#21 – Michigan, I Like to Hurt People
I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE is probably the best faux professional wrestling documentary ever made, a true accomplishment considering it’s about a fake sport to begin with.
Not that I can’t appreciate the thrill of pro wrestling. I’m a longtime fan of the spectacle, although I’ve always had one foot in the closet (“in the closet”, of course, being probably a poor choice of words when you’re talking about sweaty dudes in tights battling each other in hand-to-hand combat.) Nowadays, I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on in the major leagues – speaking of the WWE, of course – but I have gone to a few independent wrestling shows as recently as within the last couple of years. What can I say? I love the violence. I love the people-watching. I love the drama. Wrestling is theater, in it’s most base form.
Yet, unique to any of the other theatrical arts (am I really calling “rasslin” an art?), professional wrestling does have an element of reality to it. Although the outcomes to wrestling matches are scripted, the “actors” do get hurt. When they bleed, it’s real. The practice of “blading” is when a wrestler hides a small razor blade in their tights or wrist tape, in order to cut their forehead at an opportune time – like after being bashed in the head by a folding chair or thrown into a ring post.
Today, blading has – for all intensive purposes – been banned in the WWE. Still, there was a time when a major bloodbath in wrestling could happen on any given night in any major arena. That was an era when wrestling operated within small regional promotions, like Detroit’s “Big Time Wrestling”. That time was the 1970s, when nearly 90 percent of the wrestling footage in I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE was filmed. And no wrestler guaranteed blood and mayhem like Ed Farhat, a Detroit native who played the character of The Sheik, who would come to the ring dressed in stereotypical Middle Eatern garb with a snake and a prayer mat. Then, once the bell rung, Farhat would use anything and everything in an effort to maim his opponent – chairs, tables, sharpened pencils. With The Sheik, audiences knew there would be blood. His matches were not for the faint of heart.
Farhat, as “The Sheik”, is the star of I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE. He’s an ugly guy. In fact, most of the wrestlers in this movie are ugly, a regular group of bar fighters and scrappers. Are they athletes? Are they wrestlers? There’s not a whole lot of body slams or pile drivers in I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE.
With apologies to the legendary Dusty Rhodes and the Funk Brothers, both of whom make an appearance in I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE, most of the guys who are not named “The Sheik” in this film are long forgotten by casual wrestling fans. At the time, they did serve a very important purpose – feeder fish for the unstoppable madman from the Middle East (middle eastern Michigan, of course). Where is Captain Ed George or Bulldog Don Kent now?
I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE is an odd film. Most of the footage was shot in the 1970s and intended to be used as part of a horror film called RINGSIDE IN HELL. Later, the idea morphed into what was supposed to be a legitimate documentary called RINGSIDE. When the film crew who shot the footage realized that his subjects weren’t going to break kayfabe (wrestling carny-talk for breaking character), he pondered what to do next.
Eventually, money ran out and the footage sat dormant – that is – until the mid-1980s when the filmed wrestling and interview sequences shot for RINGSIDE were acquired by New World Pictures. New World could have done nothing with the footage. But this was the 1980s. VHS was at its peak. Anything and everything that could be dubbed onto videocassette *was* dubbed on videocassette for the $1.50-$2 video rental market. So what to do with a bunch of violent wrestling footage with seemingly no plot and no continuity to speak of? Somewhere in the offices of New World, someone had a flash of insane genius: “Let’s make a movie!”
Taking a cue from such masters of stock footage manipulation as the great Ed Wood, additional footage was shot of a fictional “Stop the Sheik” movement, a cause aimed at curbing the bloody violence of Ed Farhat. And with a little slicing and dicing, I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE was born.
For wrestling fans, I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE is a piece of wrestling history and worth checking out, especially considering little match footage still exists from the 1970s Michigan territory where the Sheik ruled.
But for movie fans, I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE couldn’t be considered much more than 1. an oddity or 2. a total piece of shit. What more can you expect from a film largely made up of stock wrestling footage and nothing else? There’s little attempt to hold together any type of plot. The contrast between the 1970s-era footage and the footage from the 1980s is laughably obvious. Scenes exist just to exist. Andre the Giant shows up at one point for no explainable reason as does “Heather Feather”, a 300 pound female wrestle who wants nothing more than to wrestle a man.
If anything can be taken away from I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE, it’s that professional wrestling is a really odd business. If that’s the point of the film, well, bravo. Point made.
But I can’t really recommend this to a non-wrestling fan. Without any context, I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE is just dull. Once you’ve seen The Sheik stab one guy with a metal spike, you’ve seen everything there is to see here.
WILL SOMEONE JUST END THE DAMN MATCH ALREADY?!?
Next week: MINNESOTA
I LIKE TO HURT PEOPLE can be watched in its entirety on YouTube
Meeting Andre the Giant