Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Hanging Woman (1973) review


Stelvio Rosi (as Stan Cooper; Serge Chekov), Dyanik Zurakowska (Doris Droila), Maria Pia Conte (Nadia), Paul Naschy (Igor), Gerard Tichy (Professor Leon Droila)

Directed by Jose Luis Merino

In a mysterious Scottish village, Serge Chekov arrives to hear the reading of the will of his uncle, the Count Mihaly. Discovering his cousin hanging from a tree in a nearby cemetery, Serge joins an investigation to find the truth behind the bizarre murder. But while the castles inhabitants vie for control of the Mihaly residence and riches, the surrounding village are haunted by the presence of witchcraft, a necrophilic gravedigger and the walking dead.

This Spanish-Italian co-production has a little bit of everything in it. It has elements of a 'whodunit?' married to an atmospheric horror picture with a smattering of sex and nudity. Then there's the inclusion of voodoo dolls, zombies, mad scientists and Paul Naschy in a scene stealing role as a nasty gravedigger with an unhealthy attraction to corpses. Naschy isn't the main star for this opus, but instead takes a smaller, supporting role. He does play an integral part in the film, though. His handful of scenes are definitely among the highlights seen here. His role as Igor hearkens back to his character of Gotho in the previous years HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1972). Another comparison will be drawn to Naschy's portrayal of Count Alaric de Marnac from HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1972). For THE HANGING WOMAN, Naschy has a similar look.

Naschy used the same decapitated head molded in his likeness from the earlier Marnac movie. It's an impressive wax creation by effects artist, Julian Ruiz. For THE HANGING WOMAN, he's made up in a similar fashion to accommodate the noggin lopping climax, but looking more dirty and unkempt. Naschy's Igor character operates as one of several red herrings seen in the picture. Apparently, the director wanted the enterprising actor/director/writer to have a much more substantial role, but he had to take a smaller part as he was working on another movie at the time THE HANGING WOMAN was going into production.

Director, Merino gave Naschy the script and told him to make amends to the character he chose and flesh it out how he saw fit. Prior to his tweaking the character, the gravedigger was an even lesser presence on hand simply as a disposable victim at some point in the film. Naschy added the necrophilia angle which definitely amps up the horror quotient found herein. Naschy is killed, but is brought back to life by an insane doctor as an undead slave only to kick the bucket yet again in the films sole gruesome moment.

Director Merino often dabbled in action movies including some pulp adventures, spaghetti westerns and somewhat drab spaghetti war pictures such as the Italian-Spanish co-production, BATTLE OF THE LAST PANZER (1969) which also features Stelvio Rosi in the lead role. Merino handles his rare excursion into Gothic territory with an assured hand as good as many of his contemporaries. Despite being talky from time to time, Merino peppers the production with a number of spooky moments rife with graveyards, hidden passageways and moldy corpses.

Gerard Tichy (right)

Gerard Tichy will be familiar to fans of European genre cinema. He was the main villain in GLADIATORS SEVEN (1962) and SUPERARGO VS. DIABOLICUS (1966) among numerous other credits. His role here is much in the same vein as those just mentioned. The women are very beautiful and get a couple of scenes where they are required to strip off their clothes. One such sequence is a sex scene between Serge and Nadia. The two characters writhe around a bit on a bed as the camera spins and swirls around in a psychedelic fashion.

The lead, Stelvio Rosi, is quite energetic and appears to totally immerse himself in this role. He seems to relish every moment and appears to be having a grand time using his fists and gun to do his talking. He also gets to romance the ladies of the cast. He does provide some chuckles during a scene where he and the heroine enter an underground room and Rosi proceeds to empty his gun into a skeleton hanging on a wall behind the door. In an interview with Paul Naschy, he didn't get along with Rosi at all.

The effects are quite passable for a film of this vintage. There's relatively little blood, but scenes of Naschy caressing and kissing the naked bodies of corpses makes for a disquieting scene. The zombies look good and provide the required eerie ambiance with their rotting faces and white eyeballs. You don't actually see the zombies till the last 10 to 15 minutes.

Like Naschy's VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972), these undead shamblers don't eat anyone, preferring instead to strangle their victims. The script, like most European horrors, is rather vague and is mainly just an excuse for a string of creepy occurrences and occasional spooky moments.

The Troma DVD utilizes a VHS source and apparently footage from another source entirely. While it isn't of the quality of the recent Spanish DVD's, or their American ports, the disc more than makes up for print quality with a gallery of extras. Among them are several interviews including one with Naschy and the director, a director's commentary, a featurette on Naschy's career and a photo gallery among other extras. Troma even includes another feature on the disc, THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH. For the price (under $10), this disc is highly recommended. Lots of value is to be found here. While it's not a showcase for the cult actor, THE HANGING WOMAN is a welcome addition to any Euro horror fans library of ghoulish and Gothic oldeworld terror pictures.

This review is representative of the Troma DVD
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