Thursday, October 3, 2019

Revisiting WCW Halloween Havoc 1991!

Believe it or not, there actually IS more to this show than just the Chamber of Horrors debacle ...

By: Jimbo X

It’s pretty easy to miss WCW’s Southern-fried, pseudo-athletic style of faked fisticuffing in general these days, but come October is when I really start getting nostalgic for the defunct promotion. When it comes to long gone icons of the Samhain season, few relics of yesteryear have the intrinsic appeal of Halloween Havoc, the WWF competitor’s annual October PPV spectacular which always took full advantage of the All Hallows Eve ephemera. That the show, year-in and year-out, proved to be one of the better pay per views the company put out is really just a bonus at this point; what REALLY gave you an incentive to watch the show as all of the wacky Halloween hijinks wrapped around the in-ring product.

Granted, I haven’t seen all of the Halloween Havoc PPVs over the years, but I’ve seen most of them, and I don’t think I recall encountering one that was just plain boring. Even when the matches didn’t live up to the hype, just the energy and kitsch and kookiness of the event tended to give it a spark that the company’s other shows didn’t, and fewer Havoc outings illustrate this point better than the 1991 festivities.

In many respects, 1991 was the single worst year WCW ever had (although 2000 is pretty debatable, but that’s a discussion for the next time the Wi-Fi goes down for more than 20 minutes.) Ric Flair had just left the company, Jim Herd was running the show (with disastrous results, obviously) and the promotion was hot off Great American Bash ‘91, which is roundly condemned as the single worst WCW PPV ever. But even at what many consider to be the company’s creative nadir, the 1991 incarnation of Halloween Havoc is nonetheless a lot of fun, albeit with more than a few moments of undiluted cringe.

Of course, the show is notorious for its “Chamber of Horrors” curtain-jerker, which, admittedly, is pretty stupid in both theory and execution. But even that bout isn’t anywhere near as bad as its reputed to be, and the rest of the show is actually stacked with some pretty solid Southern-as-fuck pro ‘rasslin goodness, complete with a main event that might be a the promotion’s all-time “I Absolutely Cannot Believe That Match Didn’t Suck As Much As I Thought It Would” champion.

And even better? Today, we’re reliving the magic and the majesty of the moment via a genuine Turner Home Video VHS copy from damn near three decades ago. Now how about we stop all of this jibber-jabber and cut right into the action, why don’t we? Fuckin’ A, man, time to hit “play” on the trusty Sanyo VCR and take a much-needed trip down the cardboard headstone-littered aisles of memory lane...

We open with this early '90s as fuck CGI intro where the likes of Lex Luger and Sting are depicted as fuckin' ghosts. From there, Jim Ross opens up the festivities at the UTC Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, while Tony Schiavone just kinda’ stands there looking like he farted louder than he anticipated. He tells the crowd that Barry Windham got jumped in the parking lot before the PPV, and that's our cue to roll a pre-taped vignette of Abdullah the Butcher and Cactus Jack acting retarded and Eric Bischoff asking a lot of questions about the WCW Halloween Havoc Phantom, whatever the fuck that is. Then Arn Anderson and Larry Zybsko slam a car door on Windham's bicep and Dusin Rhodes has to drive him to the local hospital while Eric B. just keeps commentating, even though he was a firsthand witness to an incident of aggravated assault.

And we've got a pure-D classic on our hands to open the show with the infamous "Chamber of Horrors" match. You know, the one where the idea is to lock your opponent into an electric chair and "render them helpless," which is a euphemism, I suppose, for "fucking electrocute the fuck out of." So team captains El Gigante and Vader make their way past a graveyard of LITERAL papier-mache tombstones and then the Diamond Studd (aka, Scott Hall) makes his way ringside. Then Cactus Jack comes out with a REAL fuckin' chainsaw and it's actually pretty fucking rad, really. The Steiner Brothers come out and get a huge reaction, probably because everybody in the crowd knew one of them would open up a Shoney's buffet in the Acworth, Georgia area a mere 25 years later. Abdullah the Butcher comes out last for the heel team, while Sting is out last for the good guys. And yeah, even I have to admit that I kinda' dig his Wolverine-colored tights.

