for Layla El’s initiation. The AA is run seasonally, proving how for ahead of the game they were considering it wasn’t until 2014 that an actual wrestling company (Lucha Underground) decided to adopt the seasonal approach. The company even has its own Sara Del Ray in Pattie, their trainer. Like I said, the wrestling is treated like it’s real, but they still train them on how to take bumps and apply holds. You have to give them credit for at least showing some respect towards the art of wrestling.
It doesn’t take long for Lisa to catch the ire of the champ, Magnificent Mimi, who also happens to be banging Dave. Although to be fair, much of that ire comes from the fact that Diamond Dave decides to show a lot of interest in Lisa’s progression as a wrestler. Really, Mimi’s aggression should be directed towards Dave, but this is professional wrestling and all women wrestlers are secretly jealous mean girls who want nothing more than to be a wrestler’s or wrestling personality’s girlfriend. And if you ever wondered just what it would be like if WWE let Edge and Lita go all the away with their in-ring sex celebration then wonder no more. Lisa an Dave get it on in the middle of the ring, and not in the way that Mills Lane would usually instruct two boxers to do.
In the buildup to their main shows, that take place in actual arenas with audiences, the AA tapes their televised wrestling matches in the empty warehouse where they train the women. It’s weird and very reminiscent of the Turkey-on-a-Pole Match that the AWA held in a similar-looking building in front of 8 people, most of which were security guards. Now it all kind of makes sense why certain AWA personnel were used in filming this movie. But unlike the Turkey-on-a-Pole Match, there’s no referees. The women just fight until one of them gives up. After one of their tapings, Magnificent Mimi decides to let off some steam by shooting on Lisa.
This all eventually leads to a showdown between Mimi and Lisa. Even though Lisa is still green, Mimi suggests they put her on their first big show and title it “Baptism of Blood.” Hence, the film’s title. They all agree that it would probably draw more viewers and schedule the fight. Later on, Dave tries to talk Lisa out of the match, despite the fact that he was more than 100% on board when it was brought up. Of course, Lisa overcomes the experienced Mimi with the help of her grandfather’s deadly finisher, The Snap. And, oh yeah, Lisa is the granddaughter of a famous veteran wrestler, George “Killer” Kane, who once accidentally killed another wrestler by using The Snap.
Also, this movie is probably where the lyric “You don’t know what trouble is!”, from Triple H’s “My Time” theme, is lifted from. I’m guessing.
Between the training, the televised wrestling matches, the undercard tag match, and the main event, you get quite a bit of wrestling in this movie. So, I’m going to just focus on the final match between Mimi and Lisa. It’s probably one of the longest, if not, the longest wrestling match in a movie. It clocks in close to 17 minutes. That’s longer than most women’s wrestling matches on WWE shows. As previously mentioned, it’s a Baptism of Blood Match. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a First Blood Match though. It just means either woman gets an extra $5,000 for busting open her opponent during the match.
Unlike most wrestling matches on film there’s no lapsed time or montage to get us from point A to point B. This is a real-time match the whole way through. It gradually builds, just like Lee Marshall’s incessant need to point out each wrestler’s mistakes. Whether it’s Lisa for being a rookie, or Mimi for playing up to the crowd, Lee spends a lot of time pointing this shit out.
There’s a crazy spot during the match that was way ahead of its time where Mimi body slams Lisa on the edge of the apron. That’s right, before Kevin Owens was powerbombing wrestlers on the apron, Magnificent Mimi was just dropping girls on their back against the corner of the apron. That’s some brutal shit. Lisa goes to the well one too many times (twice) with her flying head scissors and Mimi eventually turns the tide when she starts working on Lisa’s leg.
Lisa does a good job selling the leg even as she mounts a comeback with a dropkick, which makes Mimi bleed. The match keeps going as blood is just a bonus here. At one point, Mimi accidentally hits the referee, then hits him once more for good measure, or maybe because he didn’t clear the ropes the first time she hit him, like he was supposed to. He drops to the ground and Mimi continues her assault on Lisa, while medical attendants carry out the ref. For whatever reason, the referee is never replaced. I guess the AA only employs one damn referee per show.
Mimi uses the torture rack on Lisa, shifting her focus from Lisa’s leg to her back. She follows it up with a stun gun, a suplex, and a back body drop. At this point, Diamond Dave takes off his headset and begs Lisa to give up. Of course, that’s not happening and scrappy Lisa continues to take an ass beating. Mimi Irish whips her into the ropes, misses a clothesline, and Lisa capitalizes by launching herself off of the second rope. What then follows defies the laws of gravity as Lisa does a forward flip then contorts her body sideways on the way down, but somehow still gains elevation, and then delivers what is essentially a flying dropkick to Mimi’s face. This is the dreaded Snap that Lisa’s grandfather accidentally killed a guy with.
Mimi goes down and Lisa’s worried she’s killed her, but Mimi is just damn good at selling. Dave comes in as Mimi comes to. Lee Marshall can’t stop raving about the move. I’m guessing wrestlers getting body slammed on the corner of the ring apron was a lot more commonplace in wrestling during the 80’s, because if any move could’ve killed anybody it would’ve been that one. Or at the very least, paralyze them. The match just sort of ends since the AA ran out of referees, which means Mimi retains her title. Mimi and Lisa then celebrate together, both totally cool with the fact that scumbag Dave is banging them at the same time.
Magnificent Mimi is the most notable female wrestler in this film. She’s also the most accomplished, which explains why they were able to put together a really good main event match. Aside from competing in the AWA, she also competed for the Ladies Pro Wrestling Association (LPWA). Other lesser-known female wrestlers who worked for LPWA were also a part of the film, such as Black Venus, the woman Mimi has a televised empty studio match with, and Susan Sexton who plays Pattie, the Angels’ head trainer.
Of course, with this being the 80’s and all, there were also some cameos from women who competed for GLOW. Big Bad Mama makes a cameo appearance as the woman who talks a lot of shit then gets beaten by Lisa during her tryout. Jane Hamlin aka California Doll, plays Malibu in the movie. I’m guessing she was part of the tag team match that also featured Black Venus. And according to IMDB, Luscious Lisa herself, Jan Sebastian, was apparently featured on the first episode of GLOW three years before the film’s release, as Luscious Lisa.
Then there’s Lee Marshall, not really a wrestler, but a fairly well-known wrestling personality who used to do the announcing for AWA. But you’ll most likely remember him for continually calling WCW collect during episodes of Monday Nitro. RIP Tony the Tiger.
Star Rating: *** 1/2