Shane Douglas leads an all-star group of professional wrestling legends in the new movie Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies. Currently screening at limited engagements across the nation, and about to hit DVD from Troma Studios, the movie does what it promises – it puts real life wrestling legends like Douglas, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Matt Hardy and Kurt Angle in an abandoned prison and has them fighting for their live against a horde of zombies.
Shane Douglas took the time to talk to Renegade Cinema about this new movie as well as his career in wrestling, a new wrestling promotion he is helping kickstart and how he got his start in the wrestling business.
Let’s start with Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies. How did you get involved in the movie?
Cody Knotts, the writer and director, we went to the same college – he was a freshman and I was a senior at Bethany College in West Virginia. I was on the road wrestling already, so I had a bit of notoriety, and we were in different fraternities, so I didn’t know him at school. He came up to me at a convention three or four years ago and introduced himself and mentioned the Bethany College connection and told me about a movie he was working on and wondered if he could send it to me. I gave him my information, mostly because he went to Bethany, never believing I would ever hear from him. In our business, we hear this all the time about having great ideas and never hear back from them.
About six months after that, he contacted me and said he had the first draft ready and he was ready to email it to me. I got the first draft and, to me, I have always been very passionate about the wrestling business and when I heard Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies, I thought it would be campy. I was a little bit apprehensive about the first draft. You could tell it was written from the point of view of the fan, and when he had the dialogue written for the wrestlers, it was in red and I didn’t know what that meant. I called him up and asked why the dialogue was in red and he said that there was no way in the world that he could write for Roddy Piper or Jim Duggan or Shane Douglas because only you guys know how you speak. That is the gist of what I want you to say but I want you to say it like Jim Duggan or Shane Douglas would say it. To me that showed a respect for us because we know our characters.
From there, things got serious and we began to put together some financing pretty quickly, which is the real hard part of making a movie. Shortly after that, I was asked to get all the guys – Roddy Piper, Jim Duggan, Kurt Angle, Matt Hardy, Reby and some local guys came onboard and felt comfortable because I gave them my word so they felt a little more assured because of that. It was a long and convoluted road but we got it done and we are getting it out there.
There were several others that we contacted, including notables who were linked to the project were Terry Funk, he did Road House so he was so much more adept to that kind of choreography, and another was Larry Zbyszko. I’m not sure what happened between those, but there is talk of a sequel.
How important was Troma to the movie?
I’ve always known it was important to have a big distributor, but I have had a big learning curve over the past few weeks of interviews on television, radio and newspaper. I can’t split myself in half and do any more than what I am doing. Last weekend, in North Carolina, there were people coming to our table and asking “Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies, what is that?” We haven’t even scratched the surface yet. To have interviews like this one and a distributor like Troma who has a cult following – I don’t want to sound too pretentious but as I watch the movie, I see scenes that remind me of Rocky Horror Picture or Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or one of those real iconic cult movies and I can feel that in a time not too far in the future there might be midnight showings of Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies where everyone is saying the lines and it has that kind of a feel.
I didn’t know much about Troma before this deal. Then I was told that they were the largest independent distributor for this type of movie. The people who are fans of Troma and those type of movies will understand the connection between wrestling and this type of movie.
The DVD will be a two-disc set, and there is a commentary track with me and Roddy and Jim Duggan and Matt and Reby, where we watched the movie and commented on it. The thing is that, with guys like Roddy and Duggan, who I have always looked up to and someone I could look up to and learn from in an almost fatherly way. But, being with them in a room and watching a movie, [what I noticed] is how absolutely hilarious Hacksaw Jim Duggan is. He is never off, he is always on, and always funny. The second disc is all the original music from the movie and it is very strong. When you listen to the words of the song, you see they are very specific to the theme of the movie.
Do you want to act more in the future?
Yes, acting and directing. I directed the action scenes. It was really fascinating. When I get my interest peaked into something – this is much the same as it was with professional wrestling. I was in wrestling for 35 years, and I love it, but at 50 years old it hurts a lot worse that it did 20 years ago. That is what Cody really did right with this movie – when you see Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Roddy Piper and all the rest of us, you really get the feel of them from their heyday even though you can tell they are much older. With the magic of movie making, you can have them do stuff that takes you back to all those years ago. There is a huge attraction of that to me. I have always wanted to act. Anybody who is in wrestling as developed some sort of ego to get in front of people. We are all very much fans of the business. The entertainment industry, as you can see from Vince McMahon success, is very close to that, even in ECW with the relationship to the fans.
Have you noticed an increase in popularity of classic wrestling thanks to the WWE Network
Absolutely. It is funny you said that. I have noticed over the last five or six years, when I started doing ComicCon conventions and the weekends when I work out on the road, there is no separation of fans. In the general population, there are two types – those who love wrestling and those who hate it. There is nobody in between, they are either all in or all out. If you follow the business, you know that numbers have dropped over the last 10 years. We have lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 to 48 million weekly viewers. Any other industry on the planet, like Microsoft or Wal Mart, losing that many customers would be out of business. All this stuff with Vince and his Internet network and his daughter dumping her stock, there is a lot of strange stuff going on behind the scenes. There has definitely been a dip in the business.
I think there is a yearning in the fans to see something akin to what they were brought up watching. When I talk to the fans, there is no separation and they would tell you that they were a lifelong fan of wrestling and have not watched it in years. Those things disconnected me. I was trying to figure out how someone could be a fan for all those years and then stop watching it? I get that the sport today is very different from what they grew up watching but I still can’t figure out that part of it. When you ask them, and take it a step further, and ask why they don’t watch it, the fans really don’t like Vince McMahon and his style of business. They have a grudging respect for what he accomplished in the business, but they really – they sensed he had the opportunity to provide what they wanted but really missed that target by a wide margin.
