More than anything else Paul Hough's "The Backyard" attests to the power of television. The revival of wrestling on TV in a more extreme form in recent years has been accompanied since the mid-1990s by the phenomenon of teenagers and young men staging their own matches, often literally in their own backyards, employing all manner of brutal gimmickry.
Bats and broomsticks wrapped in barbed wire are favorite weapons, and slamming an opponent onto a burning plank covered with barbed wire is a popular move. Thumb tacks, mouse traps and fluorescent tubes are also worked into the matches.
And then there's "blading," in which a wrestler will slice himself with a razor blade to make his brawling look all the bloodier. Sometimes, one opponent will cut to the chase by dosing another with a flammable liquid and then set him on fire.
What is going on here? Most would say a lot of incredibly dangerous and stupid activity, and most of the people in this documentary not surprisingly seem none too bright.
The participants, many of them with dreams of stardom in professional wrestling, see nothing wrong with what they're doing, but most unsettling is the number of parents who actually support this madness, which has little to do with legitimate wrestling and everything to do with their children's desire to emulate the gaudy, bloody matches they watch on the tube, down to their homemade versions of the wrestlers' flashy costumes.
In his travels through California, Nevada, Arizona, upstate New York and even in his native England, Hough reveals much that is extremely violent yet no instances of serious injuries, although surely they must occur.
Some of the wrestlers and their relatives seem clinically disturbed, while others are guys who see extreme wrestling as their surest way to fame and fortune. This seems to be the case with Andrew Cook of Modesto, whose fighting name is the Lizard, and who is extremely focused on becoming good enough to graduate from backyard wrestling to a professional wrestling school. The Lizard also knows when to back off — he has no desire to kill anybody.
Rob Van Dam, a star wrestler, says that he is pro-backyard wrestling —"with guidelines." He also offers the provocative observation that without backyard wrestling "it's scary to think what those kids would do with all that bottled up inside them." One thuggish, scarred youth provides one answer to Van Dam's speculation when he says backyard wrestling is "like goin' downtown gay bashin'."
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Extreme violence; entirely unsuitable for children.
A HIQI Media and Image Entertainment release. Writer-producer-director-cinematographer-sound engineer Paul Hough. Executive producer Geza Decsy. Music Seth Jordan.
Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue. (323) 655-4010.