Spain - Italy | 1973
Directed by José Luis Merino
Stelvio Rosi
Maria Pia Conte
Paul Naschy
| 95 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Troma Video
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Review by
Troy Howarth

Serge Chekov (Stelvio Rosi) arrives in a mysterious European village to collect his inheritance, and discovers a bizarre plot involving black magic and the living dead...
    Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy takes a supporting role this time around — in a rare horror item he didn't have a hand in originating. Originally titled La Orgia de los Muertos (literally, "Orgy of the Dead"), The Hanging Woman mixes horror and sci-fi into a likeably lurid mix that nevertheless seems tame and old-fashioned compared to many of the other Spanish horror films of the period. José Luis Merino directs with an eye towards mood, but the slow pacing and repetitious scenes of actors wandering about the scenery may put off many contemporary viewers.
    The film chronicles the exploits of an arrogant heir who uncovers a bizarre plot involving the occult, mad science and the living dead. The ingredients are there for a wild and woolly exercise, but Merino opts for a more straightforward approach. Such restraint may have worked in its favor if it had been executed with more flair, but ultimately the end result is a bit leaden. Even so, the film does spring to life at times — there are some genuinely eerie scenes involving the zombies shuffling through the graveyard and the catacombs, and a subplot involving Naschy's character also generates interest.
    Naschy is no stranger to puffery and ego-boosting, but his claims that Merino allowed him to effectively rewrite his own scenes and add depth to the character seem valid given the surrounding material. The actor was initially put off by the script and the character he was offered — a simple grave digger in the original draft — but his flair for the perverse manifested itself when he turned Igor into a full-fledged necrophile. The character bears some superficial resemblance to one of his most celebrated characterizations, Gotho in Hunchback of the Morgue (1973), though inevitably he isn't able to bring as much shading and texture to the role given its abbreviated screen time. Naschy plays it with gusto, something sorely lacking in much of the remaining cast.
    Italian leading man Stelvio Rosi (under the pseudonym "Stan Cooper") is as uninspiring a performer as one can imagine. With his irritating swagger and mustache-twirling machismo, he comes across as arrogant and elicits zero audience empathy — how on Earth anybody could be expected to root for such a jackass is inconceivable! Rosi's dull performance brings the film down a notch or two; one can easily imagine it being so much more entertaining if a more likable actor were in his shoes. Fortunately both Maria Pia Conte and Dyanik Zurakowska are photogenic starlets, and Merino is careful to ensure that they both disrobe on occasion to keep the viewer alert and oriented. Of the two, Conte gives the more memorable performance as a sultry medium who attempts to seduce Rosi's character into selling the estate. Apart from Naschy, however, the best impression is made by veteran character actor Gerard Tichy (Jess Franco's Justine, 1968), who brings sincerity and intensity to his role.
    The soundtrack by Francesco DeMasi reuses several themes from earlier films, including his score for Riccardo Freda's The Ghost (1963) and a piece that also resurfaced in the cobbled-together soundtrack for Mario Bava's Kill, Baby... Kill! (1966); it sets the right mood but inadvertently makes one yearn for the heyday of Gothic European cinema.
    Ultimately, The Hanging Woman isn't among the best of the Spanish horror cinema of the '70s, but neither is it among the worst. As time-killers go, one can certainly do a lot worse.

Troma's new special edition of The Hanging Woman represents the film's official DVD debut in North America. It also presents the film in a longer, more explicit cut than usual. The good news is that the print is complete; the bad news is that it's pretty much 'up' to the usual low standard of Troma's DVD releases where picture quality is concerned. The film is presented full frame and is not anamorphically enhanced — the framing looks reasonably on-target, however, so it doesn't appear to have been lensed with a wider ratio in mind. The transfer appears to have been culled from two VHS masters — the first 11 minutes look particularly rough, but they still compare well to the low grade VHS dupes that have long been on the gray market. Once the main title appears, it switches to a better looking source, but during the tryst between Rosi and Conte there are some anomalies (a slight rolling effect, for example) that confirm that it, too, is a VHS source. If this sounds pretty dismal, it's not really as awful as all that — true, the transfer doesn't compare to the gold standard set by BCI in the best of their Naschy releases (Vengeance of the Zombies, Night of the Werewolf, Horror Rises from the Tomb), but it's still watchable. In this day of Euro-Cult titles being rescued from obscurity and receiving the red carpet treatment on DVD, it's easy to forget how eager collectors used to be to shell out as much as $30-$50 for a poor quality VHS dupe, just to be able to see the film in any incarnation whatsoever. That's not to suggest that this gives companies the right to issue shoddy transfers — far from it — but in the case of a minor title such as this, it does help to keep things in perspective. Picture quality is far from pristine, it's true, but it is passable and at least the film is fully uncut and presents the alternate 'unclothed' takes for the skin connoisseurs in the audience. The mono English soundtrack is flat as one would expect from a dubbed film of this vintage, but apart from some minor background hiss in some sections and a patch towards the end that sounds a bit tinny, it's in pretty good shape; it's to be regretted that Troma didn't include the Spanish track and optional English subtitles.
    Troma can't be criticized for skimping on the extras, however. In addition to a bonus feature film — The Sweet Sound of Death (B&W; 1965) — there's a featurette on Naschy hosted by Shane M. Dallman (entitled Naschy 101), an interview with Naschy, an interview with English ADR/dubbing veteran Ben Tatar, an interview with director Merino, and a commentary track with the director. Naschy is his usual mixture of charm and chest-thumping bravado, and he displays some genuine fondness for the film. The commentary and interview reveal Merino to be a self-effacing journeyman with no great pretensions, though his assertion that The Hanging Woman is really an adventure film, not a horror movie, is bound to raise a few eyebrows. The Merino interview/commentary and the Naschy interview are in Spanish with English subtitles — apart from a handful of typos, they're legible and get the job done. A theatrical trailer and image gallery round out the package.
    Despite the shortcomings of the transfer, the abundant extras, the presentation of the complete, uncensored cut of the film, and a reasonable price tag (online vendors are stocking this for under ten bucks!) make it a no-brainer for Naschy enthusiasts. 10/03/09