A review of the new WWE Best of In Your House DVD

WWE: The Best of In Your House – DVD Review
By James Cox
At first glance, a WWE DVD collection that celebrates a ppv franchise that spanned most of the worst period in the company’s history doesn’t sound like it’s going to solve last quarter’s DVD sales slump. But this release finds the diamonds in the rough. And although not everything that glitters is gold,  you only have to read the card to see that the calibre of performers are some of the best in the company’s history who, in a time where ratings were at their lowest, were putting out tremendous performances whilst at the peak of the physical prowess. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Undertaker and Mick Foley (as Mankind) make up the spine of this period and, therefore, this collection and it’s no coincidence that their matches are chosen for this set: with the exception of the evergreen Hart, who in 1995 was 38, these men are all in their early 30s in May of 1995 when In Your House debuted and look, particularly in Michaels case, superb. If you remember this period as dull or that In Your House was cheap, cheesy and best-left-forgotten-about, this collection will largely change your mind about that.

A mature, slender, goateed Todd Pettengill takes us through the matches. His career in radio is fairly transparent here as his script is cringe-worthy and his voice has the smooth cadence of those crass DJs on commercial radio. He hasn’t changed much. British readers – think Pat Sharp; US guys – Ryan Seacrest in 10 years without the good tailoring. I should point out here that somewhere amongst his introductory spiel, Pettengill claims that the theory behind the ‘In Your House’ ppv series was “simple yet brilliant”. Well, it certainly was simple…

Disc 1
Bret Hart vs. Hakushi from In Your House May 14, 1995 is the first match on the compilation and it’s fantastic. Both work extremely hard and the pair wrestle at a pace that compels you to keep watching. Based on this match, you’d struggle to wonder why Hakushi left WWF; his luchador style was exciting and seemed fresh at the time and wasn’t in any way incongruous to Bret’s style. In fact, the two complement each other beautifully. There are some spots in this match that are extremely impressive, such as Hakushi’s moonsault from the apron onto Bret who crashes into the metal guard rails.

The Intercontinental Championship Match between Jeff Jarrett vs. Shawn Michaels from In Your House 2: The Lumberjacks (July 23, 1995) is also an excellent match. The Roadie is in Jarrett’s corner and Shawn is firmly a babyface here. He, like Bret in the previous match, is in the prime of his career and is in great shape. There’s some amazing stuff here between Michaels and Jarrett, particularly where Jarrett backdrops Michaels over the top rope to the arena floor which looks unspeakably dangerous.

We’re then shown a few more from ’95. Firstly, Razor Ramon vs. Dean Douglas from In Your House 4: The Great White North (October 22, 199). Shawn had to drop the belt to Shane (Dean) Douglas before the match because he’d been beaten up by some Marines in Syracuse and so was genuinely injured. The heat is strong on Douglas who has a good 11 minute match with Razor. Douglas left WWF quite soon after this to feud with Cactus Jack in ECW and that was probably a good move looking at this booking.  Then, we get the Arkansas Hog Pen match between HHH and Henry Godwinn from December 17, 1995 which is fairly forgettable except for how remarkably good Hillbilly Jim looks and Hunter’s slapstick selling at the end when he is bleeding and prat-falling around in pig swill.

Finally on disc 1 is the WWF Championship match between Bret Hart and the British Bulldog also from December 1995. Bulldog is jacked up here and still terrible at promos. So with a heel who struggles to articulate his anger, Jim Cornette is drafted in to give Davey Boy an edge and he walks to the ring with his wife, Bret’s sister, Diana. At 21 minutes this match is not their bout from Summerslam 1992 but it’s still creative and a pleasure to watch. It starts slow and builds into an excellent match. Bret quite clearly juices heavily but the finish is good where he uses a La Magistral cradle to snatch the win.

Disc 2

We move to April ’96 and Pettengill appears again. His presentation for this whole set is him in a room with life-size cardboard cut outs of the superstars in question. I have no idea why.
Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel in No Holds Barred match for the title from In Your House 7: Good Friends, Better Enemies is another creative match. This is the bout where Diesel uses the leg of Mad Dog Vachon to try to beat Shawn. That aside, there’s some great stuff: Diesel taking the belt off the pants of referee Earl Hebner and choking Michaels with it; Diesel powerbombing Michaels through the ringside announcers table (which is why the now move the monitors when they do this – this will have HURT) and Michaels grabbing a fire extinguisher and spraying Diesel in the face.