So it's a donnybrook as soon as the bell sounds. By the way, they're not actually calling it an "electric chair," they're calling it a "chair of torture" because that probably made Ted Turner feel better about things. So Sting grabs a kendo stick and hits fuckin' everybody over the head with it and the ref cam catches Scott Steiner beating the fuck out of some random, unnamed dude in a black mask who jumped out of a cardboard coffin. I'm pretty sure El Gigante is trying to hump Scott Hall to death in the corner. Sting clotheslines Vader out of the ring while Rick Steiner tries to climb out of the cage, even though it's kinda' curved and it would be physically impossible for him to get out of it. Oh shit, the CHAIR OF TORTURE is starting to come down from the ceiling and it almost crushed Cactus Jack to death for real. Now this truly is HARDCORE. At this point, the wrestlers have no idea what the fuck they're supposed to be doing, but goddamn, do I love hearing that spooky, atmospheric music playing throughout the arena during the melee. Rick Steiner clotheslines Vader out of the ring and then Sting El Kabongs Cactus Jack with a coffin lid. Then a whole bunch of orderlies wearing white makeup come out with a gurney and kneel in the entrance ramp, probably to protest Ghouls Lives Matter or something. Rick slams Cactus head first into the cage (which is kinda' like a proto Hell in the Cell, except with these HUGE square holes in them) and Cactus, who is now juicing pretty heavily, has a kendo stick smashed over his noggin. The masked grappler without a name gets handcuffed to the cage and now Scott is choking Abdullah with a metal chain. Cactus takes another huge bump and the Refer-eye Camera spins all around the ring like The Blair Witch Project got it or something. Sting conks Abdulla with a kendo stick on the outside and you can see the poorly concealed pyrotechnics guys trying to hide off to the side of the ring. Now even Sting is juicing. Shit, I always though this was a goofy comedy match, but this niggas are out there REALLY bringing the violence. Rick Steiner continues to kendo stick miscellaneous motherfuckers and Cactus reaches for the switch of death. Rick hits Scott Hall in the balls and El Gigante applies the most advanced move he knows, the front facelock. One of the refs tries to fix the switch, which apparently fell down during the tomfoolery. So Jack turns the switch, unaware that Abdullah the Butcher has been placed in the chair instead of Rick. So the lights turn low, some fireworks shoot out of the chair, the ring momentarily catches fire and Abdullah does his best John Coffey impersonation while the announcers act all casual about a brown man being fucking electrocuted on live television.

In the post-match shenanigans, Cactus unhooks Abdullah and squeals things at him. He comes back to live, knocks Cactus on his ass and beats the fuck out of a whole bunch of zombie orderlies, who literally emit baby powder every time they get struck. Apparently, Cactus reckons that looks pretty fun, so he joins in on the beatdown, too.

Well, it was certainly a royal clusterfuck, but I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as it's reputed to be. It's dumb and it's goofy and it's intelligence insulting, but it's not really boring, and at the end of the day, isn't that the only thing that really counts? It's solid guilty pleasure fare, so I'll give it a decent [** 3/4] rating for sheer entertainment value alone.

Up next, it's Jammin' Jimmy Garvin taking on Johnny B. Badd. And, holy shit, watching P.S. Hayes comes out wearing a vintage Braves windbreaker and doing a Tomahawk chop while "Badstreet Atlanta, U.S.A." plays in the background fills me with all kinds of joyous nostalgia. Meanwhile, Teddy Long accompanies Badd down to the ring, and I seriously didn't know he WASN'T black until, like, 2003.

You will never see anything as Southern or as 1991 as this ever again.

