Halloween is just around the corner, and we're getting close to that time of the year when we start telling ghost stories, watching scary movies (heck, maybe even the Scary Movie series), and for the young'uns out there, go trick-or-treating. And for wrestling fans, it's also a time when we look back at the sport's scariest gimmicks. But did they really give fans the heebee-jeebees when everything was said and done?
These days, it's hard, even for children, to be scared of wrestlers working scary gimmicks, as we generally know the men and women behind the gimmicks take off the makeup, switch to street clothes, and live normal lives once the show is over. But it still is possible for some of today's wrestlers to send shivers up the spines of fans. Conversely, it was also possible in the days of kayfabe for a wrestler to have a gimmick that brought chuckles or induced face-palms instead of bringing the intended scares.
Which scary gimmicks amounted to little more than cruel tricks played on wrestling fans, and which ones turned out to be treats? Let's find out, and look at eight of the best and eight of the worst scary wrestling gimmicks ever.
22 GANGREL - WORKED
Many wrestling bloggers/vloggers have named Gangrel’s ring theme as one of the best of all time, and I can’t help but agree with them. While he didn’t rise to main event stardom like fellow Brood members Edge and Christian and New Brood members Matt and Jeff Hardy, stable leader Gangrel was The Brood, a kayfabe vampire who entered the ring with a bloody white shirt, and a goblet of storyline blood which he’d drink from, before spitting the “blood” into the air. With the then-silent Edge and Christian, The Brood would also cover defeated opponents with that fake blood, adding an even more sinister edge to their gimmick.
It’s a shame that David Heath, the man who played Gangrel, was relegated to jobber-to-the-stars duty after he split with Edge and Christian, then The Hardy Boyz. Apparently, weight problems were his downfall, though he did have a career outside of wrestling…as an adult film director. Maybe he should have teamed with Val Venis instead?
21 MORDECAI - FAILED
As Mordecai, Kevin Fertig had whitish-blonde hair, a white beard, and white ring attire, playing up to his status as someone who would rid WWE, and and hopefully the world, of sin. When he debuted after weeks of vignettes, fans didn't know what to make of this green rookie from OVW, and he was mercifully sent back down to developmental before his planned feud with The Undertaker could materialize.
That was in 2004, and two years later, Fertig was back as Kevin Thorn, or as he was originally called, the "ECW Vampire." While not as good as WWF/E's OG vampire Gangrel, he wasn't that bad in his second WWE gimmick. His ring work, however, was a completely different story.
20 PAUL BEARER - WORKED
It may make more sense to name Paul Bearer alongside his charge, The Undertaker, but the late William Moody (a.k.a. Percy Pringle) was so good in this gimmick of his that he deserves a separate entry of his own.
Despite a punny name, a seemingly ludicrous gimmick of an over-the-top funeral worker (related to Moody's real-life work experience, no less), and the exaggerated voice in which he delivered his promos, Paul Bearer was a tremendous success. As the father figure and greater power (no, not THAT "Greater Power") behind The Undertaker, Bearer had an interesting, multi-dimensional characterization that added yet another layer when he turned heel on 'Taker to assist his new protege Mankind in 1996.
Bearer would also introduce WWF fans to his kayfabe son/'Taker's half-brother Kane after Glenn Jacobs washed out as a dentist and as an ersatz Kevin Nash. Did Paul Bearer's scary gimmick work? To put it in his own words, OHHHHHH YESSSSSSS.
19 THE ZODIAC - FAILED
Ed Leslie is known for two things in his wrestling career. One, he’s a real-life BFF of Hulk Hogan. Two, he was the man of a zillion lousy gimmicks, especially during his time in WCW. One of those bad gimmicks was The Zodiac, one of Kevin Sullivan’s many mediocre associates in The Dungeon of Doom circa 1995. His thing was wearing black and white face paint and having a two-word vocabulary you may know from Daniel Bryan’s catchphrases – “yes” and “no.”
After his tenure with The Dungeon of Doom ended, The Zodiac was repackaged as The Booty Man, a wrestler who predated Billy “Mr. Ass” Gunn’s similar (though marginally better) posterior-loving gimmick by about four years. His finisher? The High Knee. Get it? Of course you get it.
18 (TIE) KEVIN SULLIVAN AND JAMES MITCHELL - WORKED
We've got a tie here, and it's between two men who allegedly lived their Satanist gimmicks. While most of his Dungeon of Doom members were saddled with ill-fitting or outright terrible gimmicks, stable leader Kevin Sullivan was arguably the most convincing member of the group, cutting convincingly evil anti-Hulkamania promos, similar to what he did in his days as a storyline (and real life?) devil-worshipper in Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF).
