The Hanging Woman (1973 Spain)

hanging-woman-3Inspired by Italian Gothic horror and Hammer movies, the film mostly benefits from its ultra-creepy set pieces and scenery: like abandoned cemeteries, sinister vaults and secret passageways in old Victorian houses. These Euro-horror trademarks in combination with a couple of provocatively depraved undertones, makes this an interesting little gem.

This is way above-average for a Paul Naschy film – the best I have watched so far. Though his own part is secondary, even brief, it is undeniably interesting. The premise is hardly novel, what with the zombie outbreak at its center. Given the period setting, the fact that the monsters are (refreshingly) of the slave rather than flesh-eating variety, and numerous subplots that include a family inheritance, a mad doctor, the practice of black magic and necrophilia, the result is most enjoyable and reasonably accomplished of its type.

Serge Chekov, a pompous young man with a weird haircut, arrives in a remote Scottish highland town to listen to the testament reading of his deceased uncle. He walks past the cemetery and literally stumbles upon the body of a lifeless woman hanging from a tree. It’s quite funny how only at this point the title appears on screen even though the film’s already running for a good twelve minutes. The woman turns out to be murdered, which isn’t surprising as there are morbid occurrences and deranged inhabitants in this little town.

1973

Chekov meets with a black magic practicing aunt, an amateur scientist reviving dead frogs, blackmailing servants and a necrophiliac grave digger. Even more disturbing is the fact that the dead in this town regularly emerge from their tombs to scare the hell out of the living. “The Hanging Woman” has a fantastic atmosphere and multiple terrific “weirdo” moments, like a surreal sex sequence and Paul Naschy fondling female cadavers in a severe state of decomposition. There also are some flashes of nail-biting suspense, most notably the séance and the exhumation of the deceased uncle.

The finale is horrific, with petrifying zombies and bloodshed. The make-up effects on the zombies are effectively nasty and vile, like they did it best in contemporary European horror flicks. Weirdness, sleaze, filth and a perverted Paul Naschy … What more could you wish for? A coherent plot for starters but I won’t complain about that. The film actually starts with an old man’s funeral which is immediately followed by the murder of his daughter and heir (the titular victim)! After some typical scared villagers antics, the leading man falls foul first of the majordomo and, then, gravedigger Naschy (who is himself seduced by the medium).

Soon to appear on the scene are the flustered Mayor and a no-nonsense Police Inspector (investigating the mysterious death, his prime suspects are weirdo Naschy and newcomer Cooper). Though the identity of the real villain is ingeniously revealed, I arrived at that conclusion long before – and there is even a nice twist ending. But for most people unfamiliar with old Spanish gothic cinema this is definitely a WTF?! film.

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