Mill of the Stone Women (Giorgio Ferroni, 1960)

SCARES THAT WILL LEAVE YOU PETRIFIED!

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddHans, a young artist, arrives at the famous Dutch windmill of Professor Wahl to study the horrible stone statues contained within the local landmark, a mechanical carousel of history’s most notorious women meeting their gruesome and untimely ends. There, he becomes captivated with Wahl’s mysterious and seductive daughter notwithstanding Hans’s relationship with a local art student. Warned by Professor Wahl to stay away from his seriously ill daughter and suspicious of her private doctor, Hans begins to suspect that deadly family secrets are being kept within the mill…

Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill of the Stone Women was Italy’s first horror film shot in color and has become a classic of the Italian Gothic genre. Arrow Video proudly presents four versions of the film with this release, newly restored from the best materials available and including the notorious “topless” shots of sexy French star Dany Carrel originally cut from the US release.

Special Features:

  • New high definition transfers of the film in its 95-minute international version, 90-minute French version, 96-minute Italian version, and 93-minute German version
  • High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD Presentation
  • Uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray edition
  • Newly translated English subtitles for French, Italian, and German editions
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Introduction to the film by author and critic Alan Jones
  • Audio Commentary with film critic Tim Lucas
  • Archival interview with actor Wolfgang Preiss
  • Deleted and alternate scenes
  • Theatrical trailers
  • Stills and poster gallery
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Andrea Bini, an essay by Pete Tombs, and a comparison of the versions of the film by Tim Lucas, illustrated with original stills and posters

Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill of the Stone Women (1960) opens with Hans von Arnam (Pierre Brice) arriving in the small village of Veere, Holland, the foggy polder and the still dyke-waters painterly spread out behind him with only the towering windmills interrupting the flat landscape. Hans is tasked to conduct research on the ghoulish carousel housed within the windmill of Art Professor Gregorius Wahl (Robert Boehme). This hundred year-old, clockwork horror show parades statues of various women from throughout history meeting their violent ends – Joan of Arc tied to a stake, Cleopatra being bitten by an asp, one woman crouches with her head laid across a chopping block, another hangs from a noose with her tongue lolling out of her mouth. It is a grim spectacle that gathers crowds for viewing, although some of the fairer women are overcome by the fearsome display.

mill-of-the-stone-women-english-posterHans’s attention is immediately caught by Professor Wahl’s beautiful but mysterious daughter Elfi (Scilla Gabel, whose career began as a body double for Sophia Loren!), and he gives in to her enticements during their secret liaisons despite having resumed his romance with art student Lisolette Carnin (Dany Carrel). Hans is warned by Gregorius that Elfi suffers from a severe medical condition that makes any emotional shock life-threatening and he demands that Hans leave the windmill immediately, however the handsome historian meets with Elfi one last time to break it off face to face. The young woman collapses and apparently dies in front of Hans. Shocked, he lays Elfi in her bed and then leaves the mill, wandering Veere in a daze.

mill-of-the-stone-women-french-posterHans returns to the mill in the morning and is met by Elfi’s private doctor, Dr. Bolem (Wolfgang Preiss), who administers a tranquilizer to the troubled man that inspires a series of hallucinations – visions of a bloody knife, a captive redhead, and Elfi appearing as alive and dead. Prof. Wahl and Dr. Bolem, satisfied that Hans’ experience will put an end to his involvement with Elfi and the windmill, commence their plans to revive Elfi with a fiendish medical experiment that will take the life of another woman and threaten Lisolette. When Hans recognizes the windmill’s redheaded captive, he and his colleague investigate the mill and its mysteries. At its climax, the windmill becomes a fiery, murderous, Grand Guignol spectacle.

mill-of-the-stone-women-collage-posterMill of the Stone Women seems to wear its influences on its blood-stained sleeve. With its terrible statuary and its medical horrors, the movie clearly nods to Andre DeToth’s House of Wax (1953) and Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960). The restrained sex appeal and general moodiness of this French-Italian co-production draws comparison to Hammer Studios, natural given that Italian audiences embraced the bosomy British films. Speaking generically, Mill of the Stone Women falls within that modest window of the Italian Gothic, standing as a minor masterpiece within the commercially unsuccessful genre that commenced with Lust of the Vampire (Riccardo Freda, 1956) and was followed with Mario Bava classics like Black Sunday (1960) and The Whip and the Body (1963). Lust of the Vampire seems particularly influential as it too concerns a doctor killing for blood to keep a female figure young and attractive and as it utilizes established conventions of melodrama to explore the obsessive power of female beauty.

mill-of-the-stone-women-split-posterBetween this confluence of influences and associations is a Eurohorror chiller that succeeds in its literary gloom and its garishly macabre aesthetics. Pier Ludovico Pavoni’s cinematography, lighting his characters from below and utilizing an array of coloured gels, seems openly Bava-esque in the movie’s anticipation of films like Hercules in the Haunted World (Mario Bava, 1961), Black Sabbath (Mario Bava, 1963), and Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964). Its heroes are suitably manly and heroic, its villains are sinister, and its women are doomed and beautiful.  The carousel’s secret is necessarily ghastly and Mill of the Stone Women even manages to titillate with a glimpse of near toplessness by Carrel. The titular windmill provides an eerie setting with its stairwells, its machinery, and its various chambers easily standing in for a mad scientist’s laboratory and a torturer’s dungeon, trading on associations to movie thrillers like Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935) and Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940). Most satisfying is the film’s cheeky sleight of hand in falsely claiming literary respectability in its opening credits – citing the film as an adaptation of a short story from Pieter van Weigen’s Flemish Tales when no such book nor author existed.

Despite the Italian Gothic having generally been commercially unsuccessful at its time, the films of this period have become recognized as horror classics and Arrow Video has celebrated the genre with releases of Black Sunday (Mario Bava, 1960) and Black Sabbath (Mario Bava, 1963). Mondo Macabro’s DVD release of the “Uncut Euro Version” was a welcome presentation at the time, offering a variety of special features to this hidden gem. The more recently released Subkultur Blu-ray supposedly offers a good (but not great) improvement to Mondo Macabro’s transfer of this Technicolor production, but it still remains somewhat uneven and grainy and has limited utility to English audiences with English subtitles missing on the foreign language versions of the movie. Mill of the Stone Women fits perfectly with Arrow Video’s fascination with 1960s Gothic horror and the film is ripe for a new edition that lets English-language audiences dive even more deeply into this lesser known favourite of Italian horror.

Credits: This edition draws heavily on both the Mondo Macabro and Subkultur releases of Mill of the Stone Women and the various special features located on those discs including the Wolfgang Preiss interview and the Pete Tombs essay. Introductions by Alan Jones and commentaries by Tim Lucas are common to other Arrow Video releases of Italian Gothic films and so have been imagined for this release as well. Andrea Bini was chosen to also provide an essay given her chapter on Italian horror in Flavia Brizio-Skov’s Popular Italian Cinema: Culture and Politics in a Postwar Society, an important resource to the preparation of this Arrow Video proposal. This post also owes debts to Christopher Dietrich’s review of the Mondo Macabro edition, Glenn Erickson’s review of the Subkultur Blu-ray, and Samuel Wilson’s review at Mondo 70.

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