Wednesday, September 30, 2009

DVD Review: THE HANGING WOMAN (1973)


With the possible exception of those who were directly employed by the company, no one was more saddened than the Duke and I when Deimos DVD went belly-up. In the company's short but vibrant history, Deimos released several gorgeously-presented, extras-laden sets focusing on 70s Spanish exploitation, which of course heavily featured the works of the patron saint of Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies, Paul Naschy. We had hopes that the Mighty Mighty Molina's vast reserves of unreleased cinematic awesome would eventually see the light of day under the company's loving care. Alas, it was not to be--and though the DVDs they did produce still stand as the definitive digital versions of the films, the Duke and Vicar despaired of anyone else ever taking up the mantle and bringing more Paul to the general public.

So you can imagine my delight when I went to the Vicarage's post-box earlier this week and found there Troma Team's recent release of The Hanging Woman (aka La Orgia de los Muertos), a Naschy-starring obscurity of just the sort I'd despaired of ever seeing released again. And when I put the DVD in the Vicar-ious player to check out the presentation and found a frankly stunning array of well-produced extras (all the more shocking given the DVD's budget-conscious price tag), my delight turned instantly into near-orgasmic glee.

Yes, I'm pleased to report that Troma Team has done more than right by this entertaining Naschy romp, and for fans of the Spanish Master of Horror, this has to be in contention for the DVD release of the year. And even if you're not (yet) a Naschy fan, the disc is more than worth the ten bucks it'll cost to immerse yourself in sweet Euroshock goodness.

Corpse-paint obviously applied *prior* to beard growth.

I've already reviewed the movie itself previously on Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies (you can read that scintillating piece of cinematic criticism by clicking here), but here's the low-down: Paul plays a necrophiliac gravedigger named Igor (of course), wrongly accused of a series of mysterious murders in the rural village where he lives and works. Outsider Serge Chekov (Stan Cooper) arrives and quickly becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the local aristocracy--intrigues that include Black Magic, Mad Science, and swingin' psychadelic sex. Throw in a zombie-horde ending (headed by Zombie Paul!) and you've got a recipe for a good time.

The image quality here is not as pristine as those on the Deimos discs, which is probably due to both the state of the original prints and the budget price tag. Don't get me wrong, it looks fine--a definite improvement over the VHS version I originally reviewed--but it's not going to knock you out with its clarity and colors. Certain scenes have very prominent specks and scratches, while others range from decent to pretty darn good. It's presented in full-frame, though certain scenes in the extras show a larger aspect ratio--however, those shots are of markedly lower quality than the feature print. Given the state of much obscure grindhouse-era filmstock, it's not an exaggeration to say this is likely as good as the film has ever looked on home video.

At least you can *see* it, right?

It's in the extras, though, that the release really delivers. I'm still pretty amazed at what the Troma Team has put together here, especially given the MSRP. There's the original theatrical trailer and a photo gallery of lobby cards, of course; then, for Naschy fans, there's a wonderful 15-minute interview with the man himself, obviously recorded recently, in which he discusses the movie, his contributions to the development of the character of Igor, his acting vs. directing philosophy, and the unifying themes in his career. It's fascinating stuff, and Naschy's joy and enthusiasm for the genre shines through at every turn. A great, informative interview, and worth the $10 alone.

Also included is a 10-minute featurette entitled "Naschy 101," written and presented by Shane M. Dallman. This short was produced specifically for the Troma Team release, and offers a concise, fact-filled overview of Naschy's career and influence. Dallman's delivery is rather stiff and wonkish, and those who are already fanatics will already know most of the info presented, but it's definitely a must-watch for the Naschy neophyte.

Naschy explains the ins-and-outs of his Contractural Boob-Touching Rider

There's a 20-minute interview with director José Luis Merino, who also recorded a feature-length commentary. Merino is a hoot to listen to, very energetic and enthusiastic despite his advanced years. His borderline crotchety reflections on the economics of movie-making in 70s Spain is as funny as it is informative, and his tendency to step on the mediator's questions during the commentary reflects his cinematic passion. He also has some things to say about necrophilia, nudity, and the difference between horror films and porn that are worth checking out.

