Look past the childish logo and the introduction of In Your House to the World Wrestling Federation’s pay-per-view calendar in May 1995 marked a sizeable change in direction for the company: a change that is still felt by the industry to this day.
Under pressure from a soon-to-be dominant WCW, In Your House events were introduced to run each and every month in between the WWF’s ‘big five’ shows:Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, King of the Ring, SummerSlam and Survivor Series. It was, in many ways, a curious time for the WWF to increase its pay-per-view output: 1995 is regarded by many longtime fans as a creative low point for the company, which had seen live event gates and TV ratings plummeting with Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash at the helm as world champion.
Creative issues aside, however, at the time of its introduction In Your House was a wonderfully naive and soft affair, with superstars emerging from the setpiece of a mock Floridian home, and the show hosted by perennial ’90s favourite Todd Pettengill, who is fondly remembered by old-school fans, even if it is in a very tongue-in-cheek way. So it’s a stroke of genius that WWE have lured back the quirky Pettengill to present this three-disc retrospective, alongside a host of cardboard cut-outs from days gone by…
‘The Best of WWE In Your House’, available to pre-order on DVD and Blu-Ray at WWEDVD.co.uk, charts the period from 1995-1999, from when In Your House was marketed as the sole brand until the title was eventually dropped. In many ways, it’s an interesting casepiece in the changing attitudes of the company, and how the product offered to viewers changed so dramatically in such a short space of time.
Kicking off quite literally at the start with the first match from the very first event, Bret Hitman Hart does an excellent job of playing the underdog to his Japanese opponent, and the “modern day kamikaze, Hakushi. It’s a fun affair and probably the best showcase of Hakushi’s abilities during his short WWE career.
The second match of the set is quite possibly the best, as Shawn Michaels challenges ‘Double J Jeff Jarrett for the Intercontinental Title, in an absolute blinder in Nashville from July 1995′s In Your House 2. Michaels and Jarrett, both on the cusp of bigger things, have great chemistry, and HBK takes a HUGE bump mid-way through the bout which elicits a cringe in light of his later back troubles. It’s also notable for being the first time that The Roadie, later to become Road Dogg Jesse James, plays a key role within the company.
The Intercontinental title continues to be on the line in October 1995 at In Your House 4, as new champion Dean Douglas defends against Razor Ramon in a historic match with a very weird finish that fails to make sense almost two decades later. Speaking of nonsensical, that’s about the only word that can be used to describe Hunter Hearst Helmsley‘s awful hog pen scrap with Henry O. Godwinn from December 1995′s In Your House 5. The future Game’s stock never sunk lower than in this one.
After the silliness of the hog pen, things get serious in the main event of the same show, as Bret Hart defends the WWF title against ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith in a surprisingly bloody affair. Although it lacks the drama and athleticism of their incredible SummerSlam 1992 classic, it is still a worthy showcase of the two brothers-in-law.
A change at the top sees newly-crowned WWF champion Shawn Michaels make his first title defence against Diesel in April 1996 at IYH: Good Friends, Better Enemies. A wild no holds barred scrap, it’s a big power display from Nash who shows tons of charisma as a bonafide bad guy in one of his final matches for the Federation before defecting to WCW. Michaels takes lots of punishment in this match, which features a distasteful ending that shows early indications of the upcoming ‘Attitude Era’.
Shawn Michaels continues to take punishment at IYH: Mind Games in September 1996 in a superb title defence against Mankind, in a bout that Mick Foley has cited as one of his personal best. It’s no wonder: Foley is in superb shape for this clash which features several memorable moments, and is only marred by an interference-laden finish.
With the majority of the clashes on this boxset being past main events, it’s a joy to relive a rare undercard bout between Hunter Heart Helmsley and Stone Cold Steve Austin from IYH: Buried Alive . The two engage in an excellent match and a sign of things to come at this early stage of both WWE careers. Later on the same show, The Undertaker squares off against Mankind in a ‘buried alive’ match, unquestionably the strangest gimmick match that the Federation has ever promoted.
February 1997 sees the World title vacant and a ‘final four’ match to crown the new champion at the imaginatively titled IYH: Final Four. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Vader, Bret Hart and The Undertaker square off in a chaotic scrap with some very inventive match rules. Be warned though, this isn’t for the faint of heart, as Vader wears the proverbial “crimson mask” for much of the encounter.
IYH: Canadian Stampede from July 1997 sees The Hart Foundation receive one of the greatest crowd reactions in wrestling history as they face off against Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust and The Legion of Doom before a very partisan crowd in Calgary. Two months later at IYH: Ground Zero, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker engage in a wild brawl that would set up their more famous Hell In A Cell match one month later, which is shockingly missing from this boxset.
As the set draws towards a conclusion, an eight-man tag from February 1998′s IYH: No Way Out demonstrates that ‘The Attitude Era’, that had been brewing in the past few matches, is now in full effect – gone is the colourful set, and in its place a darker, edgier arena. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Owen Hart, Cactus Jack and Terry ‘Chainsaw Charlie’ Funk battle Triple H, The New Age Outlaws and, yes, Savio Vega in a crazy weapon-filled scrap that revolves solely around the popularity of one man, who would go on to claim his first WWF title one month later atWrestleMania XIV.
The final three matches from the set will be familiar to Attitude Era fans: Kane and Mankind face off against The Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin for the tag team titles at IYH: Fully Loaded, Mankind challenges Ken Shamrock for the Intercontinental title at IYH: Judgement Day in a match in which Mr. Socko takes centre stage and plays an unusual role in the final decision, and WWF champion Mankind defends the gold against The Rock (in ‘The Great One’s only appearance in this set) in a last man standing match at IYH St. Valentine’s Day Massacre with a very controversial finish that sees both men wheeled out in an ambulance aftwewards.
It’s an odd, and rather somber, way to end such a set, but it is perhaps also the perfect way: In Your House, from its inception, was an event without a raison d’etre, and as such it is unsurprising when viewed retrospectively that it suffered from such an identity crisis during its four-year run on the WWE calendar.
As a boxset, there’s no arguing the match quality: particular highlights being Michaels vs Jarrett, Michaels vs Foley, Hart vs Smith, Helmsley vs Austin and the ten man Canadian Stampede event. But what is disappointing is the lack of undercard matches that are on offer (although the Blu-Ray edition annoyingly makes up for this, with the inclusion of Taka Michinoku vs Brian Christopher and D-Lo Brown vs X-Pac), as so many of these matches have already been included by WWE countless times on past boxsets for the likes of Hart, Austin, Foley and Michaels.
Still, viewed as a standalone set, there’s more than enough material here to warrant the trip down memory lane – and to remind you why today’s WWE is just a whole lot less fun without Todd Pettengill around.