Vice on TV’s Dark Side of the Ring, a behind-the-curtain look at some of professional wrestling’s most notorious scandals, kicked off its second season with a two-part special on the Chris Benoit suicide and double-murder of his wife Nancy and son Daniel. With interviews including friends and family of the Benoits, the documentary leaves no stone unturned in their comprehensive look at the crime and all things related.
The first hour provides viewers the backstory of Chris and Nancy Benoit’s relationship, starting on Nancy’s marriage with Kevin Sullivan going into WCW, where Sullivan became head booker for the promotion. This culminated in accusations of abuse from Nancy (accusations Sullivan denied on a screen card that said he was unavailable for further comment) that brought her closer to Benoit, leading to the birth of their son Daniel and marriage soon after in 2000.
This portion features some of the most emotional parts of the special, with pictures and home videos highlighting the lives of Chris, Daniel, Nancy. The color to these pieces is provided mostly by Nancy’s sister Sandra Toffoloni, who paints some of the most vivid descriptions of the family throughout the unusual courtship and marriage timeline. Also present in the family pieces is Chris’ son from his first marriage, David Benoit, who has a touching remembrance of wanting to be tag team champions with Daniel as they are shown wrestling around in a home video.
What looms even larger in this first half is Eddie Guerrero. Guerrero’s friendship with Benoit takes a place in all parts of the first act. From the early part of Benoit’s career, literally building a friendship with Guerrero in the ring, to Benoit helping Guerrero through his drug addiction caused by injuries. Guerrero acts as a driving force in the first stage of the documentary, peaking at both winning world titles at WrestleMania XX. It comes as no surprise that Guerrero’s sudden death in 2005 changes Benoit, who becomes a broken man riddled with paranoia and anger as a result according to the accounts of the interview subjects.
Guerrero’s story intersecting throughout with Benoit makes for an effective narrative that is told well in the film and specifically by Eddie’s widow and former WWE talent Vickie Guerrero.
Part one closes with Chavo Guerrero Jr.’s (who served as producer on this episode) account of receiving fateful phone calls and text messages from Benoit on the weekend of the murders and suicide, concluding with WWE owner Vince McMahon announcing to the staff the discovery of the Benoit family bodies before the June 25, 2007 edition of Monday Night Raw.
The second half starts with former Fayette County Sheriff’s Office Larry Alden recounting the discovery of the crime scene in a jarring start and goes on to cover the reactions from the interview subjects and the WWE’s decision to run a memorial show before the details start pouring in. A precise, but brief timeline of the murders and suicide was given by Ring of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit & The Fall of the Pro Wrestling Industry author Matthew Randazzo V and WWE’s reactions to the news deleted Benoit from their history. Left behind in that erasing were the aforementioned Sandra and David, who said no one aside from Chavo and Chris Jericho reached out from the WWE.
Media reaction of the moment and details about steroid usage, prior instances of domestic disputes, Benoit’s autopsy revealing CTE, and the effects from Guerrero’s death try to make sense of the Benoit tragedy. The show closes with a reconciliation between David and Sandra after Chris Jericho brought them back together after the respective families kept them apart for 13 years.
This episode of Dark Side of the Ring will stand the test of time as one of the best wrestling documentaries. Eschewing some of the mistakes of the first season with more tasteful usage of reenactments (aside from a strange Vickie and Eddie Guerrero romp in bed) and cutting out jack of all trade, master of none storytellers who have an opinion on everything for more direct interview subjects, this will be a high mark this series may never touch again.
The interview subjects all did their part of the story well. Sandra and David bringing family stories to life made them the heart of the special. Chris Jericho, Chavo Guerrero, and Dean Malenko all added backstage color to Benoit’s stage life in front of and behind the curtain, while Vickie Guerrero and Chavo tied the Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit story together. Jim Ross provided needed context of the company lightning rod, while experts like Randazzo V, Chris Nowinski, and Alden managed to provide whatever little clarity can be found in this tragedy.
Trimming the excesses of the last season of the show also helped to give this documentary the even-keeled tone it needed to cover the heavy subject matter at hand. The additional touches of archival footage, emotional family photos and videos, and chilling, yet not exploitative crime scene and evidence presentations brought this above and beyond other wrestling documentaries. This really felt like a production that wanted to leave it all on the table with storytelling, variety of perspectives, and rarities that could even appeal to those who have thoroughly covered the situation.
Overall, this was exemplary documentary filmmaking that stands on its own without the wrestling qualifier. When put in the sports section, it can hold its own with just about anything ESPN or WWE produces without the budget.