Interestingly, CM Punk recently said that Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind from In Your House 10: Mind Games (September 22, 1996) is one of his all-time favourite matches. You can see why. This is a 5 star match. It’s so inventive and they use the whole of the ring, apron and outside areas. Little moments stand out like Michael’s suplexing Foley outside the ring so that his leg hits the steel steps, looking and sounding stiff but causing little pain. The pace is perfect and the high spots make HBK look a lot more aggressive than he had ever seemed before this. It really elevates both of them and Foley remembers this match on his latest DVD as being, “the match that [he] looked to as being the greatest match of [his] career for a long time”

The next two bouts are both from In Your House 11: Buried Alive of October 20, 1996.  Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. HHH and The Undertaker vs. Mankind in Buried Alive Match. Hunter and Austin’s match is largely ruined by Jim Ross’ headset going through technical difficulties that are played out as being Vince’s joke on Ross but I think we just shoot. At this stage a 15 minute Austin and HHH match doesn’t mean much but is still good. The 18 minute Undertaker and Mankind match is also strong but ends in a tedious burying of the Undertaker where we watch in real time as the locker room try to shovel dirt into a grave. The pay-off is, of course, the lightning bold that hits the grave as Undertaker thrusts a hand through the foliage as Vince shouts “my God, he’s alive, the Undertaker’s alive.”

Disc 2 ends with the now redundant gimmick match that is the Four Corners match. The belt is vacant at this point and we see Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart vs. Vader vs. The Undertaker battle it out from In Your House 13: Final Four (February 16, 1997). In all honesty, this match is fairly hard to follow until the latter stages and, to some extent, disappoints at the finish. Austin’s continual interference makes the match fun but neither he, nor Undertaker are quite as over as they are about to be in the next few years.

Disc 3

I’d never seen the first match on disc 3 and I thought it sounded like it might be a little messy. Oh how wrong I was. The Hart Foundation vs. Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust & The Legion of Doom from In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede (July 6, 1997) is absolutely awesome. I’d say this has to be one of the best matches in this collection and possibly in the history of WWF to this point. The crowd is HOT and completely behind the heels who, in Canada, are of course babyfaces. Everyone is fantastic in this match and Austin is brilliant – his last jibe is to walk out of the arena, hands cuffed behind his back, flipping the Canadian crowd off. Unbelievable. The wrestling is tremendous and is 24 minutes of some of the best workers from this period (if not ever) working an extremely well told tag match.

The match that disappoints most in this whole collection is Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker from In Your House 17 (September 7, 1997). The match ends in a no contest and there are numerous run-ins from Hunter, Chyna and even Rick Rude. There are countless ref bumps and we go through about four officials before the dressing room empties into the ring and Undertaker is left alone to close out the ppv.

The same could be said of the Non-Sanctioned 8-Man Tag Team match between Stone Cold Steve Austin, Owen Hart, Cactus Jack & Chainsaw Charlie and HHH, The New Age Outlaws & Savio Vega from No Way Out of Texas: In Your House (February 15, 1998). This match was full of smoke and mirrors but essentially builds to a hot tag for Austin and a finish that sets up the chance for Stone Cold to stun everyone who cares to step foot in his ring.

The last three matches are good though. Stone Cold Steve Austin & The Undertaker vs. Mankind & Kane from Fully Loaded: In Your House (July 26, 1998) The Intercontinental Championship match between Ken Shamrock and Mankind from Judgment Day: In Your House (October 18, 1998) and the Last Man Standing match with The Rock vs. Mankind at St. Valentine's Day Massacre (February 14, 1999). Of these, The Rock match is a suitable finale to this remarkable set of matches spanning 4 years. It is imaginative, the pace is perfect and the finish doesn’t make you hate the product. Often times, we see a no contest finish these days, or a DQ or count out and we feel cheated, but not here.

If ever there was a reason to go back and explore this period more closely, this DVD collection whets the appetite for that and makes us salivate at the prospect of seeing some of the matches that didn’t make this set, again. Declining the WWF may have been but their stock was just about to peak and, as this compilation draws to a close, the attitude era is in full flow and the company are just about to start drawing the kind of television audiences that they can only dream of now. The wrestlers on display here are largely looking at sounding their best, in meaningful feuds, creating unforgettable matches. The legacy of this series of ppvs might be the terrible name but should be this wonderful collection of matches.

James Cox

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