|Italy||3 September 1973|
|France||13 February 1974|
|Spain||29 September 1975||(Madrid)|
|West Germany||5 August 1983|
Below: Vintage Wizard Video Big Box VHS...
This first way I experienced this Jose Luis Merino Spanish-Italian zombie film was via the vintage 1980s era WIZARD VIDEO BIG BOX VHS, RETURN OF THE ZOMBIES. The film includes Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy in a supporting, but important role, as a subnormal necrophile, Igor [what else?]. It's one of the actor's best performances. Sometimes less is better with Paul Naschy. And he didn't write the script for this production. The version titled THE HANGING WOMAN is sometimes cut of some gore and nudity on certain releases. There have been numerous VHS releases of this film, a completely uncut version remains difficult to come by and even the TROMA DVD is missing footage.
RETURN OF THE ZOMBIS [onscreen title: note how they drop the "E" from ZOMBIES] is briskly paced, filled with sharp, surprisingly literate dialogue [the excellent English language dubbing was supervised by the late Nick Alexander, who dubs several character's with his instantly recongnizable husky voice], and teeming with sleazy, suspicious characters who are well played by the Spanish-Italian cast. It's a unique non-supernatural zombie scenario which plays out more like a murder mystery with some science fiction elements added. Stelvio Rosi [Stan Cooper], usually a dull actor, is quite spirited here as the irritable Serge Chekov, who arrives in Skopje to claim his inhertance after the death of his uncle, the Count Mihalji. He is challenged by a surly butler (Carlos Quinney), the Count's very kinky widow (Maria Pia Conte)who likes to indulge in sick sex games with Naschy's necrophile while the late Count's scientific advisor, Leon [Gerard Tichy], turns out to be the mad scientist behind the zombie plague.
The Hanging Woman is played by the veteran Aurora De Alba, who is supposed to be Conte's stepdaughter, although she looks possibly 2 decades older. The film has numerous other release titles which can be found on the above IMDB page for the film.
Filmed at the studios Ballesteros with exteriors in very atmospheric locations in the Pyrenees, this looks like a much more reasonably resourced enterprise than it probably actually was. The very effectively used Francesco De Masi cues, familiar from such earlier Euro-gothics as KILL, BABY, KILL! (1966) helps establish and boost the gothic atmosphere. This also continues the somewhat feminist bent (having interesting, assertive roles for women) of Merino's BATTLE OF THE PANZERS, REQUIEM FOR A GRINGO, IVANNA [BLOOD CASTLE].
The Troma DVD, sourced from inferior VHS releases, does not do the film justice and omits some minor footage seen in the 80s era VHS, while adding European end credits which make it technically longer than previous versions.
Thanks to Nzoog for noting that the mountain locations were also used in such Spanish horror/genre films as CUT THROATS NINE, NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST, among other titles.
(C) 2014 Robert Monell