Director: José Luis Merino

Originally known as La orgía de los muertos (“The Orgy of the Dead”), this Spanish/Italian co-production played theaters in the U.S. as both THE HANGING WOMAN (the title they settled on for this DVD) and BEYOND THE LIVING DEAD, and it was released on video under both of those, as well as RETURN OF THE ZOMBIES (or “Zombis” if you owned or rented the old Wizard Video release in the big ol’ box). To add further chaos to the various titling, it’s also known as TERROR OF THE LIVING DEAD, ZOMBIE 3: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and DRACULA THE TERROR OF THE LIVING DEAD, though what this picture has to do with Dracula is beyond me.

In a small Europeon village (which seems to be almost entirely taken up an endless cemetery) in the 19th century, suave blonde fellow Serge Checkhov (Italian actor Stelvio Rosi, billed as “Stanley Cooper”) arrives for the reading of his uncle’s will. The diseased man’s resting place is visited by his daughter (Aurora de Alba, the vampire countess from FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR), who is soon discovered dead and hanging from a tree by the traumatized Serge. In the meantime, Serge discovers he is to his inherit his uncle’s mansion, much to the dismay of the uncle's young widow Nadia (Maria Pia Conte, SPASMO) a bitchy type who likes to mess around with black magic. Since the police suspect the daughter’s hanging was murder and not suicide, they’re looking for a killer, and the main culprit is Igor (Paul Naschy) an idiot caretaker whose hobby is necrophilia and roaming the catacombs for cadavers both fresh and old. A doctor (Gérard Tichy, THE CORRUPTION OF CHRIS MILLER) performs strange reanimation experiments in a lab within the mansion, and his daughter (Dyanik Zurakowska, THE VAMPIRES’ NIGHT ORGY) also works as a servant, soon becoming the object of Serge’s affection. With a possible murderer on the loose, a sleazeball who likes to fondle and take photographs of female corpses and a lot of other domestic shenanigans occurring within the mansion’s walls, a macabre mystery unfolds which will no doubt be solved before the final reel.

THE HANGING WOMAN is not a Paul Naschy film per se, but rather an entertaining period Europeon horror film with a Paul Naschy guest appearance, and a memorable, scene-stealing one at that. I’m not saying that it’s for everyone’s tastes, but for anyone with a penchant for Spanish horror, this is essential viewing. The outdoor locations are terrifically gothic and the exteriors are well designed, giving the film a unique, old world ambience. Throw in some gore (a graphic autopsy and a violent decapitation), nudity (all of the female leads go topless), an irritating dandy of a leading man (Rosi comes off like a bleached version of Peter Wyngarde), Naschy as the demented corpse lover (nufsed) and a climatic appearance by the living dead, and you have something of a Euro horror trash classic. Director José Luis Merino is mostly associated with action/adventure pics (dealing with such legendary characters as Zorro and Tarzan), but by this time, he had already gotten his feet wet in the horror genre with SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER (aka BLOOD CASTLE, IVANNA), another late night favorite of gothic Spanish cinema.

Troma has unleashed THE HANGING WOMAN with box copy hyping it as “The Final Cut” and the fact that “Finally this lost masterpiece is given a proper release.” This is pretty much true, but video master sources are used for the transfer rather than the film’s original negative, which I assume is lost, but they have restored it here as complete as possible. The film is presented full frame, as it was apparently shot open matte for an intended 1.85:1 matting. The film commences with the “Hanging Woman” American titles, and appears to shift to a different (better) print source after the first 12 minutes or so. The most significantly noticeable shift in print sources (several others are minor) comes during an infamous beheading sequence towards the end. Overall, the picture is perfectly acceptable, though colors are at times a bit washed out and there is a minor flickering occasionally on screen. If you compare it to the Spanish-sourced footage used in several of the included supplementary interviews, you’ll be more than happy about the presentation here as a whole. Only the English language track is present, and it’s decent mono. The film ends with the original Spanish language titles.

The DVD’s producers did go out of their way to supply the film with an abundance of extras. First off, there a bonus feature: 1965’s THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH (La llamada), a black and white Spanish-made effort presented by our own Sidney Pink and directed by Javier Setó. Spanish-born Pablo (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba, billed as “Emil Cape”) is set to marry French girl Dominique (Dyanik Zurakowska, in case you didn’t get enough of her in THE HANGING WOMAN). At a cemetery, she tells Pablo that if either of them should suddenly die, the other will come back to help them prepare for the afterlife. Dominique is soon reported dead in an airplane disaster, but returns to Pablo, and then makes her exit again. Trying to convince a doctor that Dominique is still alive, he witnesses her presence at what is supposed to be her own funeral and later visits her ancestral house, which is full of ambiguity to say the least. Talky at times but running just under a reasonable 80 minutes, THE SWEET SOUND OF DEATH is an absorbing little nicely-shot film and a very welcomed extra on the disc. Also, the transfer looks pretty good, presented full frame with a good mono audio track of the English dubbed version.

Director José Luis Merino is on hand for a full running commentary, moderated by Diego Lopez, a Spanish magazine publisher. Speaking entirely in Spanish with accompanying English subtitles, Merino is one of those filmmakers who have a great memory for details, and Lopez is always on target with his questions, making for an enjoyable listen. Merino is also featured in a very thorough video interview (21:49) where he discusses everything from how the story for the film came to mind, his fondness for Naschy, the locations, the music, the make-up and even his shock on how the film has become a “little icon of horror cinema.” The man himself, Naschy, has his own solid video interview segment (14:29) where he mainly focuses on the film in question, noting that he made his character of Igor more lively by adding the necrophilia aspect himself. “The Sweet Sound of Dubbing” (12:44) is a very interesting interview with American Ben Tatar, who directed the English language dubs (in Madrid) for numerous Spanish films from 1968-1977, including a good number of Naschy entries (for some reason, the interview plays twice in its entirety, probably due to an authoring era). “Naschy 101” (9:59) has writer and Naschy expert Shane Dallman giving an overview of Naschy’s career, which will be most welcomed to those who don’t know much about our hero. Rounding out the extras is a lengthy still, poster and lobby card gallery (a poster for BABA YAGA accidentally slipped in – consider it a bonus!), the rare U.S. trailer under THE HANGING WOMAN and the DVD's credits.

Troma could have just slapped THE HANGING WOMAN onto DVD with no extras, but they went all out with the supplements and have delivered a decent transfer, making this a no-brainer purchase (retailing for below $10!) for any self respecting horror fan, especially Naschy completists. (George R. Reis)