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Most Bizarre Horror And Sci-Fi Movies Starring Wrestlers

It may seem that more wrestlers are making the leap from the ring to the movie screen lately; even a casual glance at a list of films from the last decade or so will include features starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, John Cena, and Dave Bautista – and that's just the major releases. Wrestlers are almost predisposed for screen roles: they understand scripting and story lines, can improvise on the spot, know how to play to the camera, and are (of course) larger than life.

However, not every wrestler gets to star in A-list pictures. While the Rock, Bautista and Cena are enjoying their share of blockbusters, they and countless other wrestlers worked their way up (or continue to work) in direct-to-video titles. Some are straight-ahead, no-nonsense action pictures designed entirely to show off their leads' physicality; wrestlers like Steve Austin and Triple H have all carved comfortable acting niches in these films, which deliver the goods to fans on a regular basis.

For some wrestlers, the steady work comes in ultra-low-budget genre films –- horror movies, threadbare science fiction, martial arts movies, and the like. The late, great Roddy Piper toiled in those fields for years, as have Bill Goldberg, Kevin Nash, Sting, Kane, and others. Most of these titles are forgettable, but some manage to stand out above the rest due to their sheer, ineffable weirdness. Following are some of the most offbeat, unique, and bizarre genre movies to feature or star a wrestler. Be forewarned: watching some might just put the hurt on you.

Spoilers will follow.

Tor Johnson puts the "beast" in Beast of Yucca Flats

Even if you're not a wrestling or cult movie fan, you probably know Tor Johnson. At 6'3" and 440 pounds, and with a bald head roughly the size and shape of a medicine ball, Johnson was an overwhelming presence both in the ring, where he wrestled as the Super Swedish Angel, and in features and on television, where he was frequently cast as strongmen, bad guys, and (no surprise) wrestlers. He appeared opposite Abbott and Costello, W.C. Fields, and Jerry Lewis, and gained enduring pop culture fame for his appearances in three movies by Edward D. Wood, Jr., including the infamous Plan Nine from Outer Space (real-life wrestler George "The Animal" Steele played Johnson in Tim Burton's biopic, Ed Wood). 

But even the industrial-strength weirdness of his Wood titles can't hold up to The Beast of Yucca Flats. Directed by actor Coleman Francis, Yucca follows a defecting Soviet scientist (Johnson) who is transformed into a monster after wandering into a nuclear test site. Seeing Johnson lumber slowly after his intended victims is surreal enough, but the film is made even stranger by an insistent narrator (Yucca was shot without synchronous sound, and all audio was added after post-production) who reels off fortune cookie-style pronouncements like "Flag on the Moon — how did it get there?" instead of explaining the on-screen action. It takes a lot to out-weird an Ed Wood movie, but Beast of Yucca Flats pulls it off.

Tiger Joe Marsh beats the Blob in the buff

Chicago-born wrestler Tiger Joe Marsh parlayed his ring reputation as an "unethical and rough" grappler into a modest career as a tough guy in movies and television. The former Joseph Marusich — who earned his wrestling moniker from his elaborate striped gear, which included tiger head epaulets — made his screen debut in Elia Kazan's 1954 drama Pinky. He would rack up dozens of additional screen appearances over the next two decades; like most wrestlers-turned-actors, Marsh played his share of bodyguards, cops, and henchmen, often with an ethnic angle informed by his own Yugoslavian heritage (though playing a Chinese bodyguard on an episode of I Spy was a stretch). 

However, very few grappling thespians can say that they ran buck naked through a Southern California suburb for a film role, as Marsh did for 1972's Beware! The Blob. A tongue-in-cheek sequel to the 1958 sci-fi favorite, Beware was directed by actor Larry Hagman (I Dream of Jeannie), who seems to have recruited many of his Malibu celebrity neighbors to appear in the film. Marsh's turn is brief — billed as the "Naked Turk," he's first glimpsed in a bathtub, wearing only a fez, before the Blob attempts to consume him. Marsh avoids the fate suffered by many of his castmates, including Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley), Burgess Meredith, and Hagman himself (playing a hobo), by jumping out of the tub and running away full-tilt, sans clothing. It's not pretty, but you can't say that Marsh wasn't committed to his role.

