The Hanging Woman: Igor vs. Gotho

The Hanging Woman directed by Jose Luis MerinoThe Hanging Woman directed by Jose Luis Merino

The Hanging Woman directed by Jose Luis MerinoPaul Naschy, the so-called “Boris Karloff of Spain,” was apparently very proud of the work he turned in for Jose Luis Merino’s 1973 cult favorite The Hanging Woman. In an interview taped for the Troma DVD release, shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer in 2009, Naschy revealed that he initially turned the part down, only accepting after Merino allowed him to add some “dimensionality” to the small role of Igor, a grave digger who is murdered shortly after the film’s midpoint. Naschy rewrote the part, making Igor a necrophilic grave digger (has there EVER been a “normal” character named Igor in the history of the horror film?) who still has a maximum of a dozen lines in the picture. Rather, The Hanging Woman centers around the character of Serge Chekhov (an unappealing performance by Stelvio Rosi), who comes to what I inferred to be an early 20th century Alpine village (although the IMDb says the film takes place in Scotland, for some reason, and the picture was actually shot in Lleida, in the west Catalonia region of Spain) to hear the reading of his deceased uncle’s will. Once in the creepy village of Skopje, however, horrible things begin to happen to Chekhov. He discovers his cousin Mary’s body hanging from a tree, while his stepaunt Nadia (the beautiful redheaded Maria Pia Conte) turns out to be a sorceress of sorts. His uncle’s live-in business partner, Prof. Droila (Gerard Tichy, giving the film’s best performance), is experimenting on the “nebulous electricity” of cadavers in the hopes of bringing the dead to life, while no one seems to know what that creepy Igor is up to. Good thing for Chekhov that both Nadia and Droila’s beautiful blonde daughter, Doris (Dyanik Zurakowska), are for some reason attracted to the unlikable galoot…

A Spanish/Italian coproduction, The Hanging Woman was originally released under the title La Orgia de los Muertos (Orgy of the Dead); I’d like to imagine that its name was changed here in the U.S. to avoid confusion with the Ed Wood stinker of 1965, also called Orgy of the Dead. Merino’s film is a satisfying affair, boasting many staples of the horror genre, such as rats, cemeteries, a secret passage, zombies and subterranean crypts. It also dishes out, for the avid gorehound, that truly nasty shot of the titular hanging woman, a hard-to-look-at autopsy dissection and disemboweling, maggots on a disinterred corpse, and those impressively decomposed walking dead … not to mention a decapitation that Naschy was apparently also very proud of. The ladies are lovely to look at, and Merino manages to give his film some interesting directorial touches (such as that camera revolving around lovers Nadia and Chekhov). Naschy tells us that The Hanging Woman is Merino’s best film, and not having seen any of Merino’s others, who am I to argue?

The Hanging Woman directed by Jose Luis MerinoIn this same interview, Naschy speaks at some length regarding the similarity of the Igor character here to that of Gotho, the part that he played in that same year’s The Hunchback of the Morgue (a superior film, I feel). I could not quite understand Naschy’s comments here, so poorly were the subtitles rendered in this section, but must say that I personally see a great difference between the two characters. Gotho does not strike me as a true necrophiliac, as the deluded, simpleminded hunchback only believes his dead love, Ilse, to be “asleep.” Igor, on the other hand, is truly perverted, refusing the libidinous attentions of living, breathing women in favor of the decayed corpses in his underground lair, and collecting women’s underwear and photographs of cadavers; a TRULY creepy character, brought to indelible life by Naschy, despite a dearth of screen time.

As for this Troma DVD itself, it sports a so-so-looking print, poorly dubbed, that is nevertheless supposedly the most complete print in existence, and comes loaded with a remarkable roster of extras: interviews with Naschy and Merino, as well as Spanish-dubbing director Ben Tatar; commentary by Merino; a 10-minute overview called “Paul Naschy 101”; plus a trailer, copious galleries of stills and posters, AND a whole, separate, full-length, B&W Spanish film from 1965, also featuring Zurakowska, called The Sweet Sound of Death. An extremely generous package, reasonably priced, of a film that all fans of Paul Naschy — and Eurohorror, in general — should pounce upon like a zombie on a victim…

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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