"Father" James Mitchell is most memorable for his time in ECW as the Sinister Minister and his stint in TNA as Abyss' manager from 2005-2008, and as it turned out, his storyline father. Like Sullivan, he leveraged his mic skills to make his character truly sound and feel evil, and is frequently overlooked when discussing pro wrestling's best and most talented managers. Though you probably wouldn't want to bring up TNA's obvious attempt to ape the Undertaker/Kane/Paul Bearer storyline of 1997 with the introduction of Judas Mesias in 2008.
15 THE YETI - FAILED
Maybe Ron Reis should have considered an NBA career instead — he was, after all, a legitimately-skilled 7'2" center for Santa Clara, having graduated the year before Steve Nash arrived. Instead, he tried his luck in WCW in the mid-'90s, where he became known as The Yeti. Or, as Tony Schiavone memorably introduced him, the "YET-TAY."
It wasn't just The Yeti showing almost as little wrestling ability as his fellow baller-turned-wrestler El Gigante/Giant Gonzalez. It was the fact that this purported abominable snowman looked more like a seven-foot mummy wrapped in layers of toilet paper. The gimmick predictably flopped, and after unremarkable runs as Super Giant Ninja, Big Ron Studd, and Reese, the onetime basketball center's WCW career was over.
14 DOINK - WORKED
Before anything else, let us remind you that we're talking about the original heel version of Doink, who debuted in 1992 and shared a hometown (Parts Unknown) with The Ultimate Warrior and a gajillion masked jobbers. Having watched the movie version of Stephen King's IT as a kid, this writer loved watching Matt Borne play the role of an evil clown to the hilt. While not as sick and depraved as the aforementioned film's Pennywise, Doink was meant to be every young child's nightmare, and older fans likewise appreciated the fact that he knew his stuff in the ring.
Then Vince McMahon remembered something: aren't clowns supposed to be fun?
We already covered face Doink in a separate list, so we'll spare you the gory, unfunny details. But heel Doink was, despite his midcard status, a scary gimmick that mostly worked to perfection.
13 DAMIEN DEMENTO - FAILED
We're not sure where The Outer Reaches of Your Mind is located. Though we believe it's a small town due south of Parts Unknown, with only one resident, a guy who calls himself Damien Demento. Don't remember him? Neither do a lot of fans, but back before Brian Pillman showed wrestling fans what it means to play a "loose cannon" character, Damien (a.k.a. Phil Theis in real life) was WWF's way of depicting mentally unstable individuals — in the most cartoonish, unrealistic way possible.
Demento's claim to fame is wrestling in the first Monday Night RAW main event in January 1993, where he lost to The Undertaker. He did squash his fair share of local enhancement talents, but in his brief and largely unsuccessful, comical WWF run, he never got beyond the lower midcard.
12 KANE - WORKED
Yes, there is life for wrestlers after the second bad gimmick, and third time can be the charm. As a young and relatively raw big man new to WWF, Glenn Jacobs was given the gimmick of Dr. Isaac Yankem in 1995, and when he failed to pan out as an evil dentist, he became the fake Diesel in 1996 as part of Jim Ross' brief, ill-conceived heel turn. One year later, he had found his niche as Kane, The Undertaker's then-evil, then-unstoppable half-brother. Nineteen years later, the Devil's Favorite Demon is still on WWE television, though his age guarantees you won't see him too often anymore.
Sure, he's been watered-down following his run as Corporate Kane, he loses far more often than he wins now that he's closing in on 50, and his character has gotten a lot more levity, thanks to Jacobs' natural sense of humor. But he still deserves recognition as a wrestler with a scary persona who enjoyed great success with that gimmick.
10 THE KISS DEMON - FAILED
Rock 'n' roll and wrestling often do not mix. Just ask Van Hammer, Man Mountain Rock, 3MB (funny as they may have been, they WERE jobbers), and the KISS Demon. Originally conceived as one-fourth of a WCW stable based on the legendary rock band, the KISS Demon was based on the band's vocalist/bassist Gene Simmons, who could ordinarily turn anything with the KISS logo on it into instant dollars. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with the KISS Demon, who floundered in post-Fingerpoke of Doom WCW and took part in some atrocious matches against Vampiro, particularly the one at Bash at the Beach 2000.
In an interesting note, the KISS Demon was played by Dale Torborg, son of former MLB player and manager Jeff Torborg. He now works as the Chicago White Sox's conditioning coordinator, and made a few appearances on TNA as himself, alongside White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
9 ABDULLAH THE BUTCHER - WORKED
Canadian high school janitor Larry Shreve became Abdullah The Butcher (a.k.a. the Madman from Sudan) in the 1960s, not long after making his wrestling debut. He quickly established himself as a monster heel, and it was not uncommon for his matches to involve more than their fair share of blood, may it be from his opponents, or from the man himself. And even as he hit his 50s, "Abby" was still going strong and pushing the boundaries of wrestling-related carnage, competing in WCW and ECW. By that time, he had long had the distinctive blade marks on his head, scars borne from decades of cutting himself in his matches.
