Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.
Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: No Holds Barred
Tagline: No ring. No ref. No rules.
Released by: RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Plot: Hulk Hogan portrays “Rip”, an international wrestling superstar who’s the hottest thing on television. When he refuses an offer from an unscrupulous network executive, he finds himself caught up in a huge web of danger and intrigue as the gargantuan killer “Zeus” (Tom “Tiny” Lister) is unleashed upon him.
Thoughts: I’m going to start this review off by saying that I am not a big follower, nor do I pretend to have a great deal of knowledge about the sport known as professional wrestling. I appreciate it as a form of entertainment, but I myself have never followed it to any extent beyond a mild cultural curiosity. I’m not putting down anyone that’s into it at all, because I know many intelligent folks that absolutely love it and I totally get why. I’ve just never gravitated to it like some have.
But I am a BIG movie nerd and I do remember living in the age of Hulkamania, where an enormous man with a blonde “skullet” named Hulk Hogan would scream at me from the television set while ripping off his t-shirt, posing the question, “What are you going to do when my 24 inch pythons come looking for you?” I didn’t know the answer then and I still don’t. That’s what makes my discovery of the first starring role of the legendary Hulkster so special for me. I missed out on its initial release back in the day, only now to drink in the elegance of how well it has aged from its late 80’s vintage.
For me, it’s as if the film No Holds Barred takes place in some weird, alternate universe where the manner in which people interact with one another in the real world is exactly the same as a professional wrestling match. Hollywood has a long history of making burly-men-in-tights films, that usually involved some poor wrestler helping out an orphan or overcoming a powerful foe in the ring. No Holds Barred fits that formula to a tee, but with many special flourishes that you could only get from something made in 1989 by crazy people on massive amounts of steroids and cocaine.
This film contains zero subtlety in both its storytelling and performances. Hulk Hogan plays Rip, a wrestler whose incredible ratings success has caught the eye of the evil network executive Tom Brell (Kurt Fuller), the new head of the World Television Network. Brell wants Rip to join him, but Rip is happy where he is at the World Wrestling Federation. Their meeting escalates into a crazy shouting match with both men coming to blows and Rip stuffing a blank check into Brell’s mouth. Talk about loyalty! On the limo ride back from the meeting, Rip is hijacked by the driver and sped to an abandoned warehouse, while he demolishes the backseat in anger. He is then attacked by a group of goons hired by Brell, but the Hulkster smashes the shit out of each of them and the feud has begun.
Back in the comfort of his old network, Rip is introduced to the stunning new PR executive Samantha Moore (Joan Severance), whom he develops an immediate and obvious crush on. It turns out she was hired by Brell to seduce and destroy Rip, but she quickly falls for the big lug and ruins the plan. Desperate, Brell initiates a new show called “The Battle of the Tough Guys”, a violent brawling competition with no rules. It is here that Brell discovers a mysterious and psychotic gargantuan named Zeus (Tom “Tiny” Lister) whom he uses as a pawn to goad Rip into a big exhibition match.
Brell escalates the intimidation factor further when he hires a goon to rape Samantha, but luckily Rip intervenes just in time and runs the would-be sex offender down with his Harley. Then Brell pushes Zeus into savagely beating Rip’s little brother almost to death. But the straw that breaks the camel’s back comes when Brell and Zeus have the cajones to interrupt one of Rip’s charity events for children, by landing a helicopter in the middle of it and calling him out in front of the kids. That just tears it and Rip and Zeus square off in a televised match that has got to be one of the most insane battles between two human beings that I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know what tone they were originally intending for this film, because it seems to be aimed for a youthful audience, yet there’s a high level of violence that makes it seem very inappropriate (including an attempted rape, several brutal beatings and a few deaths). The style of the film is 100% gonzo from start to finish. The ruthless tactics employed by the network to get Rip signed would make the mafia proud, which is what makes this film so much more than just a standard competition tale. In a way, No Holds Barred is kind of like a bizarre superhero movie. The Hulkster is always dressed in a colorful costume just like a hero, whether it is his trademark ripped tie-dyed tank tops, skintight spandex unitards, short shorts or bright red bikini briefs. He’s also represented as a perfect role model for children and lives by a strict code of moral decency, but when he gets mad, just like the same mean, green Marvel character from whence he takes his name, the Hulk goes fucking berserk and beats the snot out of some bitches.
Okay, so this movie is currently only available on VHS, however I’ve just seen that it is planned for DVD release in July from the WWE. That’s good news if you don’t own a VCR and want to check out and own this work of glorious, steroid-crazed magic, but one look at the “modern” sleek packaging of this cheesy gem for the upcoming DVD and I’m glad I’ve got my VHS. The original box cover above really sums up what you’re about to witness with no pretension: two huge screaming maniacs yelling and fighting each other. Also, the stats for the upcoming DVD on Amazon say that it’s being released in full screen not widescreen, so why even bother? I say buy a used VCR, get a copy of this movie on VHS and watch this film repeatedly as an alternative to the other Hulk movie that’s being released this weekend. And then go out and smash the fuck out of something!