Garvin literally looks like the bassist from Dethklok if he was a real person. The fans chant "DDT," because that's the move Garvin uses and shit. Collar and elbow tie-up to begin and Badd connects on a jab in the corner. They exchange leapfrogs for a bit and Garvin literally hip tosses Badd out of the ring, where P.S. Hayes immediately clobbers him with his arm cast. Back in the ring and Garvin drops Badd with a hard elbow coming off the ropes. Garvin with a buncha' arm torques and Badd rakes the eyes. Badd with a brief choke in the corner and a "hammer-like clothesline" off the ropes. Badd with a modified Camel Clutch, then he uses a towel to choke his opponent while the ref's back is turned. Badd with a high-elevation backdrop and another clothesline. He goes up top and hits a flying sunset flip for a two-count. He follows suit with a flying elbow drop, but Garvin kicks out of that at two, as well. Badd climbs up the top rope again, and this time Garvin clobbers him in the solar plexus as he flies off the turnbuckle. Badd goes for a spinning elbow and flies over the top rope. A double noggin knocker on dueling leapfrogs results in a stereo knockdown. Badd goes for a jab and Garvin hits the DDT, but Teddy Long distracts the ref. This allows Badd to recover and drop Garvin with a left hook. Even though Garvin has his foot on the rope, the ref still makes the three-count, thus giving Badd the victory. Man, I forgot how great of a DDT Garvin had — that shit has to be top five, for sure, maybe even the top three. Well, that probably could've been a really good match had it been given enough time, but as is, it was still moderately above average for its time. Let's give it a respectable [** 3/4] rating and keep pushing forward, why don't we?

Missy Hyatt is in the back dressed up like a Vegas showgirl and she finds Bobby Eaton holding a pumpkin, who then says a snide remark about women, because let's face it, most times they deserve it.

Now it's time for "Stunning" Steve Austin to defend the TV title against Dustin Rhodes. Huh, for some reason, one of the cardboard tombstones is for the Minnesota Twins. You know, because they were taking on the Braves at that year's World Series and shit? Eh, don't make me have to explain this stuff to you young 'uns. Rhodes drops Steve with an elbow smash, then he counters an ankle torque into a half crab. Austin makes it to the ropes to break the hold. Austin with a running shoulder block and there's this one black kid in the crowd who is REALLY excited to see Rhodes, for some reason. Austin with another shoulder block and Rhodes FLOORS him with a defensive clothesline. Austin counters another ankle pick into a head scissors submission while Grandma Rhodes watches in the crowd. Austin with a rope break. Rhodes with a side headlock, then Austin catches him with a boot and hip toss. There's some scrambling on the mat and Rhodes hits a tackle. Austin ripostes with another hip toss and Rhodes clotheslines Austin over the top rope. Austin with a back body drop for two back in the ring. Rhodes with a knee to the noggin, but Austin shucks off the bulldog attempt. Rhodes with another headlock takedown, but Austin kicks out of the opportunistic pin attempt. Lady Blossom shakes her titties on the outside and all of the horndog men in the crowd hoot and holler, because at one point in time in American society, it was actually OK to acknowledge your heterosexuality in public without feeling ashamed about it. Rhodes with another shoulder tackle and a crossbody. Rhodes with another headlock takedown and Austin goes right back to the headscissors submission. Rhodes jumps out of it and Ross plugs the latest edition of WCW Magazine. Rhodes crashes and burns on an errant spill to the outside and Ausin feeds him a ton of knuckle sandwiches on the arena floor. Rhodes juices BIG TIME and starts staggering around the perimeter of the ring. Austin with a flying double axe handle to the outside and he rolls Rhodes back into the ring. Rhodes fires back with a hard right and Austin starts raking the eyes like he was Jon Jones or something. Austin with a gutwrench suplex, but Rhodes kicks out at two. Austin works a reverse chinlock and everybody in the crowd looks like people out of a Rob Zombie movie, except unironically. Austin uses the rope for leverage and the ref tells him to cut that shit out. Rhodes drops Austin with another hard right, but Steve shucks off the attempted monkey flip and clotheslines Rhodes like a MOTHERFUCKER. Then there's a whole buncha' near falls and Rhodes hits another lariat for a two-count. Rhodes whiffs on a dropkick and Austin goes for a quick pin, but of course, Dustin kicks out of that, too. Then Austin's bitch on the outside slaps Rhodes a couple of times while the ref is distracted. Austin crotches himself on the middle rope, and Rhodes lands an atomic drop and a lariat for a two-count. He dumps Austin to the outside and runs him noggin first into the steel ringpost. LOL, even then Austin had a pretty pronounced bald spot. Rhodes hits a powerslam, but Austin kicks out. Rhodes with a snapmare and a ton of punches. Apparently Austin bladed on the outside, too. Rhodes hits  standing bionic elbow, but Austin kicks out of that as well. Rhodes does the old "I'm gonna' punch you ten times in the corner" spot and Austin does a Flair Flop. Rhodes hits a flying lariat off the top rope, but the time limit expires RIGHT before the ref can register the three-count. Man, what are the odds of that. This being the TV title and all, that means it's technically a draw, so Austin keeps the belt. All in all, that was some really solid, old-school, boots and buckets of blood Southern 'rasslin brawl right there — I'd easily feel confident giving the whole shebang a [*** 1/4] rating. 

