MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (1960)

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mill of the stone women

MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (1960)
Directed by Giorgio Ferroni
Available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video

Set in Veeze, young writer Hans von Arnim is tasked to cover the centennial of a statue carousel by sculptor, Professor Gregorius Wahl, who’s been restoring the work his great-grandfather did a century ago. During his stay, Hans meets the professor’s mysterious daughter, Elfie, who becomes infatuated with the guest to her home. His meeting with Elfie sets off a chain reaction of events leaving the young man wondering if he’s lost his mind. Is his brain playing tricks on him or is there something more sinister at play at the Professor’s mill?

Italian gothic horror MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN is a slow-burn tale featuring mystery, madness and murder as writer Hans von Arnim discovers more than he bargained for when documenting the history of the mill of the stone women.

Opening with Hans arriving on the misty-covered banks of Veeze, the film oozes gothic charm, teasing what horrors lie await as he approaches the Professor’s abode just as innocently as Jonathan Harker did at the gates of Castle Dracula. Once inside, it’s a lot more inviting than that of Dracula’s cold, ancient castle but housekeeper Selma’s (Olga Solbelli) stand-offish attitude still keeps the viewer suspicious of what awaits. Not even a curious, brief appearance from a weedy whippet pup appearing through some drapes can soften the scene though this mutt, and the woman who peeps seductively through the curtains of the room, certainly pique the interest of Hans.

A charming, handsome young man, Hans (Pierre Brice) seems very keen to do his work but is put out when he discovers he has limited time to cover the carousel, to the point where Professor Wahl (Herbert A.E. Böhme) even refuses his request to take some documents back to the office with him, meaning all work must be done at the windmill in a small study room. Despite this setback, he seems to enjoy spending time with friends staying in the town, the smitten Liselotte (Dany Carrel) and cheeky Konrad (Alberto Archetti), both students of Professor Wahl. The relationship between these three characters blossoms throughout the movie, as get to know more about them and their personalities, with the rest of the time spent with Hans and Wahl’s daughter, Elfie (Scilla Gabel), whilst Doctor Loren Bohlem (Wolfgang Preiss) lurks around the mill, keeping an eye on both Hans and Elfie.

The set up of Elfie’s entrance on the staircase of the mill and the elusive way in which she’s presented indicates something is not right. Nevertheless, her striking physical appearance catches the eye of the young writer which leads him onto a path of uncertainty as he discovers secrets about Elfie and the windmill itself, putting his life at risk.

Wolfgang Preiss is the main highlight for me as the family doctor who keeps a watchful eye on Elfie. Smoking his cigar, he always seems to appear at the right moment to add his tuppence though his fixation on Elfie suggests his involvement is more than just medicinal. Herbert A.E. Böhme also puts in a fine performance as the stern sculptor Professor Wahl who is all too happy for people to celebrate his work although prefers to keep a tight reign on those around him. Though clearly a public-facing man, being an educational professor, he still retains an air of mystery that suggests he has a private life that he’d rather keep closed off from everyone else.

Slow and clunky at times, MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN isn’t the most enthralling watch, especially when the main centrepiece is a macabre carousel of statues of women being tortured. Putting myself in the movie for a moment, I’m not sure why anyone would pay to see the professor’s work, nevermind celebrate the centennial of it. Featuring various statues of women being killed, including being hanged, burned and in the stocks, it’s haunting and chilling to cast your eyes on, even if it is just looking at the TV screen. Though even the character of Liselotte faints at the sight of it and you’d think she’d be accustomed to it all, being a student of Professor Wahl’s. However, the use of the windmill as a set and environment works to the film’s advantage. It’s claustrophobic and eerie as Hans ascends and descends throughout the mill, the giant cogs working to activate the carousel as the haunting tune kicks in to accompany the parade of the statues. Later scenes, which include more of the house, expand the size and feel of the location, though through the editing it’s cleverly crafted into a nightmare labyrinth as scenes depicting rooms and corridors merge and flow into each other, blurring the line between reality and delusion.

Despite weaknesses in the plot, character and script department, there are elements that work well enough to cause unease as the final third of the movie ramps up the momentum. It’s by no means a classic but MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN has a certain style and charm that will appeal to fans of gothic horror even if it lacks the substance of its contemporaries.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The limited edition Blu-Ray of MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN is a set that horror fans will no doubt want to get their hands on. Featuring a new 2K restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films, the release comes packaged with reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais, and contains an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Roberto Curti, an in-depth comparison of the different versions by Brad Stevens, and a selection of contemporary reviews. As a bonus, the limited edition set also comes with a fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais and six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproduction artcards.

