Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Living On A Razor's Edge - The Scott Hall Story

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 436 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: July 4 2016

The latest WWE DVD features a career retrospective documentary, along with a selection of memorable matches for the subject in question. The usual stuff, right? Actually, no. This set on the life and times of Scott Hall is very different from your usual profile of a legendary wrestling performer due to the topics covered in the main feature.

Yes, the documentary does look back at Hall's in-ring adventures, from his beginnings in the wrestling industry to his early days in Kansas City and the AWA, his original WCW stint as The Diamond Studd, his very successful WWF tenure under the name Razor Ramon, his unforgettable contributions to WCW upon his return as a founding member of the groundbreaking nWo faction, his short-lived 2002 return to the WWF and his 2014 WWE Hall Of Fame induction. The key matches and moments are recapped, although I personally felt that the Razor section was a little bit on the short side, and the recap of his nWo involvement was even more brief; the first two years for the new World order, from Hall's initial promo upon his Nitro debut/return to the summer of 1998 (around which time the faction splintered into two) are all handled within a few minutes, and whilst the impact of the faction and the rise of Hall's status are analysed, it still doesn't quite explain why the nWo was so crucial, from the Hogan heel turn to Nitro battering Raw in the ratings from then on until April 1998. So, whilst the documentary covers the main highlights of Hall's career from an in-ring standpoint (complete with sit-down contributions from Hall, several of his family members, his Kliq buddies Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels, Triple H and X-Pac, and other personalities like Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon, Dusty Rhodes and Eric Bischoff, it would be considered a slight disappointment, or at least a bit brief, if we were judging it solely on the retelling of his big matches and moments.

However, the documentary is about far more than the wrestling side, as it examines Hall's well-known personal problems in relation to drinking. Although his alcohol addiction is first referred to during the recapping of his 1998 "Last Call" storyline in WCW, it is only implied that Hall had real-life issues at this point. In reality, Hall had several arrests between 1998 and 2000 as well as other regrettable backstage incidents, which led to Hall being fired from WCW in 2000. In addition, the subject of the Plane Ride From Hell (which is a story in itself) is not broached, meaning that the exact reason for his 2002 termination from WWE is not mentioned. However, Hall's subsequent troubles from 2002 to 2012 are covered in-depth, and the footage, stories, opinions and images from this decade of Hall's life are at times excruciatingly candid. Little did most people know that the source for much of Hall's excess drinking, brought on by depression, was an incident long before Hall jointly founded the nWo, his Ladder match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X or even his initial exposure in the AWA.

In 1983, whilst working as a bouncer at the Doll House strip club in Orlando, Florida, Hall was involved in an altercation with a man who, he quickly learned, had a gun in his possession. The attacker was attempting to shoot Scott, but Hall commandeered the gun and attempted to pistol-whip him. Instead, he ultimately shot and killed the man. Hall was charged with second-degree murder but was not convicted as it was considered an act of self-defence. However, the dark incident (which was only revealed on a 2011 ESPN documentary, although that isn't mentioned here) remained a black cloud over Hall's life, and he spent decades pondering the moment and carrying guilt over what had happened, even though under the circumstances, Hall would have been killed himself had he not tried to defend himself in this manner. It was something that Hall told few about in the business, hence why it only came to light in the last few years, and Shawn acknowledges that it was only touched upon as opposed to ever being discussed in detail, which played a part in Hall carrying the weight of the shooting for so long.

But without this being public knowledge, the perception of Hall outside the ring was that of a buffoon, whose uncontrollable drinking habits had affected his ring work, his marriage and his health. For years, all people heard about was Hall's drinking and arrests stemming from disorderly conduct. At best, he became a punch line for darkly comical jokes. At worst, he was considered the next probable wrestling statistic to die years before his time. He arguably hit rock bottom in 2011 when, working on an independent show for Top Rope Promotions, he appeared in an awful physical condition and needed assistance just to stand up straight. Footage of the moment is shown here, and is hard to watch when you see how far Hall had fallen. Up until around 2012-2013, Hall seemed beyond help despite WWE's assistance through its paid rehab for all employees past and present when required. Triple H acknowledges that he was no longer advised to take calls from Hall because his situation seemed irreparable.

Fortunately, things would soon take a turn for the better. Hall finally opened up about the 1983 incident that shaped his future woes, which assisted the rehab process because his counsellors could identify the true root of the problems and work on helping Scott to put that fateful night behind him, thus making him less inclined to drink. What really made the difference, though, was that Diamond Dallas Page invited Hall to stay at his home. Through his DDP Yoga programme and generally positive and logical advice on health, DDP had helped Jake Roberts recover from his own addiction problems, and Jake's health and physical condition had improved greatly. When Hall finally accepted Page's invitation, the Bad Guy was bloated and in a wheelchair, almost unable to stand up. Within a few months, Hall had dropped weight, was in shape and had largely kicked his drinking habits. Hall's life (and Jake's too) had undergone a remarkable transformation, so much so that Hall was eventually invited back into the WWE fold, with Hall (and Jake) inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2014. Since then, Hall has made occasional appearances for WWE and hopes to work more closely with the NXT talent at the WWE Performance Center. More importantly, he has put his alcoholism and health problems behind him, and is in better condition and more positive about life than he has been for a long, long time. He still can't truly forget what happened all those years ago (Hall returns to the scene of the crime to discuss what went down), but he is doing a better job of coping with it and coming to terms with the fact that it would have been his life taken that night had he not made the decision to defend himself.