Up next, it's Tom "Z-Man" Zenk taking on the WCW Halloween Havoc Phantom — who is literally this motherfucker who comes out with a cape over his face like Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 From Outer Space while the strings of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" pours over the P.A. system. His wrestling attire is a black leotard and his mask is this half-white, half-black design that kinda'-almost makes him look like Rorshach from The Watchmen. And, naturally, he gets NO reaction from the audience whatsoever. He jumps Zenk at the bell and drops hims with a hard clothesline. The Phantom hits a bodyslam and rakes Zenk's eyes. The Phantom hits a knee to the midsection and you can see the mustache poking out under the mask. Yeah, that motherfucker is Rick Rude. Zenk gets a defensive knee in and hits the Phantom with a snapmare, and then the Phantom hits the fuckin' RUDE AWAKENING for the three-count. When Tony S. tells J.R. how similar the Phantom's finisher resembled THAT particular move, all J.R. can say in response is a droll "hey, that's interesting." This thing was a glorified squash, but at least they kept the [* 1/2] tomfoolery to a minimum.

Now it's time for tag-team action as THE PATRIOTS defend the U.S. tag titles against the world tag team champions, Arn Anderson and Larry Zybsko. Oh shit, some niggas' 'bout to get fucked up in this one. It's Larry Z and Firebreaker Chip to begin. Larry locks in an abdominal stretch, but Chip reverses it. Chip with a ton of scoop slams, but Larry kicks out at two and goes for a neckbreaker. Chip counters it into a backslide, but he kicks out at two. Arn gets the tag and hits Chip with a waist lock takedown. Arn complains to the ref that Chip is too oily, which I guess makes sense, since his gimmick is that he's LITERALLY a male stripper in a firefighter costume. Todd Champion gets the tag and he starts arm wrenching Arn like a motherfucker. Arn flips Todd back into the ring and drops a knee on his face. Then Todd flips Arn off the apron, and backdrops his ass on the (padded) arena floor for good measure. Back in the ring and Todd applies a bear hug. Larry breaks up the submission attempt and Todd double clotheslines both of 'em like a motherfucker, that motherfucker. Larry gets the tag and there's a collar and elbow tie-up. Larry bails to the outside and Arn gets tagged. Arn launches Todd over the top rope while the ref ain't looking and Larry Z beats the fuck out of him on the outside. Arn with a snapmare and another knee drop. Larry Z gets the tag. He scoop slams Todd, but it's only good for a one-count. Larry with a neckbreaker, but he kicks out of that, too. Todd starting to fire back, and Arn furtively tags Larry back in. Zybsko with a backbreaker, but Todd kicks out of that, as well. Todd lands a snap suplex and slowly starts inching his way towards Chip. He gets the hot tag and starts body slamming and dropkicking EVERYBODY. Champion hits Arn with what J.R. describes as "a modified slam" and then Arn fucking KILLS Chip dead with a brutal spinebuster for the pinfall. Well, there wasn't much to that, but overall, it wasn't that bad. Let's call it a solid [** 1/2] title match and keep humming along, why don't we?

