Friday, May 2, 2008

The Hanging Woman (1973): or, Life Tastes Better with a Dash o' Nash

Is there any movie you can think of, in any genre or any era, that a brief appearance by Paul Naschy would not make better? Imagine him as one of the bar patrons in Casablanca; one of the background gypsies in The Wolf Man; a burly biker in Easy Rider; wearing a letterman jacket in Revenge of the Nerds or sporting an Ewok costume in Return of the Jedi. As great as all those movies are, I defy you to say that a little dash o' Nash would not make them just a little bit more flavorful. He is truly the MSG of cinema.

I was a little concerned when I started 1973's The Hanging Woman (aka La Orgia de los Muertos) that this might be a Naschy flick that wasn't a Naschy flick. After all, he didn't write it, nor did he direct. He wasn't even the top-billed star! How could it possibly live up to the greatnesses of Horror Rises from the Tomb or Fury of the Wolfman?

Well, it couldn't, but that's okay--nothing can. Luckily, taken on its own, The Hanging Woman is a fun, frantic, and slightly goofy old house mystery/monster romp, with plenty of gore and copious amounts of Euroskin for your viewing delectation. And when you add in that little smidgen of Jacinto, it becomes quite a tasty dish indeed.

We open in a somber cemetery, where the local Count is being laid to rest amongst the wails of his household. Jacinto is in full effect right away as Igor (yes!) the gravedigger/cemetery attendant whose job it is to seal the deceased in the crypt. Paul is looking quite dirty and dangerous here, and his charisma of course overwhelms everything else.

After the crypt is sealed, however, a mysterious woman is seen sneaking among the tombstones. (I think I recognized her as one of the zombies from Vengeance of the Zombies, actually.) She enters the Count's crypt and takes a document from the corpse's jacket, and is apparently shocked by its import. Before she can fully react, however, an ominous shadow passes over her. She pulls out a gun (!) and shoots, but then screams and falls back under the shadow's portentous weight.

Meanwhile, the next day...the young nephew of the Count, Mr. Chekhov, has come to town to attend the reading of the will and stun the townspeople with his luxurious blonde locks. None of the superstitious villagers will transport him to the manor after dark, though, so he must walk past the cemetery on his own, with only his own chrome-plated heater for company. Entering the cemetery--on a whim, apparently--he discovers the corpse of the woman from scene one, hanging from one of the graveyard trees! She is...THE HANGING WOMAN! And so we get the film's credits--the title of the movie, complete with a cartoon noose, and nothing else. Moving on...

"If you like this body, and you think I'm sexy.."

Next we get a flies-eye view of the hanging woman's autopsy, which is nicely graphic for a film of this vintage, if a little brightly colored. Meanwhile, back at the manor house, we learn that young Mr. Chekhov has inherited everything, leaving the nymphomaniac Countess, the live-in houseman/scientist, and the scientist's hawt blonde daughter wondering what their positions will be. The slighted parties storm off, leaving Chekhov to deal with a Pete-Jackson-esque police inspector, who informs us that the hanging woman, who was apparently the Count's niece, died not of hanging, but of heart attack--she was literally SCARED TO DEATH! The countess spies on this exchange through a peephole in the floor of her room/ceiling of the parlor, while Igor also watches through a peephole in his catacombs, whose location in the house is unclear.

The countess, hoping to stave off her depression at being written out of the will, summons Igor with incense and a striptease in her room, which he can magically see through the exact same peephole he was using the scene before. When she puts on a shroud and lies down in a corpse-pose, Igor can resist no longer and appears in the room, as if by magic. Mere walls cannot stand between a necrophiliac Paul and his passion! Igor's a necro with a conscience, thoguh, and in the end he can't be unfaithful to the stiffs he's got squirreled away back in the tombs. He leaves the Countess resuscitated and frustrated. A subsequent scene in which he makes his apologies to his decomposing debutantes is more than a little screwed up, but in the most awesome way possible.

Inspector Jackson is on the case, though, and immediately investigates Igor's pad, a Eurocop who for once demonstrates good police work by going straight for the most obvious suspect. Shocking! They discover that the gravedigger is also a shutterbug, with many examples of stunningly composed decompositions--yes, it's a stash of corpse porn. Even more damning to the inspector, apparently, is the ladies' underwear Igor has stowed in a dresser--"The scoundrel!" And so the manhunt is on! Igor flees, however, and no puny municipal police force can track him once he's loose in the tombs.

"Dead yet? No? That's okay, I can wait..."

Back at the manor, we see the countess doing voodoo on a wax doll (?!) before being interrupted by a lovelorn butler with hair like a 70s country star. After a cryptic exchange THEY are interrupted by young Chekhov, who enters into a war of words with the butler (it seems the countess is doing EVERYONE, and her attentions to the young lord of the manor make the jealous butler go ape), which quickly devolves into fisticuffs and a knife fight! Talk about disgruntled! The Battling Butler's no match for the Blond Bomber, though, as the new Count sends him off with a Van Damme-worthy one-liner: "You're DISMISSED!" *Pow!* The countess's bosoms heave appropriately as the count retires for the night.

Or DOES he? After Chekhov bares his hairy chest for the ladies in the audience, Igor appears again like a phantom, swearing his innocence! Still hopped up on adrenaline, the count attacks the gravedigger. Big mistake--Paul is no wimpy butler, and quickly embarrasses the aristocrat with a kick to the chops before fleeing into whatever ether he sprung from. You've been PWNED, Chekky.

