Bloodlust: Tournament of Death (2016)

Damien Abraham

A short vice style (for lack of a better descriptor) documentary about the CZW wrestling company and its annual death match wrestling event: Tournament of Death. Not a subject I’m usually interested in but, like a lot of the Vice shows, I was drawn to it more because of the presenter than the subject matter. I’m a big fan of the Damien Abraham’s band, Fucked Up, and his various podcasts particularly Turned Out a Punk.

So, that said, it’s hard to say too whether I would recommend this doco. Its violent and gory and if you don’t want to see wounds being inflicted on another person, even semi-staged ones, this if a no-go zone. If, however, you’re intrigued by just how many people it takes to remove a roofing nail array from someone’s skull than, well, this doco is for you.

Abraham examines the life of the owner of CZW and the amount of work he puts into his company and these tournament of death events. He interviews various wrestlers and examines some of their expectations, motivations and plans. It is almost interesting in its coverage of the culture and this sub-culture of wrestling and how something that is generally viewed as being a large produced for TV multimillion dollar industry can also be produced on such a grass roots level and for little other than the passion of the fans and the performers. Unfortunately though this angle isn’t properly explored and there isn’t any full closure on the financial success or failure of the event. By the time the documentary finishes and the various participants, including the owner, are being treated for wounds and concussions it is hard to see the appeal or any basis for the passion and bloodlust which the fans are so full of.

It feels too as if the doco was cut short. As if there were either not enough time for a narrative to develop or there wasn’t enough of a narrative present to justify more time. Whatever the reason the result is that the documentary, stand-alone, falls a little flat. That said this documentary makes much more sense and is far more interesting when viewed after Abraham’s interview with one of the wrestlers, Jeff Cannonball, on the Turned Out a Punk podcast. This interview provides more of the background and motivation of Cannonball and shines a light of context upon the CZW tournament and similar events as well as the violence inside the ring. Though much of the sport at this level still, to me at least, seems like savagery just for savagery’s sake the interview with Jeff Cannonball shows that, like punk- hardcore and various other sub-cultures what can appear strange and violent to an outsider can be a passion and way of life for the participants and fans. Abraham is more than able to flesh out the interest and appeal of sub-cultural passion and its importance in relation to the development of other sub-cultures and even popular culture in his free-form podcast medium. Strangely though there is no such connection or summation made in this film. Many other vice documentaries I’ve watched seemed to dedicate an ending portion to making these connections and it’s kind of jarring that in this there isn’t enough time for same level of ‘so what does this mean’ or ‘why does this matter’ and the whole flick seems so much less important than it may have as a result.

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