... aka: Dracula: Terror of the Living Dead... aka: Hanging Woman, The... aka: Orgy of the Dead, The
... aka: Return of the Zombies
... aka: Terror of the Living Dead... aka: Zombie 3: Return of the Living Dead
José Luis Merino
After receiving a telegram informing him that he's been remembered in his late uncle's will, Serge Chekov ("Stanley Cooper" / Stelvio Rosi) travels to a remote Russian village to see what he's inherited. The first thing he bumps into upon arriving is a murdered young woman hanging by her neck in the cemetery. The dead girl, Mary (Aurora de Alba), happens to be his cousin, the daughter of Count Mihaly (the uncle), and primary heir. Now that she's out of the way, Serge is getting everything much to the dismay of Nadia (Maria Pia Conte), Count Mihaly's much-younger wife, who looks about the same age as her stepdaughter. Nadia's about as nasty as they come. She's likely behind the questionable deaths of both her husband and Mary and, as if one affair isn't enough, she's been carrying on with two separate men. The first is Ivan (Charles Quiney) the butler, who probably had his hand in the murders. The other is Igor (Paul Naschy, credited as "Carl Mansion" on some prints), an unhinged grave digger with a rather odd sex life, but more on that in a minute. Also living in Mihaly Manor are Professor Leon Droila ("Gerald"/ Gérard Tichy), a scientist friend of the Count's who's been experimenting with using electricity to revive the dead, and Leon's kind daughter Doris (Dyanik Zurakowska), who functions as the maid.
So what kind of other horrors befall our characters? For starters, a seance seems to calls forth Count Mihaly's vengeful spirit, and he obviously has a bone to pick with his wife and which ever of her lovers killed him and his daughter. If that isn't enough, a handful of zombies show up as a result of Professor Doila's experiments. That means elements of murder-mystery, ghost story, zombie flick and mad scientist opus wrapped into one. It's a bit slow going at times (particularly in the middle) and the plot's pretty busy, but the movie is surprisingly well-made and things are all neatly tied together during a finale. There's ample nudity provided from the two female stars and plenty of gore, including a decapitation, maggoty corpses and a bloody autopsy. The zombie makeup designs vary, but a few of them are really creepy looking. I'm not sure where this was filmed, but it's a gorgeous old village at the base of some mountains and it's a great setting.
As an added bonus, Naschy's character is a complete degenerate. To keep him loyal to her cause, Nadia is willing to indulge Igor in his necro fantasies by lying completely still as he paws at her. Yes, this woman is completely shameless, but even she is not enough to satisfy Igor. He also robs graves, takes the female corpses to a tunnel located underneath the Mihaly home and professes his love to them, removes their clothes, touches them and takes pictures of them to enjoy later on. This is a rare movie where Naschy was not involved behind-the-scenes. He didn't write it, he didn't produce it and he's around solely to play the part. It's a smaller role than usual for him, but he does an effective job with it. The rest of the cast, which includes Pasquale Basile as a police inspector and Isarco Ravaioli as the mayor, are solid.
Director / co-scripter Merino also made SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER (1970) featuring Quiney as the male lead. In America, this first hit theaters as The Hanging Woman in 1975 (with a tag line emulating the popular one just used for The Last House on the Left), was first released to video by Unicorn as Beyond the Living Dead and in 2009 received a DVD release through Troma (again under the Hanging Woman title). It's a full screen print that looks sourced from VHS so it's nothing to write home about quality-wise, but it's well worth picking up anyway since it includes interviews with Merino and Naschy, as well as a second bonus feature, the seldom-seen Sweet Sound of Death (1965).