The Von Erich Curse

17th Dallas International Film Festival

By the end of the 60’s, Fritz Von Erich, father of the Iron Claw, had six boys with his wife Doris.
Five of them never living to see the age of 35. It has been coined the Von Erich Curse.

If you have ever seen Championship Wrestling you know how rules are broken, if there even are any. And you’ve seen oversized human bodies defy physics by flying through empty spaces in an arena. Who’s down to watch human slingshotting? It’s the innocuous-seeming submission holds that can make or take a strong man into his final submission. One in particular, The Iron Claw. The Iron Claw submission hold squeezes a nemeses’ skull to the edge of crushing, untillll its inflictor’s enemy taps out. Don’t question it. Pro Wrestling is not fake. Huffing aside, Pro Wrestling takes a certain caliber of human. In 1999 I met WCW’s Nitro production manager in Atlanta who took me through the Turner training facility. “Professional athletes of all sorts, rugby players, football players, etc. walk up in here thinking they can hack this no pain… and after day one, they are out.” His words made sense after watching several matches close up. Furniture really does fly. Backs do land flat on a barely-springy solid wood “mat.” And bones do break. Welcome to America.

American history. It has to be the most fun of all histories. America knows how to bring adventure to our brief existence here. Yes, I’m American and biased. Wrestling, however, did not start in America. Yet it was America that revolutionized it. You cannot disagree Americans have always found a way to refine and bring value to all sorts of art. Alas, that lesson is for another day. Really though Americans are stereotypically fun, ok. Just say yes. And. The most fun in Downtown Dallas Texas occurred at the Sportatorium.

To the director Sean Durkin (The Nest): thank you so much for your elaboration on fun pieces of our Texan history as it revives the uncanny eccentricities and the emotional connectivity our country needs. He captures that history in the backdrops of American settings, outdoor gatherings, high school/ college kids mucking around the local hang out, and one as a setting sun slants across the Von Erich country home. “Deep from the heart of Texas” is felt. THE HEART of America. 

Eventually a film review will happen here, but I feel so emotional right now. Again, thank you writer director for stirring emotion. Why can’t America unite into the one awesome thing that we are? Defiant and free at the same time. Liberatingly oxymoronic. Allowing freedom and securing the safest protection any country can offer its citizens, and children. You see. The Iron Claw is a gift. A microscope view of America, a country where the most bizarre dreams can be lucrative and also bring fame. It reminds us about the frailty of any and all successes: the vulnerability, the negative side of spotlights, the cost of popularity and the battle to maintain it, the expense of family pressure… the ability to see fruits of your dreams reflected on screens. Thank you to Kevin Von Erich for allowing the world to see these truths from your honesty. To see the cost to greatness. Von Erich brotherly love is not amiss and felt through the core of each disasterly event played out. And I did not feel the curse. 

It has been a month since my viewing of Durkin’s true story rendition thanks to the sole surviving Von Erich, Kevin, and his candid, intimately honest testament. Its wake moves me now more than on that first night. No matter what landmass you live on, North will battle South, East will battle West, and Ric Flair types will always have a Sting to surrender to after decades of being the hero. Did you know Fritz Von Erich (aka Jack Barton Adkisson) was one of the FIRST to create a character persona. And once again, inescapably, Good fights Bad. Favoritism begins. And fandom. The rest is history; a beginning in raw form.

The Iron Claw is not about the ring. It isn’t even about the Iron Claw. Sorry to ruin it for you. Allow me to shine light on its nostalgic docu-drama non-action presentation. Sean Durkin, who doesn’t have a long enough credit list to currently coin a style, does know how to capture drama in silence. He paints drama tension through pauses in The Nest and that’s the only comparison I have. So. The Iron Claw is about reflection. Tension is where true reflection and growth occur. Tension allows you to see where the heart is. This film overflows with it thanks to detail in direction, and of course, the actors.

Imagine the pause at the end of a life. If you have the unfortunate ability to empathize, I’m sorry. Death of a loved one hurts. That pause can last a very long time. And enduring each one of them during the brief span of a film, well that’s a lot of discomfort. One of the family’s losses was left out to cut length. Chris Von Erich, the youngest, did not make it into these pages of digital celluloid. You are not forgotten young man. Rest in peace.

I grew up in small town America before moving oversees. As a first-hand witness, the all-American nostalgia and documentation of these boys’ lives cannot be challenged. It is spot on texturally, physically, metaphorically. Durkin unabashedly reveals the most awkward, “intimate” (is that the word?) of an all-boy family, and let’s see if you can handle the closeness. It is … well ya, awkward. So be prepared. If you are part country, like me, you will know this family. I grew up here, I even dated one of their son’s. (Not literally but seeing their lives was all-to familiar and I even did crush myself to a middle school wrestler who labored with helping his dad, loading hay, and playing sports.) If you are city people and cannot connect to the lifestyle, try to connect to the honesty of each turning page. The script is accurate. Characterization complete. The pain inescapable. No matter your universe or class of living, the loss of a child, or a brother, compares only to the greatest pain of existence.

You must know about these actors. Their dedication gives The Iron Claw soul. Zac Efron as the last surviving of the Hall of Famers has changed in such a way, internalizing everything and delivering the pensive pause Sean Durkin intends to serve. Shining light on others will result in lighting your path and if I had to guess, Efron as lead did just that. He must have helped guide fellow cast members into greatness. Please know though, this film is sssslllllloooooowwww. It has cuts and pastes and like a scrap book tells its truth by fragment. If the actors give The Iron Claw soul, then the editors give it pronunciation. Cuts from moments where you want more leave you craving. Holds on apathetic faces peaked in grief cause you to turn away. The editors’ artistry is fresh.

See this film for its art deco compilation. See Holt McCallany as a standout performing Fritz Von Erich reincarnated. See this film to grieve the ending of an era. And go to see a super tan buffed out Zac Efron show you his quietly emotional side fully endorsed by the living Kevin Von Erich. Do not go to see WWE vs. WCW smackdown theatrics. You’ll be let down if you do.

The Iron Claw opens December 22, 2023.  Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich is brilliantly accompanied by Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich, Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich, Maura Tierney as Doris Von Erich, Stanley Simons as Mike Von Erich, Holt McCallany as Fritz Von Erich, and Lily James as Pam Adkisson.

15th Dallas International Film Festival