Bomber Kulkavich vs. the 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

Burly fireplug Henry Kulky started his ring career in boxing, but shifted gears to wrestling in the late 1930s. Billed as Bomber Kulkavich, he competed throughout South America and the United States before following in the footsteps of his pal and fellow wrestler, Mike Mazurki, by making a living in the movies. Kulky went uncredited for most of his early roles, which consisted largely of bartenders, thugs, and brawlers. Fans of wrestling's golden years can spot him as a strongman opposite boxing legend Primo Carnera, wrestler-actors Sammy Stein, Man Mountain Dean, and brothers Karl "Killer" Davis and "Wee Willie" Davis in Mighty Joe Young, and opposite Gorgeous George, Tor Johnson, and Count Billy Varga in Alias the Champ, both from 1949. 

Kulky eventually settled into sidekick and comedy roles in the 1950s and 1960s, and ended his career as a submarine crew chief on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. That Irwin Allen series got plenty weird in its later seasons, but Kulky had died after the first season, so his most offbeat credit has to be The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, the utterly surreal 1953 comedy-fantasy written by Dr. Seuss. Kulky has but a minor role as dungeon keeper Stroogo, but it's his hearing aid that helps unwilling piano student Bart (Tommy Rettig) and his plumber pal Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) escape the clutches of Hans Conreid's domineering piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliger.

Professor Toru Tanaka schools Alligator 2: The Mutation

Legendary heel Professor Toru Tanaka (a.k.a Charles J. Kalani, Jr.) was a fearsome presence in wrestling during the 1960s and 1970s, often as part of a tag team with such formidable partners as Mr. Fuji or Gorilla Monsoon. The wear and tear of a professional wrestling career spurred Tanaka to try his hand at acting, beginning in 1981 opposite Chuck Norris in An Eye for an Eye. He maintained a steady presence in features and on television throughout the 1980s and early '90s, enjoying roles in a number of high-profile projects that included Ridley Scott's Black Rain, Sam Raimi's Darkman, The Running Man (opposite Jesse Ventura) and even Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. 

Between these efforts were dozens of drive-in and B titles, including Revenge of the Ninja, but none was more strange than 1991's Alligator 2: The Mutation. A sequel to Lewis Teague's 1981 cult favorite, Alligator 2 follows the same plot path as its predecessor, sending a cop (Joseph Bologna) and hunter (the great Richard Lynch) into the sewers after another alligator made king-sized by chemicals. It's by-the-books horror, saved only by flashes of self-deprecating humor, but it does feature a scene set at a wrestling match populated by some classic brawlers. Tanaka, playing Tokyo Joe, is the main attraction, but wrestling devotees will also note genuine greats like Chavo Guerrero, Sr., Count Billy Vargas, and judo legend Gene LeBell, as well as Billy "Black Knight" Anderson, Alexi Smirnoff, and Jack "Wildman" Armstrong.

Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies: what more do you want?

There IS such a thing as truth in advertising. Case in point: the 2014 action-horror title Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies, which, as the title clearly states, concerns professional wrestlers battling the living dead. The film, lensed in West Virginia and partly funded through a Kickstarter campaign, features an impressive cast of then-current and vintage brawlers, including Roddy Piper, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, and Kurt Angle, who are lured to an abandoned prison to participate in a match promoted by Shane "Franchise" Douglas

The invite is a ruse, as Shane's true intent appears to be revenge against his ex-girlfriend (Taya Parker) for cheating on him with another wrestler. Why all the others had to be involved in this personal feud isn't clear, but it does allow the viewers to watch wrestlers execute moves against, and in many cases, die bloodily at the hands of zombies. Writer/director Cody Knotts does add some intriguing touches, most notably Shane's uncharacteristic heel behavior and a scene in which his own deceased relatives (!) are revived and sent after him. But for the most part, he's focused on delivering the goriest, most violent version of the title premise, and as such, the film is a rousing success.

