Bray Wyatt was once the next big thing in professional wrestling. That is an insane sentence to read or hear spoken in 2017, but things were different just four years ago.
WWE presented us with our first look at Bray Wyatt, his fantastic NXT run notwithstanding (and not mattering, as so many do), on the 27 May 2013 RAW. The promo package was of the typically sublime WWE variety, rich in immense production values. Wyatt, and henchmen Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, cast intimidating shadows in the harsh light of the Louisiana bayou. A droning nightmare lullaby played over the spooky imagery. This was no stock rock theme written on behalf of yet another mere mortal with a “real” name; Bray Wyatt was something different, something other, marching to the beat of his own, disquieting drum.
We weren’t in Parts Unknown, under cloak of carny darkness; the New Face of Fear, an über-promising new addition to WWE’s supernatural canon, was a very real monster, hiding in plain sight in the material world. The real evil in this world lies within its underbelly. It is the secret abuse in the middle class home. It is the corruption within our political system. It is the brainwashing cult leader lurking in the trees, primed to unleash his poisonous rhetoric on the tragically hopeful and gullible. The modern sports entertainment landscape rendered the supernatural gimmick an anachronism, post-Attitude Era. Only by subverting it could WWE make it work - and this was something frighteningly feasible.
Some of the material was ominous for altogether more dubious reasons; the broken dolls, crawling bugs, and graveyard imagery was the stuff of horror movie cliché, as was the deadpan. droning rendition of Mary Had A Little Lamb. Still, optimism was obscenely high - especially when factoring in the smash success of the Shield faction. WWE knew how to do factions - and new talent - again.
“Run,” ran Wyatt’s catchphrase. This was immediately drenched in irony; at SummerSlam 2013, Bray Wyatt debuted in a “Ring of Fire” match opposite Kane. Kane was the very template from which to borrow; the character debuted in 1997 as the most significant threat yet to the most towering kayfabe threat in the then-World Wrestling Federation. The first six months of his career were booked with such stunning conviction that he transcended subsequent stupidity to become part of the company fabric.
Kane was also virtually worthless by 2013. He was there to lose in the hope that his fading star power was transferable. This match booked itself. Unfortunately, WWE creative booked it: Wyatt, in just 07:48, was portrayed as a cowering charlatan overawed by the ageing, past-it demon. His henchmen, meanwhile - cast in the teasers as primordial beings with the new ability to stand upright - evolved further into dolt firemen unable to put out the flames surrounding the ring.