It's not all bad for Chekhov, though, as the countess immediately invites him into her room (wink-wink), to show him her witchcraft supplies and boobages. It's here that the cinematography, up until now pretty unremarkable, goes buck wild, as we get one of the wildest whoopee scenes you could hope for--pale nekkid bodies on a solid black velvet background, as the camera twirls and whirls and swishes around like Sam Raimi on meth! By the time the director cuts to Igor romancing the stitched-up remains of our titular tit-bearer, I was dizzy and more than a little aroused.

Thus endeth the first day at the new house!

"Man, this is SO much better than the youth hostel!"

You'd think the action would flag after that frenetic first night, but Chekov has no sooner sat down to breakfast when the houseman/doctor invites him into his basement laboratory to show him the experiments the dead Count was bankrolling. They're naturally to do with post-mortem survival, and after being shown a zombie frog (!), the young Count agrees to continue to fund this important research.

So to recap--the gravedigger is a necrophiliac panty-raider and an amateur pornographer, the countess is a nymphomaniac witch and voodoo priestess, and the houseman is a mad scientist. It's like a soap opera, but with corpse-banging! Wahey!

Bu-bu-but wait, it gets worse! Shortly thereafter the scientist's daughter Doris, who's been living there and serving as a maid while her daddy works, comes into Chekhov’s room to convince him to allow her father and herself to stay on the household payroll. To seal the deal, she lets him know she's willing and able to go down for the Count. He plays along and allows her to strip to her bloomers and go bodiceless before letting her in on the gag--he's already agreed to keep then on! She could have stayed clothed! Hahahaha! She is upset, but gets over it quickly. That girl, she's a real sport.

"Bracula? WTF?"

Meanwhile, the investigation continues. Chekhov, acting on a tip from the hanged niece's diary (why don't the police have THAT piece of evidence?) goes to the crypt and discovers that the count's body is gone! When the countess overhears this info, she suggests they hold a séance to ask the deceased niece wtf is up. Sure, why not--what's the worst that could happen? Paul watches evilly from his interdimensional crawlspace while the witchy woman summons the dead--too well! The dead count appears and throttles her like a turkey before disappearing, causing the concealed Paul to wig out and flee! (Nota bene: Paul's acting here was so good it made me pee a little.)

So is the Count alive, or dead, Inspector Jackson wants to know? The mystery is easily solved with a trip to the crypt, where they discover the Count's grave now full of rotting aristocrat! WTF? They also find Igor tragically dead in a tomb, though he's helpfully scrawled a clue in his own blood to point to his murderer. Unfortunately for the police, Igor's clue proves a bit too...(wait for it)..."cryptic."

See, cuz he's in the...hokay, never mind.

Not to be dissuaded by the mounting body count, Chekhov and Doris go investigating in the catacombs, only to be confronted by a zombie horde! All possibility of a human murderer goes out the window as the maggot-ridden corpses of both the Hanging Woman and the knife-wielding butler (and a few other nameless dead) attack our heroes. They escape, barely, and soon the mad doctor is confessing to having raised the dead for power and esteem, or something. Then he unveils his secret weapon--ZOMBIE PAUL! YES! Igor has become that which he desired so much in life, and though his life after life is short, he exits spectacularly with a shovel-chop head-drop.

No mere mortal can resist the awesome of the Naschy.

The zombies are still attacking, though, and in the confusion Chekhov and Doris get separated. Doris tries to outwit the undead by lying on top of a tomb and playing dead, a plan which spectacularly and hilariously FAILS! I LOL’d, I admit. In a nick of time Chekhov and the cops show up and immolate the dead, leaving the catacombs in flames and the doctor devoured by his own creations.

the epilogue puts a nice bow on things, as Doris claims her dad's charred body for burial, but no one notices that the driver of the hearse is a worm-eaten pile of putrescence, in fact the old dead butler. We see the doctor's blue fingers opening his coffin as it is driven away, and that's how our macabre little story ends, leaving the audience awash in awesome.

As you can tell, this movie has the kitchen-sink thing pumping. I can't help thinking that even without Paul's writing and directing prowess, he had to have influenced some of the energetic craziness that The Hanging Woman possesses in spades. Though the cinematography is pretty uninteresting (with the exception of that amazing love scene), the bang-bang-bang of the story's developments always keeps a goofy Eurohorror fan happy, and there is more than the quota of gorgeous nekkidity in this one as well--a bonus. When you add Paul's amazing performance as Igor, well, this one scores an easy 3+ thumbs.

My only regret is that I don't have this on dvd--the vhs I got (for 75 cents plus postage) had major tracking issues, and I constantly had to adjust the tracking to keep the static lines near the top or bottom of the screen. Still, the box it came in is almost worth it, with a pic of zombie Paul on the back and superb hyperbole throughout the synopsis ("It's worse than your worst nightmare! An obvious precursor to Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Don't watch it in the dark!") Bonus: Paul is credited as "Paul Nash" here, and the movie was written by "Jack Daniels"! I'll just bet it was!

Now, if the rumored Paul Naschy/Christopher Lee production of Don Quixote could just come to fruition, oh was a buffet of greatness we'd be in for. In the meantime, seek this one out, and be sure to have your napkins handy.

"Thanks, Countess, but this isn't quite what I meant."

1 comment:

Mr. Karswell said...

A favorite of mine too... I have it on DVD but it's taken from the old video print and looks it. Still if you want a disc copy I'll send it your way.

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