Eric B., dressed as Dracula, is at ringside for an interview with Paul Heyman and some blonde skank with a suspiciously masculine face. Heyman yells and yammers about being kicked off one of WCW's TV shows and threatens to "bankrupt the whole damn company" by eliminating all of WCW's faces one by one, starting with Sting. That's our cue for the Halloween Phantom to return. Madusa rubs her skanky man hands all over his body and he's unmasked as — shocker! — RICK RUDE. He says the only thing he cares about is himself, his women and his money, and if his "money man" Paul Heyman has a problem with Sting, well, he reckons that means he's gotta' kick some asses. He promises to take Sting's U.S. title, and also die from a heart attack roughly seven years later. Well, he didn't really say that last part, but he could've.

Yeah, I bet Rick Rude was ecstatic about the idea, too. 

Now it's time for a video package showing Ron Simmons returning to the campus of Florida State, where he was a big football stud and all. Fuck, they even got Bobby Bowden to do a cameo. This thing straddles a fine line between being legitimately corny and legitimately awesome, which, yeah, is pretty much early '90s WCW in a nutshell, really.

So Simmons comes to the ring accompanied by Dusty Rhodes in a tie-dye shirt. His opponent is WCW Heavyweight Champ Lex Luger, who is accompanied to the ring by both Harley Race and Mr. Hughes. Also, his name is spelled out in these giant foam blocks near the entrance ramp and it looks ghetto AS FUCK. You gotta' dig Simmons' FSU inspired britches, for sure. Jim Ross reminds the audience that these two were, at one point, teammates on the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL, which has to be one of my favorite bits of random-ass trivia ever. Luger with a headlock takedown early. Simmons reverses it into headscissors and we have another standstill. Luger with a hammerlock, but Ron counters it. Of course, Luger played for Miami of Florida, so this thing definitely has a college football rivalry tinge to it. Ron goes for a dropkick but crashes and burns. Luger with a punt to the stomach and a running elbow to the back. Lex with more clubbing blows. Hey, did you know that for a short period of time, Luger called his finishing move the "Attitude Adjustment?" Simmons hits a couple of tackles and then he POWERSLAMS THE FUCK out of Lex. Then he hits a huge spinebuster and that gets him the pinfall. Oh wait, I should've told you this earlier: this is a best two out of three falls match, so we've got to do this shit at least two more times. There's a 60-second timeout period, and the match doth continue. Luger sells the shit out of his back and just waddles around the perimeter of the ring for a little bit. Simmons with a suplex, an Irish whip and a backdrop. Luger begs for mercy in the corner, probably like Miss Elizabeth did the night he killed her ... allegedly. Simmons hits a bulldog, but Luger kicks out at two. "Race almost had a coronary," Ross comments. Well, he did, eventually. Luger rakes Ron's eyes and goes for an inside cradle. Ron kicks out at two. LOL at Jim Ross correcting Tony S. on the 1991 Braves' pitching rotation. Simmons hits another clothesline, then Luger tosses him through the ring ropes. Luger drags Ron back into the ring and hits him with a couple of well-timed and well-placed elbow drops. "Jesus Christ you can count to 10!" Race berates the ref on the outside. Luger hits a powerslam of his own, but he can't make the pinfall right away because his back is all fucked up and whatnot. Luger drops Ron with a kick to the chest, then he follows suit with a clothesline out of the corner. Luger applies a facelock and uses the bottom rope for extra leverage. The ref starts doing the old "I'm gonna raise your arm three times" shtick and, of course, Ron gets his second win and ALMOST picks up the second fall with a quick rollup. Simmons goes for a backslide, but Luger wiggles free. Lex with a shoulder block and Race trips up Ron on a lariat attempt. Then there's some bullshit with Dusty and Harley scrapping, and then the ref disqualifies Ron for tossing Lex over the top rope, even though Harley held Simmons' leg so he wouldn't go over, too (which would've negated the DQ, using WCW's really obtuse faux sports logic.)