As if that weren't enough, also included on the disc is a bonus feature film, Sweet Sound of Death, which I'd never heard of but looks interesting enough to perhaps merit its own review further down the road. Finally, there's a short interview (produced by Ultra Violent Magazine and magGot films) with actor/director Ben Tatar, who directed the English dubbing of hundreds of European exploitation films in the 70s, including The Hanging Woman, Sweet Sound of Death, and Horror Rises from the Tomb. I was expecting this to be a boring feature, but Tatar is unexpectedly fascinating: he's been fired by Jackie Gleason, was friends with Gene Kelly, and had an at least professional (and possibly more--Tatar is rather coy on the point) relationship with Ava Gardner. His reminiscences and anecdotes are well worth the 12 minutes it takes to watch the interview.*

On the Prowl

*Strangely, on my copy of the DVD, the Tatar interview plays twice consecutively--whether this is a DVD glitch or something to do with the Vicar's antiquated DVD player, I'm not sure.

All in all, this is a fantastic release from Troma Team, and with the astonishingly low sticker price, there's no reason every horror/exploitation fan in the U.S. shouldn't rush out and pick up a copy right now. (In fact, buy two and give one to a friend. They'll thank you, believe me.) And here's hoping that Troma Team will pick up where Deimos left off and start plucking more Naschy treasures from obscurity to give them their proper respect. I know I'll be watching!

There she is, folks.


6 comments:

Jenn said...

Okay, this is a MUST BUY, even though I have the VHS and avi file (courtesy of you, my dear), but the EXTRAS! The EXTRAS! I'm ever so excited.

Everyone needs to take Naschy 101. :)

Geo said...

Thanks for the reminder, V., I’d forgotten this was coming out. Just read your review – sounds like a roller-coaster of WTF. I ask you this, though: Who – if they were a swarthy gravedigger named Igor – wouldn’t exorcise the workaday ennui by indulging in the occasional necrophilia? One could hardly keep one’s head held high amongst fellow professionals and do otherwise.
Yes, Deimos is missed. I’ve picked up a couple of their discs and the presentation is tasty indeed. Sad. So much Naschy yet to tap.
All the heartier kudos to Troma, then. Although I wished they’d used the striking hanging woman poster art for their cover. A piffle of a quibble though, given their obvious efforts with the extras and pricing. Well done.

Samuel Wilson said...

As it happens, I bought the DVD just as your article was appearing, during a day trip to NYC and the surviving Kim's Video store, where it was down to $7.99. Haven't watched the film yet, but will review it soon. I have watched Naschy 101 and the great man's interview. Both were quite entertaining.

Marc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marc said...

Hello! I'm the one who directed Naschy and Merino's interviews for the DVD, as well as the audio commentary. All this stuff was filmed on August 5th. 2009 in Madrid, Spain, if you want this info. Hope you enjoy it! [sorry I deleted it previously -my mistake!]

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Jenn--this should definitely be in every Jacintophile's collection. And I *know* you love the Naschy, perhaps almost as much as the Duke and I. Almost. ;)

@Geo--the cover art Troma used is in fact one of the original poster variants (complete with "Last House on the Left" tagline rip-off), but I agree that the painted Hanging Woman art from the VHS tape is much more aesthetically pleasing. Still, I'm not complaining. :)

@Samuel Wilson--can't wait to read your take on this one! While Naschy didn't write the script, his influence is felt throughout, which is a very good thing.

@Marc--thanks for commenting, and for the info! You did a great job on the interviews--thanks for that too! I am SOOOOO jealous that you actually got to talk to Naschy. There are few things I wouldn't sacrifice to get some conversation time with the Mighty Mighty Molina myself...next time you see him, tell him the Vicar loves him! :D

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