Paul Vachon in The Last Villains, Mad Dog & the Butcher (2021)
The Last Villains, Mad Dog & the Butcher is a larger-than-life story in which reality transcends fiction. Directed by Thomas Rinfret, the documentary chronicles the legendary Vachon family of pro wrestlers as recounted by the family’s surviving member, Paul “The Butcher” Vachon. Paul wrote books about his perceptions of the past, hoping his stories could magically escape reality. The filmmakers have a strong foundation in their narrator Paul, who brings an insightful and authentic perspective as he opens a personal window into the Vachon world of wrestling. But this is much more than a wrestling story. Conversations around family, identity, purpose, and the passing of time make The Last Villains an endearing slice of a rather nomadic way of life.
The Last Villains is told through an effective storybook approach, and some chapters are naturally far more interesting than others. The consistent focus on family ties is the glue that holds this documentary together. Maurice Vachon, Paul’s older brother, was a Canadian professional wrestler and veteran of the ring known as “Mad Dog”. Along with their sister Vivienne, the Vachons were the only family to have three representatives in the wrestling Hall of Fame. The key to Maurice’s success in particular was that people hated him. Known as one of the most vicious villains in the wrestling world, as seen and heard in archival footage, he created a character that saw his notoriety soar among audiences. After 20 years in the ring, he traveled the world and became a legend in his lifetime. Seeing how wrestling shaped Maurice’s life was enough for Paul to follow in his older brother’s footsteps. As a former farm boy, Paul wanted the majestic life promised by the illusion he saw on television.
One of the most resonating aspects of Thomas Rinfret’s storytelling is the way he maps out a narrative through the subject’s unique memories. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between the unwritten rule of wrestling, never break character and never shatter the illusion. The Last Villains explores how much of the Vachons’ identities are rooted in wrestling as a way of life, and how much their careers were defined by whether or not their ring names were memorable. The documentary also adds a strong layer about living almost in the shadows of successful family members and wanting to make one's own way. Mad Dog’s success had a ripple effect on Paul and their sister Vivienne, who inspired a generation of women to become professional wrestlers. Underneath all the wrestling personas is a family who went their separate ways to pursue paths that took them around the world.
Mad Dog has a constant presence throughout, but there is a far more interesting narrative happening elsewhere, one of which is Paul trying to find his purpose outside of wrestling. He and his wife Rebecca take road trips to sell his wrestling memorabilia, books, and knick-knacks. His books are a tunnel into the past, an outlet for him to keep the memories alive when the general public have forgotten his presence. Another interesting narrative regards the women in Paul’s life, sister Vivienne who died suddenly at 48 and daughter Luna (who also went into wrestling and developed a villainous character much like Mad Dog). It’s both endearing and heartbreaking to hear Paul’s recognition of lost time, which brings him to make efforts to rekindle extended family connections. The Last Villains, Mad Dog & the Butcher embarks on an impactful journey about family. While the wrestling subject matter doesn’t garner a lot of interest personally, the relationship dynamics are what carry this story. The documentary is a strong reminder of how quickly time vanishes and how a carefully crafted identity can change the course of one’s life.