The Iron Claw Trailer Depicts Tragedy and Triumph for Zac Efron’s Kevin Von Erich

Photo: Erik Chakeen, A24.

“Ever since I was a child,” intones Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich in the opening seconds of the trailer for the upcoming A24 film The Iron Claw, “people have said my family is cursed.” Clad in his wrestling trunks, bouncing alone off the ropes, he continues: “Mom tried to protect us with God. Dad tried to protect us with wrestling. He said if we were the toughest, the strongest, nothing could ever hurt us. I believed him. We all did.”

And then on cue comes the inimitable guitar riff of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The real-life Von Erichs had, indeed a curse worth fearing. Efron’s Kevin Von Erich is the last surviving son of wrestling legend Fritz Von Erich (born Jack Adkisson), who adopted his ring nom de guerre as his shtick decwdes earlier, playing a Nazi heel. Five of his six sons preceded Fritz in death, the last three of them by suicide. When Kevin speaks of a family curse, he is not kidding.

The Fritz family were nearly synonymous with wrestling in the 1980s, led by Kevin, known for his barefoot technique, trademark “Iron Claw” hold, and rivalries with contemporaries like Ric Flair. His younger brothers David, Kerry, and Mike (and to a significantly lesser degree the youngest, Chris) all competed alongside him in the World Class Wrestling arena.

They were, as A24 touts, “Sons. Brothers. Champions.” As the Blue Oyster Cult hit continues, the trailer introduces patriarch Fritz (Holt McCallany) and his bizarre ranking of sons: “Now we all know, Kerry’s my favorite, then Kev, then David, then Mike. But the rankings can always change.” Efron had already gone through one significant body transformation for his role in 2017’s Baywatch film—a physique he’d later dismiss as not “attainable” and a phase that led to depression—as well as a broken jaw that seemed to alter his looks. Then, on the set of The Iron Claw, photos of him in a tank top and bowl cut went viral for another stunning body transformation.

Here Efron’s Kevin is presented as a well-intentioned if unambitious hulk of a young man. When asked what he wants of life, his reply is as simple as his ambitions: “More ribs?” he wonders, before settling on his bond with his brothers. From there, The Iron Claw trailer is back in the wrestling ring, focusing on the familial bond between the four. They’re there not just to defend each other but their father’s honor against all comers and with a fierce loyalty. But the pressures applied by Fritz look to be too much for some of his sons: David (Harris Dickinson)  falls ill, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) is troubled, and Fritz threatens Kevin to keep the family’s legacy alive as a montage of shots portends both tragedy (in the form of a funeral) and triumph (in the ring) alike.

Poster for The Iron Claw featuring the Von Erich brothers embracing.
Courtesy A24.

The Iron Claw may turn out to be little more than a typical sports melodrama, but the trailer suggests, with its period design and familial conflicts, that the story of the Von Erich family, as outsized and unimaginable as it may be, might just be the ideal source material for a biopic that conveys the ecstasy the family’s triumphs and the agonies they faced both in and outside the ring.

Written and directed by Sean Durkin and starring Efron with Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Stanley Simons, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, and Lily James, The Iron Claw is slated for its theatrical release December 22, 2023.

Written by J Paul Johnson

J Paul Johnson is Publisher of Film Obsessive. A professor emeritus of film studies and an avid cinephile, collector, and curator, his interests range from classical Hollywood melodrama and genre films to world and independent cinemas and documentary.

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