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The Hangman (2024) Review

The Hangman opens with a nod to Fulci’s The Beyond, as a title card informs us that there are seven known gateways to Hell. The one we’re concerned with here isn’t under a hotel in New Orleans, though, it’s somewhere in a nameless part of the mountains of West Virginia.

That’s followed by some cultists pulling something out of that portal, a creature we then see transform a couple of junkies from strung out to strung up. Meet The Hangman (Scott Callenberger, The Adventures of Jamie Watson: and Sherlock Holmes, An Angry Boy).

Oblivious to all of this, Leon (LeJon Woods, Ouija Witch, Earthquake Underground) and his son Jesse (Mar Cellus, Swagger, It Stays With US) are going on a father and son weekend in the mountains. Unfortunately, the first night goes badly, ending in recriminations over the death of the boy’s mother (Ameerah Briggs, The Church, Equal Standard) whose murder Leon failed to prevent.

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When Leon wakes up the next morning, Jesse is gone and his car won’t start. Trying to get help, he has a run in with a couple of meth heads, Billy (Kaitlyn Lunardi, Peeking, Wendigo) and Scott (Rob Cardazone, Shovel) who figure that “jungle bunnies shouldn’t be comin round this way.” He escapes from them only to find the body of one of the junkies from the prologue.

Co-written by its star LeJon Woods and director Bruce Wemple (Island Escape, Altered Hours), The Hangman starts out with some moody cinematography and a promising plot, if familiar plot. And if it had kept its focus on the cult and the demon they’ve raised from the pit, with an electric winch no less, there would have been plenty of potential for scares and action.

Instead, the first half hour The Hangman and his cult are pushed into the background as Leon deals with generic racists and ends up rescuing Tara (Lindsey Dresbach, Pitchfork, Danger on Party Island) from the human trafficker Kaine (Jefferson Cox, Class of ’09, Hiro of the Meta). She in turn introduces Leon to the local priest, Jedidiah (Daniel Martin Berkey, The Luring, Nefarious), who happens to know all about The Hangman and the Cult of Baal. I’m sure you can guess how.

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Thankfully, this is also where the film starts to get back on track, as the cult comes back front and centre. The explanation for what’s going on isn’t anything original, but Wemple and Woods give the story a few twists which set it slightly apart from similar films and add a bit of depth to it. Unfortunately, while the subplot about Leon and Jesse’s issues works fairly well, the attempts to add some commentary about racism never really amount to much. Hillbillies with Confederate flags on their trucks don’t like black folk? I never would have guessed.

It might have gone better if they’d played up the connection between a demon with a penchant for hanging its victims, Leon and Jesse’s skin colour and the history of lynchings. But, The Hangman actually doesn’t do a lot of hanging. He has a telepathic control over ropes, but he mostly uses it to bind people. Or, in one of the film’s better scenes, to drag Leon towards a running chainsaw.

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And it’s more scenes like that, and less long passages of expository dialogue that The Hangman needed to be truly effective. The film isn’t a total waste, it certainly has its moments, and also includes a supporting performance by William Shuman who only has a handful of credits to his name, but they include Silent Madness and Streetwalkin, a pair of 80s films that should be familiar to B movie fans.

But overall, it never really comes together, getting too caught up in talk and good intentions to deliver the scares. I usually enjoy Wemple’s films, but this one never really rises above passable. It’s a well-intentioned misfire, but a misfire nonetheless.

Epic Pictures released The Hangman to theatres on May 31st via their Dread label. It’s now available on VOD and Digital Platforms with DV and Blu-ray availability scheduled for August 13th.

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