Until the late 1950’s, horror movies and Italian cinema during the sound era were like total strangers to each other; it wasn’t until the release of Riccardo Freda’s I Vampiri (1957) as well as the release of Hammer Films’ Horror of Dracula (1958) in Italy when interest in horror movies began to take off. In 1960, the first true wave of horror Italian style hit theaters: Mario Bava’s Black Sunday was the flagship of this wave while Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill of the Stone Women followed in its wake. Previously released on DVD by Mondo Macabro, Arrow Video has given the movie its Blu-ray debut as well as the Limited Edition treatment.
The Production: 3.5/5
In early 20th Century Holland, art student Hans von Arnam (Pierre Brice) arrives at the secluded windmill of Professor Gregorius Wahl (Herbert Böhme) to write a monograph on the famed carousel featuring sculptures of women throughout history in macabre displays of death and torture. It’s also during his stay that he encounters the professor’s reclusive daughter Elfie (Scilla Gabel), who’s suffering from a fatal illness of the blood that requires medical intervention in order to prolong her life. Soon, Hans will discover some shocking secrets about Elfie as well as the sculptures that make up the carousel; he’ll find out that they’re all connected together and could cost him the life of his fiancée (Dany Carrel) and also his sanity!
Though overlooked in the larger canon of Italian Horror, Mill of the Stone Women deserves a little more attention than it got upon first release. As the first horror movie in Italy to be shot in color, director Giorgio Ferroni and cinematographer Pier Ludovico Pavoni took advantage to create an atmosphere that’s both beautiful as well as foreboding; the original US pressbook made the claim that the film’s visual style was inspired by the work of the Flemish painters of the 16th and 17th centuries. Also, Ferroni drew upon past tropes in horror on both sides of the Atlantic – Andre De Toth’s House of Wax (1953) and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) immediately come to mind – to fashion a unique story that hems to Gothic period horror while making it distinctively Italian at the same time. There really isn’t much to find fault with here, except for the fact – besides that it has gone overlooked by most horror aficionados – that the pacing is a bit uneven, something that’s more noticeable in differing cuts of the film. However, Mill of the Stone Women should be more noticed as one of more crucial works in the development of horror Italian-style; to put it bluntly, Ferroni walked so that Mario Bava and Dario Argento could run in terms of committing vivid nightmares in lurid color.
Playing the hero whose sense of what’s real or not is tested, Pierre Brice acquits himself well as Hans; he’s better known for playing the Apache chief Winnetou in a series of German films based off of the novels of Karl May. Starting off her career as a body double for Sophia Loren, Scilla Gabel probably has one of her best roles here as the reclusive and more than slightly unbalanced Elfie; to international audiences, she’s better known for her appearances in the Biblical epic Sodom and Gomorrah (1962) and Joseph Losey’s adaptation of the comic strip Modesty Blaise (1966). Coming in the same year he would become known to international audiences as Dr. Mabuse in Fritz Lang’s revisiting of the character, Wolfgang Preiss is very good as the doctor who resorts to devious methods to find a cure for Elfie’s fatal affliction; Herbert Böhme is appropriately sinister as the professor who closely guards the secrets to the windmill’s macabre carousel and his daughter – the US version of the movie has Böhme’s voice dubbed to have a more thick German accent for his character than in the original English export version. Rounding out the cast are Dany Carrel as Hans’ girlfriend Lisolette, Marco Guglielmi as Lisolette and Hans’ friend Ralf, Olga Solbelli as the professor’s housekeeper Selma, Alberto Archetti as the professor’s assistant Konrad and Liana Orfei as Annelore, who becomes another victim of the professor and doctor’s search for a cure to the unnamed affliction.
3D Rating: NA
There are four versions of the movie presented in their original 1:66:1 aspect ratios included on this release: the 96 minute Italian version, the 96 minute English export version, the 90 minute French version and the 95 minute US version (both the French and US versions are present on Disc 2); each version presented here was taken from a 2K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative. Film grain is organic, with fine details and the striking color palette also faithfully represented as well; there’s minimal cases of issues like vertical lines, scratches, tears, dirt and dust present here. Overall, this release likely represents the best the movie will ever look on home video, easily besting all previous DVD editions of the film.
The original Italian, English and French mono soundtracks for each of the four versions are presented on PCM tracks for this release. Dialogue (original and dubbed) is both strong and clear, with sound effects and Carlo Innocenzi’s eerie music score also given a faithful representation on each version of the movie. There’s little to no problems like distortion, crackling, popping or hissing present, which means that all four versions have likely been given the best audio presentation on home video.
Special Features: 4/5
Note: all of the on-disc special features are present on Disc 1 of this release.
Commentary by author/film historian Tim Lucas – Recorded for this release, Lucas talks about the cast and crew, the film’s place in Italian Horror cinema, some connecting threads from the props used here and in other movies as well as his own personal experience with the movie as a kid.
Mill of the Stone Women & The Gothic Body (24:10) – Author and film critic Kat Ellinger talks about how the movie uses wax/statue woman trope in Gothic horror and the movies that influenced this one in this brand new visual essay.
Turned to Stone (27:07) – In this newly edited featurette, a look at the making and the legacy of the movie, featuring archival interviews with actress Liana Orfei and film historian Fabio Melelli; in Italian with English subtitles.
A Little Chat with Dr. Mabuse (15:52) – Wolfgang Preiss, who portrays Dr. Bohlem, shares his memories working with directors like Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, John Frankenheimer and Giorgio Ferroni in this archival interview; in German with English subtitles.
UK Drops of Blood titles (1:30)
German release opening titles (2:43)
US Theatrical Trailer (2:02)
German Theatrical Trailer (3:19)
Image Galleries – 4 still galleries are presented here, with images courtesy of Peter Jilmstad & Christian Ostermeier: Posters (11), Stills & Lobby Cards (77), German Pressbook (14) and US Pressbook (19).
Fold-out double-sided poster
6 art cards featuring lobby card reproductions
Booklet feat. an essay by Roberto Curti, a comparison of the different version of the film by Brad Stevens and a selection of contemporary reviews
Financially successful both in its home country and abroad, Mill of the Stone Women is an important, if somewhat overlooked, cornerstone in the development of the horror genre in Italy. Arrow Video has likely delivered the definitive home video edition of the movie with a great HD transfer of not one, but four versions of the movie as well as a decent slate of special features looking into the creation and legacy of the movie. Highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from previous DVD editions of the movie.
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