Despite never competing in WWE or any of its direct predecessors, Abdullah was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011. His gimmick may have been considerably less Halloween-themed than others in this list, but he sure could be scary.
8 PAPA SHANGO - FAILED
We can debate all day about whether Charles Wright deserves to be in the WWE Hall of Fame or not, but he's got the Ho Train and the Godfather gimmick to thank for that, and not the voodoo he used to practice as Papa Shango.
While the gimmick of Papa Shango killing arena lights, making wrestlers throw up, and making jobbers, Mean Gene Okerlund, and The Ultimate Warrior bleed black may have been scary to the youngest of fans, everyone else saw the gimmick for what it was — cheesy, unrealistic (even for early-'90s standards), and lame. It also didn't help that Shango botched his interference in the Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice match at WrestleMania VIII.
Papa Shango soon found himself jobbing to the stars, though he would find his footing in the Attitude Era because pimping, unlike making a voodoo priest gimmick work, WAS easy after all.
7 MANKIND - WORKED
Once again, we have to draw some lines here, as the Mankind we're referring to is not the lovable (and entertaining) oaf that pestered Mr. McMahon in the hospital with a cheerful female clown and hosted The Rock's "This Is Your Life" segment. The original Mankind debuted in 1996 as a dark, disturbed onetime piano prodigy whose promos and vignettes screamed "tortured soul" all over. He pulled at his own hair, lived in a boiler room, mingled with actual sewer rats, and sarcastically, menacingly told fans and opponents to "have a nice day."
When it was revealed that Mankind's real name is Mick Foley, his worked-shoot interviews with Jim Ross made one think that he really did grow up as a miserable outcast who ate worms as a kid and loved feeling pain. That was considerably far from the truth, of course, but it sure was believable when Mankind snapped on Good Ol' JR and took him out with the Mandible Claw on the final part of the interview series. Now who'd expect this lunatic to become a multiple-time babyface authority figure, be known as one of the nicest guys in wrestling on- and off-camera, and become the fun-loving patriarch on a WWE Network show starring his own family?
5 THE BOOGEYMAN - FAILED
It would seem that Vince McMahon likes his scary gimmicks to be so ludicrous and over-the-top that young kids can find them funny. Enter The Boogeyman, who was played by controversial Tough Enough contestant Marty Wright, who was given a break despite the fact he had little wrestling experience and was already 40 (hence his Tough Enough DQ) at the time he started training at OVW.
After debuting on SmackDown in 2005, The Boogeyman turned out to be more gross than scary, no thanks to his penchant for eating live worms, and his equally unusual appetite for prosthetic growths, like the one growing out of Jillian Hall's face. (Spoiler: That didn't improve her singing voice one bit.)
For the most part, The Boogeyman was a comedy character, and WWE still thinks fondly of him, as he's recently been rumored to be making a one-off appearance on WWE programming in the near future.
Now that's scary.
4 THE UNDERTAKER - WORKED
Admit it, fellow wrestling fans over 35. When you saw Cain (not Kane) the Undertaker debut in the 1990 Survivor Series, you thought there was no way the gimmick would work. He fought alongside Ted DiBiase Sr.'s Million Dollar Team of Bad Gimmicks at Survivor Series, was managed by the similarly gimmicky Brother Love, and was managed soon thereafter by a white-faced, ghostly man with an abnormally high-pitched voice who called himself Paul Bearer (see above). Yes, almost like the guys who carry caskets at funerals.
More than 25 years later, The Undertaker, real name Mark Calaway, is a pro wrestling institution. He's a seven-time World Champion, won 21 straight times at WrestleMania, buried several wrestlers in caskets, come back to life numerous times in storyline, led a quasi-Satanic/quasi-corporate cult, and even gotten "humanized" as a badass biker. And if his health holds up, we may see him once again at WrestleMania 33. Is there any disputing The Undertaker's status as being a scary gimmick that worked well, and then some?
2 MANTAUR - FAILED
WrestleCrap probably summed up the Mantaur gimmick best — half-man, half-bull, all s**t.
In a decade (the 1990s) full of weird or occupational gimmicks, Mantaur was one of the worst, and not helping matters was Mike Halac, i.e. the man behind Mantaur, being limited in the ring and in poor wrestling shape. He also had one of the worst catchphrases imaginable, if you can even call it that — mooing in the ring. Yeah, that's going to scare the tights out of those jobbers.
Mantaur mostly squashed jobbers and put over more promising babyfaces in his brief WWF run under the gimmick. Still, it wasn't as short-lived as his blink-and-you-miss-it stint as "Tank," the fat masked dude in The Truth Commission. We're guessing Halac wore that mask so that no one would recognize him as that guy who mooed at opponents.