Spanish gothic horror and Paul Naschy are a bit of an obsession for me (second only to my love of Pinky Violence and Pink films from Japan), so as you can imagine I was more than a bit bummed when BCI closed its doors, resulting in no new releases in their fantastic Spanish horror line. I never thought I’d get my next fix courtesy of Troma, but that’s exactly the company behind the release of The Hanging Woman, and I’m so glad that they’ve decided to do so; this is one solid entry into the realm of Spanish horror.
After his wealthy uncle kicks the bucket, Serge Chekov returns to his home town to collect his inheritance. While looking for the family’s estate, he stumbles across a hanging woman in a cemetery and soon finds out it was his cousin. Things turn from bad to worse when it comes to light that she was to inherit the family’s house, and if anything happened to her, it would go to Serge; of course this raises some questions, especially when an autopsy shows the woman was dead before being hanged. But there are a lot of other suspects in and around this bizarre family, including the deceased’s much younger and clearly nasty widow who uses her body to try and persuade Serge to sell the house immediately, a former colleague of Serge’s uncle whom is currently conducting experiments in reanimating the dead, a butler that seems to think he has a say in things, and the local gravedigger that is always lurking around the house and has eyes only for the corpses he buries. Heads will roll and blood will be spilled before any light is shed on this mystery.
Originally titled The Orgy of the Dead, The Hanging Woman is just that in many respects; a raucous good time with a ton of debauchery to indulge in. Like most gothic horror fare, it takes a bit to get moving, but once it does it never stops, and fans of the genre are likely accustomed to the early languid pacing of these films anyway so it’s hardly a detriment. To be quite honest, the slower sections of the film give the viewer an opportunity to become completely absorbed by the film’s thick atmosphere and wonderful locales and set design. Director José Luis Merino doesn’t half-ass the elements that should be prevalent in a gothic horror flick: decayed buildings, shadowy corridors, heavy fog, creepy cemeteries, cob-web blanketed houses; it’s all here in droves and is utilized to great effect.
Personally I didn’t know very much about The Hanging Woman going in; Naschy is about all the information I need to be interested in a film, so where things ultimately led was quite a surprise and a definite change of pace from most films of this nature. There’s an overtly sci-fi tone to The Hanging Woman, one that harkens back to the early days of Universal horror where mad scientists and experiments gone wrong were the norm for gothic-tinged horror flicks. The film is also quite nasty and exploitive in a number of respects, and Merino isn’t afraid to lay on the gore or the full-frontal nudity for some cheap but satisfying thrills. It doesn’t hurt that the make-up effects are particularly good in The Hanging Woman. They come by way of Julian Ruiz, who Naschy proclaims as the greatest FX man to ever come out of Spain in one of the included special features. I’m sure that’s up for debate, but it’s hard to argue with the results in this film, and seeing that the man also worked on make-up for films such as A Bell from Hell and Horror Rises from the Tomb, maybe Naschy isn’t too far off.
As I’ve stated a couple of times already, I’m a big Naschy mark, so I was a bit letdown when I realized his role in The Hanging Woman is a small one. He’s headlined only on the posters and DVD’s because he’s obviously the most recognizable cast member to international audiences. All was fine though once I saw how different a role this was for Naschy. Playing the part of Igor, gone is the suave, smooth-talking pretty boy with a dark secret from the majority of his films, and in his place is a depraved gravedigger who cares for the bodies he buries a little too deeply. He steals every scene he’s in, and it’s a nice change of pace from what we’re generally served from a Naschy role. Yet therein lies the one problem I had with The Hanging Woman: the film could have been that much better had Naschy been given the starring role, which was instead handed to Stelvio Rosi. Now, I don’t know if it’s Rosi himself or the script, but the character he plays, Serge Chekov, is one of the most unlikeable protagonists I’ve come across in some time. He’s arrogant, pompous, and a flat-out asshole for much of the film. There’s enough going on from Naschy and the other cast members that I was able to overlook it and enjoy things, but I could definitely see some people being turned off by the film due to this err in judgment. Some people just can’t get into a film if they can’t relate to the character we’re supposed to be rooting for, and I can guarantee you’ll be hoping that Serge gets it rather than emerges victorious.
While not among the elite Spanish gothic offerings, The Hanging Woman is still unique and entertaining enough that it distinguishes itself from the pack, making it a worthwhile viewing for fans of the genre as well as horror aficionados in general. If you’re a Naschy fan, this is a no-brainer (even though he’s relegated to the supporting cast), and the striking imagery throughout should please the discerning cinephile’s eye.
Troma continues to impress in 2009 with another stacked release that just screams to be a part of your collection. By no fault of Troma, elements for The Hanging Woman were in bad shape with nothing remotely ideal to work with, so what we’re given is sourced from an unmatted 1.33:1 video master. Even so, it appears that Troma has done everything in their power to make this look as good as possible. There are sections, most notably the beginning and ending minutes of the film, that look quite bad with tons of noise, washed-out colors and a lack of sharpness. But the bulk of the transfer looks pretty decent, and when compared to many cheap-o public domain DVD’s, it definitely surpasses them. Audio is basically in the same shape, although all dialogue is clear, albeit a bit muffled and a low but not distracting hum present throughout. For those wondering, the film is offered up in English only.
Making up for the disappointing quality of the feature is a wealth of extras that’s sure to please everyone. First up is a feature commentary from director José Luis Merino which is pretty good, and ranges in topics from locations and gore FX to the nudity in the film and friction on the set between the actors who were apparently going off and sleeping with one another every day when shooting was wrapped! Merino also appears in a 20-minute sit-down interview which covers some of the same topics, but it’s nice to put a face to the voice. Paul Naschy appears in a 14-minute interview segment himself, and he talks about the input he put into his character of Igor and his thoughts on his career as a whole, which may come off as a bit arrogant, but he’s Paul Naschy, man! Also included is a 10-minute featurette going over Naschy’s career which is great for fans and has only caused me grief to how many of his fantastic-looking flicks are unreleased. Rounding out the extras are a trailer and gallery of promotional art for the film.
If that all isn’t enough for you, how about a whole other film? Yep, Troma has been nice enough to include a second bonus feature, The Sweet Sound of Death. I really have no idea why it’s included, but it’s more Spanish gothic horror, so I’m not complaining! The film, from 1965 and directed by Javier Setó, is about a couple who have sworn to one another that if either of them dies, they’ll do whatever they can to return so they can prepare the one left behind for the afterlife. Not surprisingly, the woman dies shortly thereafter and surreal hijinks ensue. The film is actually quite good, and like The Hanging Woman, a bit different than what we’re used to from Spanish gothic horror; in fact, the film feels more like something you’d expect from the 60’s French horror scene. It’s black and white, amazingly shot, and has some great atmosphere. And guess what? Even the bonus film has its own extra! It’s an interview with dubbing director Ben Tatar entitled “The Sweet Sound of Dubbing”, and it’s an interesting watch, as we hear why certain films were chosen to be exported and about the art of dubbing in general, which during the 60's and 70's had far more quality control than these days. All this for under $10…seriously, support Troma!
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