‘The Iron Claw’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Was The Von Erich Curse?


The Iron Claw is a new sports biography drama film featuring two of the most conventionally attractive actors of modern times—Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White. That description best fits the film, though, as its heavy focus on the personal lives of the Von Erich family is more of a hit-and-miss affair. The plot follows the Von Erichs, considered one of the most iconic families of professional wrestlers, and the series of tragedies that struck them down because of toxic patriarchal perspectives. A little more depth into the world of professional wrestling, which in itself is of great interest, being a mix of sports and performative acting, would have been appreciated. Nonetheless, The Iron Claw does a good job imitating events and visual styles from the past, making it a fairly enjoyable watch.

Spoiler Alert

Who were the Von Erichs?

The Iron Claw begins with a scene from the past, appropriately presented in black and white, in which a professional wrestler beats down his opponent inside the ring, amidst heavy cheers from the crowd. The wrestler is Fritz Von Erich, an already established name in the sport in Texas, hoping to make it to the National Wrestling Association and win the title of World Heavyweight Champion. The match ends with Fritz defeating his opponent with his special finishing move, in which he grasps hold of the man’s head with his open hand, resembling a claw. It is this move that is named the Iron Claw, and it gradually became the practice of each of the Von Erich fighters in the professional ring. After the fight, Fritz meets with his wife Doris and their two young sons, who are naturally very excited about their father’s performance.

Unfortunately, Fritz’s plans never worked out, and after his retirement, he started training his three sons to follow in his footsteps and earn major accolades in the sport. The film shifts forward many years, when the eldest son, Kevin, is already a professional wrestler, making a name for himself in the state circuit. The younger sons, David and Mike, are also being trained for the same purpose in life, even though Mike has very different aspirations in music. Along with being a trainer to the Von Erich brothers, Fritz also owns and runs the World Class Championship Wrestling organization, which hosts most fights in the region. Being the eldest of the lot, Kevin has to bear the responsibility of leading his brothers forward, and the young man fairly succeeds in doing so, even introducing his younger brother David to the sport in a tag team fight.

It is clear that the brothers crave their father’s attention, since the man is rather expressive about his likes and dislikes. He is also terribly harsh on his family members, especially his sons, always teaching them about the importance of being tough and manly without ever showing any emotions. Therefore, David is ecstatic to make his debut in the profession and is also lauded by his father after a speech during a match, which gets appreciated by the crowd as well. However, this very same match had gone down terribly for Kevin, at least in a personal sense. Kevin had just fought world champion Harley Race in a match that was hosted to make his name more popular among competition selectors. Although Kevin technically won, as Race was disqualified for not following the rules, he was well aware that his performance was not convincing, at least to his father. Surely enough, Fritz is angry and disappointed with Kevin for having taken a lot of time to get up from a fall, completely disregarding the fact that his son was terribly hurt.

Fritz’s focus then also shifts from Kevin to his second son, Kerry, who suddenly returns home from college, following a political stance taken by the country’s erstwhile government. Kerry had been an athlete in college, also following in his father’s footsteps, for Fritz was a discus thrower and football player during his student days. Kerry was also pursuing a similar path, aiming to represent the United States in the 1980 Summer Olympics in discus throwing. However, the American government decided to not participate in the event altogether, which was being hosted by the USSR, as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This led to Kerry losing interest in college almost immediately, for he was pursuing education only for the sports angle, and the young man returned home. Not extremely convinced by the performances of his other sons, Fritz now focused on Kerry, training him to become a professional wrestler as well.

What was the Von Erich curse?

Fairly early in his wrestling career, Kevin meets with a young woman named Pam, who immediately shows a romantic interest in the man. Although Kevin is quite shy and has shaky social skills, for he has only thought about training so far in life, Pam is more upfront and direct, and it is she who asks him out on a date. As the two grow close and also start a romantic relationship, Kevin first talks about the “Von Erich curse,” about which he has heard ever since his childhood days. The foundation of this curse was a certain belief among many that the Von Erich family was cursed because of their last name. It all started when Fritz changed his family surname from Adkisson to Von Erich, apparently bringing along a lot of bad luck with it.

At the beginning of his wrestling days, Jack Adkisson changed his name to Fritz, which was understandably more appropriate for a wrestler or entertainer. However, he also decided to drop his original surname, Adkisson, in favor of Von Erich, which was the last name used by his mother’s family, and this started a woeful time for them, as the original Von Erich family apparently had to go through severe difficult situations, giving birth to the rumors about the curse. The first return of the curse for Fritz’s family, as stated by people around them, was the death of his very first child, Jack Jr., who passed away at a young age. 

When Kevin first tells Pam about this curse, he convincingly states that he does not believe in the matter, for it was all a coincidence. Kevin’s reaction or statement about the matter completely makes sense, for even though he is not the most rational person, he has been raised to never let in such rumors from the masses. However, as the film progresses, his belief and conviction start to dissolve, much like they did in real life. The Von Erich curse was supposed to hurt and harm each of the family members, and it actually managed to do so directly and indirectly. The only person least affected, or least expressive of it, as portrayed by the film was perhaps the patriarch, Fritz himself. 