Santo fights a dirty sheet in Asesinos de Otros Mundos

Between 1958 and 1981, Mexican wrestling legend El Santo – real name Rodolfo Guzman Huerta — parlayed his popularity in the ring into a successful movie career. Many of his screen adventures found him pitted against human opponents like gangsters, mad scientists, psychopathic criminals, and more than a few crooked fellow luchadores. However, Santo also found time to fight a host of supernatural and otherworldly beings — werewolves, zombies, vampires (male and female, as well as Dracula himself), aliens, the Frankenstein Monster, and even La Llorona

But none of these foes could match the sheer weirdness of the heels in 1971's Asesinos de Otros Mundos (Killers from Other Worlds). The "killers" here are microorganisms that live inside a moon rock (!) and when exposed to our atmosphere, grow into huge, hungry amoeba-like creatures. Several supporting cast members — all trying their hardest to not laugh upon seeing the blobs, which appear to be several actors struggling to move under a dirty tarp — are devoured before Santo steps in with a solution. In addition to space blobs, Santo also spent 1971 fending off Nazis and the daughter of Dr. Frankenstein and her monsters.

Kevin Nash adds brawn to Monster Brawl

Ever watch a horror movie that features monsters fighting each other and think, "This is really great, but I wish there wasn't so much plot and dialogue!" Well, the 2012 Canadian feature Monster Brawl is the answer to your prayers. There's no real plot to contend with — just a series of full contact wrestling matches between various species of monsters, delivered as a sort of macabre pay-per-view event. Each of the creatures and bouts gets a bit of back story, but not so much that it intrudes on the wrestling, which is professionally staged and features such Great White North grapplers as Kelly Couture (Lady Vampire), RJ City (who handles both the Mummy and Werewolf), and Kurrgan (Frankenstein Monster). 

The Mouth of the South himself, Jimmy Hart, is his usual caffeinated self as (what else?) a manager, and Kevin Nash cuts an imposing figure as Colonel Crookshanks, a ruthless military man who brings his wrestler — a zombie — straight from a top-secret experiment. There's plenty of bloodshed mixed with comedy from Dave Foley (The Kids in the Hall) and Art Hindle (The Brood) as the play-by-play announcers. Monsters, wrestlers, goofball comedy — the only thing that could up the dumb fun quotient of Monster Brawl is a free corn dog with every viewing.

Jesse Ventura goes galactic in Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe

Jesse Ventura made a bid for action stardom with 1990s' Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe, an energetic if needlessly confusing sci-fi feature from Canada. "The Body" had been a charismatic presence in Predator and The Running Man, albeit in supporting turns, but for his first time as a top billed star, Ventura is saddled with the humorless title role, an 11,000-year-old alien lawman on the trail of intergalactic bad guy (and frequent Ventura co-star) Sven-Ole Thorsen from Gladiator

Director Damien Lee does his best to prevent viewer whiplash by making sense of the constant trips between Earth, where Thorsen took the time to father a half-human kid, and the cosmos, but here's what you really need to know: Abraxas has to stop the bad guy from finding the kid, who will provide him with the "anti-life equation." It's never made clear exactly what the equation is, but the "anti-life" part certainly sounds bad, which justifies Jesse dropping the hammer on his foe. Jim Belushi also turns up for a brief cameo as the kid's principal, which according to various online sources, is his tough-teacher character from 1987's The Principal.