Being an Arrow Video release, you can expect a few tantalising special features whilst the 2-disc set treats us to four versions of the film in 1080p!

Disc One of MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN features two versions of the film: the Italian Version, running at 1 hour 35 mins 36 seconds, and the English Export Version, running a second longer at 1 hour 35 mins and 37 secs. It is this disc that contains all of the special features of this release. These include:

Audio Commentary by Fantasy Film Historian, Tim Lucas – Lucas provides a fascinating insight into the history of cinema, especially Italian and German film, as well as horror and gothic cinema in general, as he ties it towards the inspiration and style of MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN. He’s very articulate as he provides interesting background to the film which I found thrilling to listen to, particularly as 60’s Italian cinema is one I’m not too familiar with. A commentary well worth listening to on a film that is said to be the first Italian horror shot in colour!

Mill of the Stone Women and The Gothic Body (24 mins) – A new visual essay on the trope of the wax/statue woman in Gothic horror by author and film critic, Kat Ellinger. Using clips from the movie, pictures and poster art, this visual essay breaks down the ideas of gothic horror into three segments, as Kat Ellinger eloquently explores these. From the roots of the fascination of the female corpse, starting with Edgar Allan Poe, to where wax work, oil painting and automatons create unease through uncanny bodies. Ellinger discusses the history of waxworks and the fascination with the macabre, especially during the Victorian era. Mad scientists also play their part, thanks to the work of Mary Shelley, with the reanimation of corpses and restoring beauty and life a feature in many films of the genre. The essay also looks at the classes, where lower class individuals are often the victims, as well as the idea of the death of a beautiful woman is poetry.

Turned To Stone (27 mins) – A newly edited featurette containing archival interviews with actress Liana Orfei, who plays Annelore, and film historian Fabio Melelli. Liana talks about how she was scouted for films when she returned to the circus after getting married. Director Federico Fellini was interested in her for his film but ultimately decided she wasn’t quite right for the part he wanted at that time, but the interested alone from Fellini caused other filmmakers to also show a desire to work with her. This introduced her to the film industry although she would always return ‘home’ to the circus with her brother, wherever that may be. She also talks about her fondness for working on MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN.

Her interview and that of historian Fabio Melelli is intertwined, with Melelli providing background on the history of Stone Women director, Giogio Ferroni, and discussing the Flemish influence on the film. Both interviews in this segment are subtitled in English,

A Little Chat With Dr. Mabuse (16 mins) – An archival interview with Wolfgang Preiss who stars as Dr. Loren Bohlem in MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN. This subtitled interview sees Preiss discuss his film career, working with different directors and the various films he worked on. Of course, the Mabuse films are mentioned and he talks about the face reveal scene featured in there where the mask is ‘taken off’ to reveal his visage. Preiss comes across as a likeable chap in this personal interview, as he reminisces about his career.

Alternate Opening Titles – These include ‘Drops of Blood’ UK Titles and the German Titles. Both of these opening titles are presented of low quality footage.

Trailers – Includes UK theatrical trailer and German theatrical trailer.

Image Galleries – The image galleries included on this disc are posters, stills and lobby cards, German pressbook, and US pressbook.

Disc 2 of MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN has no special features but does contain two other versions of the film. The French version, containing exclusive footage, runs shorter than the rest at 1 hour 29 minutes and 51 seconds, whilst the US version runs at 1 hour 34 mins and 29 seconds. The US version instantly differs from the others in that it features a voiceover at the beginning of the movie that sets up the plot of the film. If you prefer to watch a film without knowing what lies ahead, then this may well indeed put you off. The US version also features re-ordered scenes and added visual effects.

About Bat 7854 Articles
I love practical effects, stop-motion animation and gore, but most of all I love a good story! I adore B-movies and exploitation films in many of their guises and also have a soft spot for creature features. I review a wide range of media including movies, TV series, books and videogames. I'm a massive fan of author Hunter S. Thompson and I enjoy various genre of videogames with Kingdom Hearts and Harvest Moon two of my all time favs. Currently playing: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Yakuza Zero and Webbed.

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