After the accidental death of Jack Jr., the family thrived for a number of years, and all the sons grew up to be extremely healthy and well-built individuals. At an important stage of their careers, the brothers got an opportunity to wrestle the erstwhile world champion, Ric Flair, and Fritz took the decision to select David for the matchup. David was sent to Japan on a tour before the match was scheduled to take place, and the young man suddenly died from a ruptured intestine. This came as an extreme shock to the family, especially to Kevin, who had always been very close with all his brothers. As Fritz still concentrated on the match, Kerry was selected to take the position of his brother and fight against Flair. The match ended in great success for Kerry, but the young man got too carried away with this win, as he went out that night alone, riding on his motorcycle. This led to a horrific accident for Kerry, and his right foot had to be amputated in order for him to survive the injuries. 

The two incidents, in very quick succession, came as a sudden shock to all the family members. Soon, the younger brother Mike is introduced to the wrestling ring, being prepared to be featured in the sport more often. But within a short time, Mike suffers a terrible injury on his shoulder during a match, which not only renders him unable to continue but also puts him into a comatose state due to toxic shock. After initially recovering from the situation, Mike has to struggle very hard to even speak in public, and his life too ultimately ends in utter tragedy. With a helpless feeling and suffering from severe depression, Mike took his own life as a last resort to his situation.

By this time, Kevin’s disbelief in the horrible curse upon their family had completely waned, and he was rather afraid of it. Such was his fear that when his first son was born with Pam, he gave him the surname Adkisson, hoping to keep the baby away from the Von Erich curse. This change of opinion also resulted in his marriage facing severe problems, for he was unable to live with his wife and son any more out of fear that he might affect them with the curse. The Von Erich curse finally claimed the life of Kerry as well, who shot himself dead with a gun he had gifted to his father, Fritz, earlier. In fact, the youngest Von Erich brother, Chris, who is left unmentioned in The Iron Claw, had also earlier killed himself in real life, making the Von Erich curse a feared phenomenon.

How was Fritz responsible for the deaths of his sons?

While the family curse was nothing more than a superstition, it was the patriarch Fritz who was very directly responsible for the deaths of his sons. Fritz was an old-school orthodox father in every sense, as he believed that teaching tough manliness to children from a young age made them the ideal human beings after growing up. In reality, such an upbringing left a gaping hole in the emotional sides of each of the sons, and they craved for love and attention throughout their lives. The Iron Claw focuses on this very angle of the family, and it is emphasized how the Von Erich sons could never really go to either parent for any advice or discussion about personal life. While the father tried to present training, toughness, and wrestling as solutions to every problem, their mother stated religion and an utmost belief in God as the only fixes. 

Fritz was always very open about his preferences among the sons in the family, and on numerous occasions, the eldest son, Kevin, had to face the brunt of it. Especially after Kerry’s return home, Kevin had to accept his father’s decision to select the younger brothers for competitions ahead of him. But not all of them were as determined or physically and mentally able to take on the never-ending pressure of pleasing their father. Before David’s sudden death in Japan, Kevin had seen how the brother was struggling with the physical effects of his training, and this had already weakened David’s vitals before the rupture finally took his life. The pressure and then the boundless joy of pleasing Fritz made Kerry go out on his motorcycle, leading to the amputation. 

Mike had been quite open about his love for music and had no interest in wrestling at all. However, he had to abide by his father’s demands and enter the ring, which resulted in his terrible injury and then his untimely death by suicide. Although Kerry was handicapped for the rest of his life, the direct pressure from his father and the toxic teachings he had been given since childhood made him return to wrestling. Even when the man was unable to hold on to such a life of pressure and Kevin informed Fritz about it, the father literally did nothing to help his son. The manner in which The Iron Claw presents Fritz shows him to remain insensitive even at the end, after having lost so many of his sons. As Fritz returns home one day, he sees Doris step out of the role of a docile wife and paint by herself, following her passion. He is evidently disgruntled and bewildered upon learning that his wife has not cared about cooking and that there is no food waiting on the table for him.

What happened to Kevin von Erich?

During The Iron Claw‘s ending, Kevin completely realizes the faults in his father and even confronts him after finding Kerry dead at their own house. Kevin beats up Fritz before he seemingly drops all contact with his father. He is also seen carrying Kerry’s body back into the house, as The Iron Claw presents a fantastical scene of the Von Erich brothers—Kerry, David, Mike, and even Jerry Jr.—all meeting together in the afterlife.  Unfortunately, it was only Kevin who was left behind in the mortal world, and he had already decided to focus on his family by this time, moving in back with them. The film ends with a scene of Kevin watching his two young boys play together and remembering his own days with his brothers. As he breaks down in front of the boys and immediately apologizes for it, the children state how anyone can cry when sad and that there is nothing to be sorry about. This short expression makes it very clear how Kevin and Pam have raised their sons the correct way, and the family happily comes together on their lawn.

The Iron Claw‘s ending also presents a text that underlines the fact that in 2009, the Von Erich family eventually became a part of the WWE’s prestigious Hall of Fame. Kevin and Pam Von Erich are still alive, living happily on their ranch in Hawaii, where all their children and grandchildren stay together. Two of Kevin’s sons, Marshall and Ross, are wrestlers as well, and they have indeed returned to the Von Erich surname, wishing to continue the legacy that their family had set in the sport.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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