All of this is utterly compelling and quite emotional to watch. Combined with candid talking head comments (those from Page and Jake are particularly vital towards the end) and gripping real-life footage (we see the initial call that DDP and Jake made to Hall, as well as his condition when Scott initially accepted the offer for Page to help him), this ends up being one hell of a documentary. Sure, the wrestling sections are enjoyable, albeit a little brief as mentioned earlier, but the chapters that cover Hall's troubles outside the ring are incredible. It's harrowing at times, but ultimately it has the happy ending of Hall putting his life-threatening problems behind him. (As an aside, Page deserves a Hall Of Fame induction at the very least for helping Hall and Jake in the manner that he did, if not something more prestigious.) I was actually surprised that WWE would even cover the darker parts of this story, although they played a key role in Hall's self-destruction, so they couldn't really be ignored. Actually, the documentary is essentially based around the 1983 shooting, as we open with Hall trying to recap what happened, then we get an explanation a little later on, and the feature continuously refers back to it when investigating the fall of Scott both personally and professionally.

This is the best documentary that WWE has produced for years, and one of the best documentaries that it has ever produced. It is a must-see.

The rest of the DVD has little in common with much of the documentary, as aside from a few bonus stories (one of which is a cool anecdote about Scott's brief time spent with ECW), the focus shifts to Scott's wrestling career. Along with all of the original Razor Ramon vignettes (as well as a series of outtakes from said segments), we get matches that span Hall's career from 1984 to 2002 (Scott's various runs with TNA are not mentioned at any point, by the way).

A squash match from Mid-Atlantic precedes a few AWA bouts, with Scott facing Michael P.S. Hayes, participating in a Battle Royal (which is not exactly a masterpiece; certain eliminations are either ignored or just plain clumsy), and teaming alongside Curt Hennig against The Long Riders in a good old-school doubles bout. There's also a segment where Scott has a verbal confrontation with Larry Zbyszko. It is rarely mentioned, but Hall was clearly positioned as a future star during his AWA stint, and this was in the mid-1980s; so it's fascinating in hindsight that it would be many years before Scott truly made waves in the wrestling business.

We get two short matches from his WCW stint as The Diamond Studd, both of which have a squash feel to them (the latter sees him team alongside DDP, who had just become a wrestler at the ripe age of 35 after years as a manager), and then the bonus material takes a step up as we approach his WWF tenure. His on-screen debut as Razor Ramon is followed by a great WWF Title bout against Bret Hart from Royal Rumble 1993 (his only World Title shot on a WWF PPV, incidentally) and the greatest upset victory ever, when he shocking lost to the 123 Kid from Raw in May 1993. After that, Razor turned babyface (not shown here), but the next match is a match taped for Coliseum Home Video (remember that?) where he challenges Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental Title. It's a nice little gem and a good match, albeit one that's overbooked in a confusing manner, and as an aside, this must have taken place right before HBK got suspended. That suspension led to the IC Title being vacated, which would ultimately be snapped up by Razor in an entertaining match, perfect for the era, with Rick Martel (which we are treated to here). Disc two ends with THAT Ladder match against Shawn from WrestleMania X, the most famous of his career from an action standpoint. Their Ladder rematch from SummerSlam 1995 isn't here, which is a minor disappointment.

Disc three opens with Razor attempting to regain his IC Title from Diesel at SummerSlam 1994. It's a good mid-card match, as is Razor vs. Jeff Jarrett from Royal Rumble 1995. Razor vs. Goldust from the 1996 Rumble isn't quite as good, perhaps because Hall was legitimately unhappy at the Goldust gimmick (which at this early stage played up some strong homosexual tendencies; attitudes towards homosexuality were very different twenty years ago from what they are nowadays). We strangely don't get Hall's famous Nitro promo which kicked off the nWo angle, or the Bash At The Beach 1996 main event which cemented it as the biggest storyline in years, if not ever. But we do see Hall and Nash battle Sting and Lex Luger at Hog Wild 1996 and their WCW Tag Team Title success against Harlem Heat from Halloween Havoc a few months later.

From there, the focus of the DVD turns to Hall wrestling without Big Kev at his side. He battles Scott Steiner in a decent bout from Nitro, and another Monday night showdown with a then-underdog Chris Jericho has a surprising result. The best WCW match on this DVD is his WCW World Title challenge against Sting at Uncensored 1998, but arguably his greatest WCW match - his Ladder match against Goldberg from Souled Out 1999 - is not included (and has yet to be released on any WWE-produced release, for some reason). His WCW run is wrapped up by The Outsiders facing Goldberg and Sid Vicious from a late 1999 episode of Nitro (the highlight of which is commentator Bobby Heenan's ludicrous suggestion that fans should call their friends and turn up late for work the next day just to see previous enemies Goldberg and Sid team up). Completing the DVD are two short matches from Hall's 2002 WWF return: a SmackDown bout with The Rock, and his forgotten WrestleMania X8 showdown with Steve Austin (which doesn't feel like a WrestleMania match, one of many reasons for Austin walking out of the WWF/WWE twice that year, but that's another story). The Blu-ray has a few more matches, as well as Hall's 2014 HOF induction (this should have been on the DVD as well).

Coming just a few months after the release of The Kliq DVD, and at a time when compilations of 1990s personalities are the norm, there was every chance that this would be a forgotten DVD, one that would be classed as "yet another DVD on a name from the past". But whilst most in-ring achievements are tackled in the documentary and the majority of the subject's biggest matches are included within the bonus section, this DVD (the first WWF/WWE home video release on Scott Hall for 22 years, by the way) will not be quickly forgotten by those who watch it due to the refreshing and at times painful honesty of the main feature. For the amazingly candid manner in which Hall's real-life problems are tackled, the documentary is one that you should definitely buy this DVD for. The lighter content on his run as Razor Ramon and his nWo contributions, as well as some high-quality action amongst the extra matches, further boosts the prestige of this set, which will be remembered as one of the best WWE releases all year.

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

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