In hindsight, I don't know how I ever convinced my parents to let me see "No Holds Barred" over 20-years ago. The film, which was one of Vince McMahon's attempts to expand the reach of pro-wrestling to the big screen, was also the first major, lead role for wrestling's biggest icon at the time, Hulk Hogan. While not the first of its kind, "No Holds Barred" was a strict departure form prior attempts at fusing pro-wrestling and cinema, or in other words, the campy, poorly-acted fun of "Body Slam" was ready to be replaced with seriously, poorly-acted misery. In the following years of its release "No Holds Barred" has gained a cult following for reasons most would chalk up to the obvious: it starred Hulk Hogan. This cult following might also lead one to believe that "No Holds Barred" itself is a great way to spend 90-minutes of ones time mocking a 1989 box office turkey, but revisiting the film, now on DVD for the first time ever, reveals a shocking dark side to the movie that has likely been forgotten by most whose memories consist of hazy VHS infused memories from the early 90s.
Don't get me entirely wrong, "No Holds Barred" is still mostly a movie that's fun to mock. Sadly, midway through the movie someone involved in production decided this movie, arguably aimed at Hogan's biggest fans, small kids, needed a few dark twists. Prior to that though, Hogan bumbles his way through the story as Rip, a wildly popular pro-wrestler loyal to the TV network who currently broadcasts his matches as well as his biggest fan and younger brother, Randy (Mark Pellegrino). Of course, trouble has to come Rip's way, or this wouldn't be much of a movie and quickly it does, in the form of rival network head, Brell (Kurt Fuller) who is determined to have Rip jump ship to his network. When that fails, he does what any logical businessman does: send a horde of nameless goons to menace Rip, resulting in the film's biggest laugh, a limo driver soiling himself and Rip exclaiming, "Dookie!" with all the energy one could expect from an irate and perplexed Hulk Hogan. When that doesn't work, he goes to pro-wrestling's second wheelhouse following violence: sex.
The introduction of Samantha (Joan Severence) is where "No Holds Barred" looses what minor grip it had on the wheel of cohesion and entertainment and devolves into a series of poorly acted, poorly written, and poorly edited vignettes. Director Thomas J. Wright shows little control over the proceedings, but considering his later successful career as a TV director and Vince McMahon's role as a producer on the film, the non-sensical nature of the film has all the hallmarks of the WWE (then WWF) at its lowest moments. When Samantha shows up, the film's villain, Zeus (Thomas 'Tiny' Lister Jr.), a fellow wrestler just released form prison after killing an opponent, soon follows. It's painfully clear, with an hour to kill until Zeus and Rip inevitable square off was just too much for the creative minds behind "No Holds Barred" to handle and that's where the movie takes a dark turn injecting a level of cruel violence and the near rape of the female leads as a cheap ploy to get Rip to lose his temper. It's here where "No Holds Barred" loses its fun factor and becomes a real chore to finish watching, even when Hogan's "intense" acting is more akin to that of someone struggling to relieve oneself of constipation.
Ultimately "No Holds Barred" is a bizarre product of its time, showing no moral compass by flagrantly using attempted rape, assault, and eventually murder to build Hogan's Rip as a hero overcoming all the odds. From an adult's perspective, it's a relatively tame movie, but once again, the target audience cannot be ignored: this was a vehicle for 1980s Hulk Hogan, Mr. "Say Your Prayers and Eat Your Vitamins" himself. Pro-wrestling fans didn't just deserve a more competently crafted movie than "No Holds Barred" they deserved one with some semblance of decency, which this film lacks entirely. "No Holds Barred" is best remembered only by the biggest Hogan supporters, hardcore cult film fans, and obsessive pro-wrestling collectors. Those with good taste are better off checking out "Body Slam" for some cheap, earnest laughs when it comes to big-screen pro wrestling.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer definitely fulfils the front covers claims of being digitally remastered, if solely for the relatively clean look of the image. There's minimal actual damage, however, grain/digital noise is quite noticeable and as a result, the detail level of the film is sometimes mediocre. Colors aren't as vibrant as one would expect from a purely 80s influenced film and contrast is a tad too high.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio track is incredibly weak. To be blunt this feels like a faux surround track. It's front heavy, but lacks real life and low-end strength. It's fortunately distortion free though and the original stereo mix was likely an evenly balanced offering. A Spanish 5.1 track is included as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The lone extra is a photo gallery.
I'd love to recommend "No Holds Barred" to every wrestling fan, for the sheer value of ridiculing its ineptitude as a competent story and the beginning of a wretched acting career by Hulk Hogan. The bottom line though, is the film earns its PG-13 rating and has an unavoidable mean streak that should ensure its kept away from young eyes. The technically presentation is quite admirable for such a notorious failure of a movie and true cult fans who have only witnessed this on old VHS tapes will want to pick it up for this reason alone. Rent It.