The Hanging Woman (1973)

Scotsman Serge Chekov (Stelvio Rosi, of Luchino Visconti’s incredible The Leopard, 1963) inherits his uncle’s estate that overlooks a small Balkans village, only to discover that Professor Droilia (Gerald Tichy, of Mario Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon), has taken residence in the basement. As Chekov investigates, he leans the professor is a mad scientist who has perfected the reanimation of the dead — with the help of Igor (Sir Paul Naschy), a necrophiliac grave robber.

Chekov, as is the case with most of the Counts in these films, gives Peter Carpenter (Point of Terror) lessons in how to improperly treat n’ bed the ladies. Meanwhile, the professor’s put-upon wife, Doris (the heart-melting Dyanik Zurakowska), is exactly the distressed damsel we pay to see — gowns, nighties, and improper designer footwear, in check. Naschy, as usual, no matter the star or support player — amid the horny witches, the necrophilia, the zombies, the graveyards, and the Satanic coven-foolery — excels in his character’s kinked weirdness. And yes, we do get the ol’ Drolia’s creations rising in league against him amid the dumb detectives without the skill to fish the herring o’ red.

Oy! I love this film. It has everything I come to expect in a Spanish horror film subsidized by — and copying — the Italians.

The European theatrical one-sheet.

Directed by José Luis Merino as La orgía de los muertos, which translates as Orgy of the Dead (a great title), this Paul Naschy-starrer became known as The Hanging Woman during its initial U.S. theatrical release (as result of our Scottish lad, upon arrival, finding his cousin hanging from a graveyard tree). Over the years, it has been released to VHS and DVD under the titles of Beyond the Living Dead, Return of the Zombies and Terror of the Living Dead. What really twists the sprockets is this Paul Naschy curio is also known in some quarters as Zombi 3 — which also serves as an alternate title for Burial Ground, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Nightmare City, and Marino’s stomach-churner, Zombie Holocaust, aka Doctor Butcher, M.D.

Some critics have opined this was directed by Naschy associate León Klimovsky (of the excellent The Vampires Night Orgy), as result of some prints of the film — for reasons unknown — instead crediting writer-director Jose Luis Merino as “Leo Klimovsky,” while other prints anglicize the Spanish-born director as John Davidson. The “Jack Daniels” on those prints is actually Merino’s co-writer, Erico Colombo (Scream of the Demon Lover, 1970).

Usually, when it comes to Naschy — at least when he’s in the writer’s and director’s chairs — we get a film rife with Universal homages. Here, under the pens n’ lens of Jose Luis Merino, we have an effective, Italian-Spanish variant on the atmospheric-purposeful, “historical” Gothic dramas of old: to that end: if you’ve burnt out on your repeated views of ’50s and ’60s Hammer flicks (moi), you’ll have a fresh, homage-watch to the British horrors of old.

The overall effectiveness of this obscurity in the Spanish horror realms is Merino’s artful juxtaposition of the beauty of the (nineteenth-century) Spanish countryside with the bizarre-cum-sinister, red herring-rife noir dealings. Naschy, again, while only in a support role, relishes the tastelessness of his necro-creep and, as result, this slides nicely amid my Naschy-quartet favorites of Horror Rises from the Tomb, Panic Beats, Inquisition, and The People Who Own the Dark.

You can watch this as a with-ads stream — via Charles Band’s Full Moon Studio — on Tubi. For an ad-free experience, Full Moon offers it on their Amazon Prime page. The Tubi-version runs at one hour thirty-eight minutes; Full Moon’s at thirty-four.

The 2009 DVD reissue by Troma (just seeing their logo makes me ill) includes an audio commentary with Jose Luis Merino and an interview with Paul Naschy. As result of the common denominator of Dyanik Zurakowska, the DVD also features her work in Sid Pink’s The Sweet Sound of Death (1965), directed by Spain’s Javier Seto (best known to U.S audiences for the 1963 sword-and-sandals flick, The Castilian). Emptor the caveats: While the transfer stinks, Troma (claims) their DVD presents the long, uncut version; complete with nudity, it runs at one hour thirty-one minutes. However, how Troma’s is the “Definite Cut” (as advertised on the box), when it’s shorter than the Tubi/Amazon versions, is anyone’s guess.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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