WCW may have folded 16 years ago, but it will never be forgotten, for a variety of reasons — not all (or even many) of them good ones. One thing they will always be fondly remembered for, however, is their roster of seasonal pay-per-view events, such as Spring Stampede, Fall Brawl and, most importantly, Halloween Havoc.
There were twelve Halloween Havoc events from WCW’s inception in late 1988 to its closure in early 2001. There have been several noteworthy events in the show’s history (1998 being particularly notable, as it produced one of the worst, most laughable matches in pro wrestling history in Hogan vs. Warrior II and had the feed infamously cut out just as the main event was starting), but 1991’s event sticks out for one particular reason: the opening contest of the show, dubbed the "Chamber of Horrors" match.
Halloween Havoc 1991 actually had some solid bouts on the card — Dustin Rhodes pre-Goldust took on a Steve Austin that was "Stunning" before he was "Stone Cold" for the Television Title in a great match, and Lex Luger and Ron Simmons had a solid main event in a 2 out of 3 falls match for the World Title. They are all completely overshadowed, however, by the Chamber of Horrors.
Right from the get-go, WCW gets you in the Halloween spirit with an entrance ramp decorated with the clearance rack of Party City. You know those vinyl gravestones at least one neighbor littered their front lawn with every Halloween? The entrance ramp is filled with them, but half of them don’t even make sense — seriously, one of the most prominent gravestones reads "Bear: He waz full of hot air." The "R"s are both backwards because apparently this is Winnie the Pooh’s self-scribed epitaph. Another one reads, "Here’s Mike. He lost it on his bike."
To be fair, the haunted house-themed stage is pretty cool, especially for 1991. WWF certainly wasn’t doing anything creative with their stages in ’91. It’s a good thing, too, because we’re forced to look at one static shot of it for a full 35 seconds while the ring announcer explains the rules of the Chamber of Horrors match and random spurts of pyro dribble out of the…roosters? Are those roosters? On either side of the house.
The rules were simple enough: no disqualification, no count out, no pins, no submissions. The only way to win this four-on-four matchup was to tie one man down in an electric chair and electrocute him. Or, as the announcer put it: "The object of the match is to put a member of the opposing team in the Chamber of Horrors’ chair of torture, and then to pull the fatal lever, which will render one of the teammates helpless."
In other words, murder a human being on live television in the opening match of a show. Wrrrrrrestling!
Funnily enough, the eight man match was absolutely stacked. On one side was Cactus Jack, Vader, Abdullah the Butcher, and the Diamond Studd (aka Razor Ramon/Scott Hall). Team 2 consisted of Sting, the Steiner Brothers, and El Gigante (best known as Giant Gonzalez in WWF). A match consisting of four WWE Hall of Famers and likely three future members can’t be that bad…can it?
Well, for starters, the match was originally supposed to be El Gigante, Sting and the Steiners vs. Oz (Kevin Nash), the Diamond Studd, One Man Gang and Barry Windham. For various reasons, including One Man Gang suddenly up and leaving WCW before the show, the card was completely shifted around until we got the lineup we actually got. Off to a good start.
From an actual wrestling standpoint, this is a complete train wreck. Cactus Jack is bleeding profusely about three minutes into the match, but we have no idea how — it happened off screen. The matchup was so haphazardly thrown together and impossible to follow that at one point Jim Ross actually apologizes to the fans watching at home. Jim’s partner, Tony Schiavone, makes note that there has been "no semblance of teamwork" in this match, and ain’t that the truth. Wrestlers just randomly scale the cage seemingly with no actual plan in mind, there’s a lot of just standing around, and nearly everything that happens seems to do so for no reason.
Rick Steiner finds a chainsaw right outside the cage before he enters the match, because of course he does. He can’t figure out how to turn it on so he just puts it down. The chainsaw is never referenced or seen again. In the early stages a coffin that was propped up in the corner of the cage fell over, exposing a masked man who was hiding in there. He too was barely seen from or mentioned again. Later, a group of men wearing all white (including white face paint) dubbed "the ghouls" by Tony Schiavone come to the ringside area with a stretcher and just…kneel there. "Only on Halloween," Tony remarks.
The end of the match mercifully comes when Abdullah the Butcher is strapped into the "chair of torture" and his partner, Cactus Jack, somehow doesn’t notice it’s his 400 pound partner in the chair and not one of his opponents, scales the cage and switches the "fatal lever." Well, first he had to flip it back to the "off" position, as during the match the flimsy prop fell down into the "on" position — the perfect capstone to this horrible match. This was certainly a match of horrors, but not for the reason that was billed. Abdullah is "electrocuted," which in the wrestling world apparently means a bunch of pyros go off behind him while he twitches in the chair.
There’s a prevailing thought that when pro wrestling is good, it’s fucking great. Sadly, the inverse is also true: when it’s bad, Jesus Christ is it bad. Thankfully, especially in the early ’90s, a lot of the horrible stuff is so bad it’s fun to watch, and the Chamber of Horrors is definitely that.