The fans have a dislike for Vince but have a hatred for his business and TNA and to me, I asked what would bring it back, they all said the same thing in different words. They would say old NWA, old WWF, old ECW, old WCW, I would be a fan again. What that said is that fans want old school wrestling – I don’t mean armbars for 25 or 30 minutes or an intelligent storyline that doesn’t make you feel childish because you liked it. They wanted something much closer to sports than the entertainment side. I’ve been preaching this for 15 years and have really almost started to forget about it. I felt after all this time, when I was in TNA when Dixie Carter first came onboard with Panda, I tried every way in the world to get her to go down that avenue, but she wouldn’t do it, so I almost completely lost interest.
This movie really brought out a very wealthy, well connected and fantastic businessman, and we started talking about a videogame about Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies. When we went to meet with him, he was very professional and polite and he turned to me and asked why wrestling today is so different than what he and I grew up watching. I would answer for him and then he would ask the same questions over again and I was starting to get hot because I didn’t think he was listening to me. After the meeting, I told Cody that and he said that he was just interested in all of that.
A week later, on Super Bowl Sunday, I got an email from him. I read the email but thought I wasn’t reading it correctly because it didn’t sound right. So, I read it a second time and then read it a third time and I was like holy shit, this guy isn’t wanting to just do something different, but he wants to change the industry. He is offering up a start-up new company, but this isn’t like ECW starting up in a bingo hall, he wants to start it up in a very big way. He wants to offer health insurance, revenue sharing, 401K and pension plans. I called him after I read the email to make sure I was reading it correctly. I told him we didn’t want to be fooled because we have all been fooled over 35 years in the business because there is not that kind of income in the business.
It is very possible, but the interesting things right now is that we sent out a lot of Letters of Intent and got back 35 rather quickly, and the other ones we didn’t get back, I wondered if they weren’t interested in this because I sure have would have wanted to be interested in this if I was still in the business full time. Kevin Sullivan and I were talking and he said that professional wrestlers are classic procrastinators. He then asked if I thought there were people out there who didn’t buy it. It took me three times to read it and a phone call to make sure it was real. But, you start to feel the ground move in the wrestling industry, there is something big at float here. The people who don’t buy it or don’t believe it, when they start to see this lion untamed coming out of the cage, that is when the reality will set in for some of them. The professional wrestling business will get very interesting over the next 12 months.
It would start in the next year?
I believe so. He and I started watching wrestling at the same time, with the WWWF with Bruno Sammartino and that is where his love of wrestling lies. I tend to temper that when I said you can’t bring back 1975 wrestling, but if we brought in an amalgamation of that style of storylines with real and believable characters and good stiff action, then that is something different. If someone asked if it was going to be like ECW, I would say no. That has been done – it’s been overdone. I think it is about time to let that legacy lie outside of reunions. It was a genie in a bottle and we got lucky with it on all cylinders. I’m not sure television today would want that kind of in your face, throwing women around, and the vulgarity of that thing. However, I’ve always considered the UWF to be the ECW before there was an ECW. Bill Watts used to write some amazingly intelligent storylines that really reached out and grabbed the audience, taking them along for the ride, along with a talented roster. If I was to answer in a three letter answer to what I would want it to look like, it would be UWF more than the WWF or WCW or ECW.
I live in Oklahoma, so I used to go to the old Mid South cards back when it played at the Myriad with guys like Dr. Death Steve Williams, Ted DiBiase and Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
You started watching wrestling at the right time. I started watching wrestling when I was four or five years old with guys like Andre the Giant, a real giant. When I was 12 years old, my dad worked on the railroads so he was always gone, but we got cable in the house and late on Saturday nights I saw a newspaper listings of professional wrestling with the WWF. We turned it on at midnight and the first match was on was Superstar Billy Graham in a steel cage and I was hook, line and sinker and thought this was the coolest thing I had ever seen in my life. That is when I really became a huge fan.
I actually remember you coming in and winning the TV title when you were first starting out.
Here is something funny about that for someone who actually watched it. I was in the dressing room and the agent came into the dressing room and told me to get out there. They threw me out there, and a few minutes later, Eddie Gilbert is there putting me over for the TV championship. It wasn’t planned and was a spur of the moment thing that worked and it showed how much confidence that Eddie Gilbert had in me. You come in this business and it is very intimidating. You get that confidence and I always considered myself blessed to get my break at that time.
Eddie was a legend.
It is too bad Eddie wasn’t 6-foot-5, because he would have been the man in the business, a phenomenal worker. Eddie was one of those guys – it is strange how things happen in the business. I never had the balls to think I would be a big star in the business. At the time that Vince Jr. took over, he told the guys like Brunio Sammartino and Dominic DeNucci that the agreements with his father were not in effect anymore, and they were in their late 50s, with no retirement and no jobs, and he threw them to the wolves. It was a really crappy thing to do. At that time, Bill Watts started a national to compete with them, and had the talent to do it, but he burned through a lot of money quickly and ending up losing control and that is when he sold to Crockett.
But they were very hot at the time. They brought in a lot of big names like Eddie Gilbert, Missing Link, Dark Journey, Terry Taylor, Chris Adams, Buddy Roberts, Bill Irwin – a really strong group of talent with Eddie working as the booker. Eddie was pretty much in charge of the storylines. Eddie called and asked if I wanted to come down for three weeks and that is how I got my break in the business. It is very key points in my career, having Dominic train me and Eddie help me break into the company of the UWF, being in the NWA with Magnum TA. I had those iconic names in the business who I rubbed elbows with that helped me get my break in the business.