CM Punk is a Rabid horror fan

CM Punk is an avowed horror fan, and has so far devoted his burgeoning second career as an actor to that genre. He's proven to be a capable performer, most notably in the 2019 indie supernatural thriller The Girl on the Third Floor, where, billed under his real name (Phil Brooks), he gives a convincing turn as a stressed-out guy who takes a turn towards homicidal behavior. That same year, Punk was featured in a supporting role in Rabid, a 2019 remake of the 1977 cult horror film by David Cronenberg. 

Directors The Soska Sisters keep the framework of the original film, about a woman who develops a taste for blood after experimental surgery, but fold it into a storyline about the fashion industry, extreme body modification and experimental medical procedures. The new approach adds several extra layers of crazy to an already bizarre premise, which leaves the end result a polarizing experience. Punk/Brooks is mostly called upon to act out a thuggish variation on the militant side of his straight edge ring persona, but he invests it with decided relish.

Hell Come to Frogtown, and its name is Roddy Piper

A beloved figure in pro wrestling during the 1980s and '90s, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper also enjoyed a second career as an action star in films and on television until his death in 2015. His screen image is probably best summarized by his smart-alecky turn in John Carpenter's They Live, but he remained an affable and entirely game lead in dozens of direct-to-video genre titles, ranging from action (Resort to Kill, with Sonny Chiba and Tiny Lister) to horror (Ghosts of Goldfield) and science fiction (Sci-Fighters), as well as numerous TV guest shots and voice-overs for animation. Most of these titles are instantly forgettable, but this is not the case with 1988's Hell Comes to Frogtown

The post-apocalyptic action-comedy tells us that nuclear war will reduce our population to three distinct demographics: women warriors intent on repopulating the planet, mutant humanoid frogs with unpleasant designs on said women, and a few fertile men like Piper's Sam Hell. Directors Donald G. Jackson and R.J. Kizer keep things deliberately pulpy and absurd — the right approach to a movie about monster frogs — and Piper is amusing as a self-centered anti-hero pushed to do the right thing because he's strapped into an explosive codpiece.

Hulk Hogan: going Suburban Commando

Hulk Hogan's stint as the star of family-friendly action vehicles began with 1991's Suburban Commando, which attempted to fold the basic premise of The Terminator into a fish-out-of-water comedy. If that sounds like an awkward fit, you'd be correct: Commando boasts appreciable production values and a capable cast led by Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) and Shelley Duvall as the meek couple who host Hogan's interstellar bounty hunter after he crash-lands on Earth. 

Director Burt Kennedy had extensive experience with action-comedies, having helmed the excellent Support Your Local Sheriff back in 1967, and Hogan, who also served as executive producer, appears to be having a good time flexing his comedy muscles. But there's only so much to be done with a lame premise that relies on visual gags like Hogan on a skateboard and playing video games. You might have more fun spotting the future stars in the supporting cast: that's the Undertaker, billed under his real name (Mark Calaway) as one of the alien thugs hunting for Hogan, and Elisabeth Moss turns up briefly as part of the crew of on-screen kids.

Mick Foley shows his scary side in 12 Hour Shift

Mick "Mankind" Foley sheds his shaggy nice guy persona to play a trafficker in human organs (!) in actor-turned-writer-director Brea Grant's gonzo black comedy/horror 12 Hour Shift. The film stars Angela Bettis, an actress with a talent for playing unnerving characters (see The Woman or May), as hospital nurse Mandy, who fuels her drug addiction by killing terminal (or unlikable) patients and extracting their organs for Foley's bad biker. 

The plan is foolproof until Mandy's hapless cousin, Regina (Chloe Farnworth), is employed to transport the gory goods to Foley. Being a few crayons short of a full box, Regina fouls up the process, which forces Mandy to take some desperate measures to meet her quota. Grant shifts skillfully from full-bore splatterfest to sharp-witted indictment of the medical industry's dark side, and elicits amusing performances from Foley, who's both amiable and terrifying, and co-producer David Arquette as a hospitalized criminal with an inferiority complex.