In the corner, Simmons complains about Luger poking him in the eyes and Rhodes keeps saying "It's the fourth quarter, baby, it's the fourth quarter" and yeah, it's actually kinda' awesome. Alright, the decisive fall is coming up next. Luger with a bunch of hammer fists and Ron starts RONNING UP and the crowd is going bananas. He pummels Lex in the corner some more, then Luger hits him with a lariat out of nowhere. Just a two count. Simmons with an inverted atomic drop, then he perches Lex on the top rope. He sticks the superplex, but Luger kicks outta' that shit, as well. Simmons with a powerslam and he goes up top. He connects on the flying shoulder block and Lex bails to the outside. Simmons accidentally bonks his noggin on the steel ring post and Luger tosses his carcass back into the ring. Luger hits his signature piledriver and, yep, that gives him the three-count. Well shit, I enjoyed that WAY more than I thought I would — really, they booked that about as good as they could've considering the circumstances. Believe it or not, that is a SOLID [*** 1/2] title match, and if you haven't seen it before, it *might* be worth going out of your way to experience. And from there, J.R. and Tony S. bids the audience adieu, rattle off a quick plug for Starrcade, and yep, that's the end of the show, kiddos.

I guess it's only fitting that Eric B. would dress up like somebody known for sucking, huh?

Right off the bat, I should let you know that this ancient VHS copy leaves out a fuck ton of matches. Among other bouts, the official Turner Home Video release doesn’t include a 16-minute jaunt between Bobby Eaton and Terrance Taylor, a Brian Pillman vs. Richard Morton outing for the WCW Light Heavyweight Title and a five-minute laugher featuring Big Josh and P.N. News beating the fuck out of those two dildoes wearing matching pants and masks with lime green sequins on ‘em and shit. There’s also a missing match where Van Hammer squashes Doug Somers in, like, a minute, and the one I REALLY regret seeing cut, a four-minute-long tilt in which World’s Strongest Man stalwart Bill Kazmaier made Kevin “Oz” Nash tap like a bitch. 

Alas, even with all of the excess fat trimmed from the package, Halloween Havoc ‘91 remains a show that’s far more entertaining than it had any right to be. For as much shit as the IWC gives it, “The Chamber of Horrors” match is actually a pretty enjoyable little brawl, with a lot of great, pre-ECW garbage wrestling goodness, and the rest of the card definitely exceeds expectations. I mean, there is no reason for a Ron Simmons/Lex Luger two-out-of-three falls bout to be that engrossing, but what do you know, it actually is. And of course, me being a Georgia boy and all, all of the homages to the Braves’ miraculous World Series run definitely made me feel sentimental as shit; I’m not sure there is anything that could possibly warm the cockles of my heart more than hearing Jim Ross sneak in references to Steve Avery while Arn Anderson is mercilessly pummeling a fool.

Of course, there are better Halloween Havocs out there, but on the whole, I think I actually dug this one even more than HH ‘90. It might not hold a candle to the festivities from, say, 1993 or 1998, but again, this thing is just an espresso triple shot of sheer seasonal nostalgia that’ll get you in the mood for Samhain shenanigans like that. I mean, is there really a better way to start the month of October off than watching Mick Foley pretend to electrocute make-believe Arabs while living dead paramedics shamble around the ring? 

If there is, I’d like to hear about it.


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