Did you know that necrophilia is a Class A misdemeanor in New York City? Did you know hopping a turnstile in NYC is also a Class A misdemeanor? Did you know that that fact makes me very uncomfortable? Well, it’s all par for the curse in The Hanging Woman (1973), what some would call required Spanish horror viewing.
So what makes this gothic-style 1970s horror required viewing? Well the fact that it is steeped in atmosphere, is genuinely pretty nasty, has enough oddness to give it character, and that it features a waning Spanish horror legend – Paul Naschy.
Director Jose Luis Merino has a longer history with action and adventure films, but he did leave behind this horror entry and Scream of the Demon Lover (1973) for fans…and these two horror films have taken on a cult status for many horror fans.
The original title, The Orgy of the Living Dead, hits a little too literal for comfort, but on the whole, what we have here a well-scored, nicely acted romp that engages an audience more than some of its zombie brethren during the decade. The Spaniards have always been lovers: lovers of hard-won love, hard work, and hard…other things, shall we say.
Over the years the film has also been released under the alternative titles ‘Terror of the Living Dead‘, ‘Beyond the Living Dead‘, ‘Zombie 3: Return of the Living Dead’, and even more bizarrely, ‘Dracula Terror of the Living Dead‘.
No Noose is Good Noose:
The plot is a Gothic style romp where the setting is 19th-century Scotland, and a woman is found (wait for it…wait for it…) hanging from a tree in a cemetery. But evidence doesn’t point to suicide, but rather (wait for it…wait for it…) murder.
Stan Cooper (Stelvio Rosi), the hanging woman’s nephew, has come to the town to sort out her will. But her death isn’t the only passing that is rattling the small town and causing stress and tension among the residents. Far from it: there are plenty of undead roaming, and a devil-worshipping coven (my favorite type of coven, really) may lie at the center of it all. Once things deteriorate and go sufficiently crazy, Cooper buddies up with blonde bombshell Doris (Dyanik Zurakowska) to try and blow the whole undead popsicle stand.
Actor and Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy (who is most famous for playing Spanish versions of the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, and Dracula) plays only a supporting role as a grave robber, despite his top billing in advertisements for the film. But it’s his performance that opens the door to one of The Hanging Woman’s main themes: necrophilia. Yep, his character messes around with fresh cadavers until he ends up among them in a way he never intended. A truly bizarre “spinning sex scene” is edited together with scenes of the grave robber doing what he does best — aside from robbing graves.
Not unlike Hellraiser (1987), you get the feeling there was more explicit content planned here, either in script or intention, but circumstances lead to a severely watered-down, somewhat confusing sexy byproduct. No matter: the whole thing still supplies the frights and scares.
The locations and cinematography adds a real Hammer Horror feel to the movie, the scenery is creepy and soaked in atmosphere and as a viewer it is easy to believe that an afternoon stroll in the the bleak and unwelcoming countryside will only lead to a nasty discovery.
The slow pace and plot twists makes the whole film a Gothic drama, and the fact that the zombies are kept off the screen for the bulk of the film only adds to their unsettling effect when they do appear. Any viewers brought up on Hollywood horror, fast-paced scares and CGI blood will quickly lose patience with The Hanging Woman, but those viewers that appreciate suspense and off-kilter oddness will find some rewarding moments.
When the zombies do appear, the undead in The Hanging Woman have that overdone, too white makeup thing going on, but Merino makes up for it with subtly nice blood work in his gore and a twisty, turny plot that lines up quite nicely. And I’ll say the zombie choreographer hit it just right: most of the time, the ghouls slowly trudge along. But when the moment arises for a quick stabbing, they’re ready and raring to go. Tolerable and weird enough to watch at a wee hour with friends, The Hanging Woman is nasty, atmospheric, and fans of 70s Gothic-horror will find enough to enjoy here that they will be able to turn a blind eye to the weaker moments. Check it out.
The good news is that the film has been picked up by Troma and is still being distributed, so it isn’t too hard to get hold of, as this could have easily become one of those forgotten films that sink without trace….which, despite not being a classic, would have still been a real shame.
Watch the trailer for The Hanging Woman:
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Written by: Ben Mueller