Roddy Piper plunges into the Portal to Hell!!!
I can’t say I was ever a big fan of wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Nothing against him; I was just never more than a very casual viewer of the WWF (although I do seem to recall him squaring off against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T in a tagteam match at some point). But I am a fan of actor Roddy Piper, based almost entirely on They Live, his epic brawl with Keith David and his immortal line about kicking ass and chewing bubblegum. They Live is a satirically political science fiction classic and the final word on the Reagan Era. That writer-director John Carpenter would have the balls—and the clout, coming as it did after back-to-back box office misfires Big Trouble In Little China and Prince of Darkness—to cast a professional wrestler in the lead is remarkable. It’s impossible to imagine They Live without Piper’s taciturn urban guerilla lending the sublimely silly material a serious edge. I’m not just talking about the fight scenes; there’s a downtrodden Captain America-gone-to-seed anger and sorrow behind Piper’s alien-revealing sunglasses, like John Rambo without the PTSD.
There’s some of that same depth sketched into Piper’s character in the Lovecraftian Portal To Hell!!!, which marks the late wrestler-turned-actor’s last performance. Directed by Vivieno Caldinelli, the horror-comedy short film played before last night’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival screening of Tales of Halloween. Piper plays a frustrated apartment building superintendant whose life clearly didn’t turn out as he’d hoped. But plunging toilets and fixing toasters take a back seat when a couple of tenants in tighty-whities open up the titular portal to hell in the basement. It’s funny and silly and completely sticks the landing in its final moment (which I won’t spoil). Steve Kostanski’s gore effects are bloody terrific (as expected for the SFX guru who’s worked on Manborg, The Editor, the Hannibal series and the upcoming The Void). But it’s really Piper that makes the movie work, and as in They Live, it’s the quieter moments when he’s not required to fend off a tentacle monster that I enjoyed most.