• Gabe Powers

Mill of the Stone Women LE Blu-ray Review


Arrow Video

Blu-ray Release: December 14, 2021

Video: 1.66:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono Italian, English, and French

Subtitles: English for Italian & French versions; English SDH

Run Time: 95:36 (Italian Cut)/95:37 (English Export Cut)/89:51 (French Cut)/94:29 (US Cut)

Director: Giorgio Ferroni


Young art student Hans von Arnam (Pierre Brice) arrives by barge at an old mill to write a monograph about its celebrated sculptures of women in the throes of death and torture, maintained and curated by the mill’s owner, the hermetic Professor Wahl (Herbert Böhme). But, when Hans encounters the professor’s beautiful and mysterious daughter Elfi (Scilla Gabel), his own fate becomes inexorably bound up with hers and with the shocking secret that lies at the heart of the so-called Mill of the Stone Women. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)



Mario Bava’s seminal classic, Black Sunday, was released in August of 1960 and went on to be the most influential Italian horror movie of all time. It was not, however, the only influential Italian horror movie released in August of 1960. A few weeks after Bava’s film premiered, Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill of the Stone Women (Italian: Il mulino delle donne di pietra) made its debut and became the first Italian horror film to be shot in color. Mill of the Stone Women doesn’t feel as fundamentally Italian as other well-remembered early-stage Italian horror, specifically Bava’s and Riccardo Freda’s, is that it was, like early Spanish horror, designed to appeal to the same audiences that had made Terence Fisher’s Dracula (aka: Horror of Dracula, 1958) a hit for Hammer Studios. Cinematographer Pier Ludovico Pavoni’s color photography evokes the Hammer-esque look, rather than the stylish luridness of Bava’s initial color horror features – Hercules in the Haunted World (Italian: Ercole al centro della terra, 1961) and Black Sabbath (Italian: I tre volti della paura; lit: The Three Faces of Fear, 1963) – as does Arrigo Equini’s production design (edit: In his commentary track, Tim Lucas theorizes that Bava did, in fact, light and photograph some scenes in Mill of the Stone Women).


The opening titles claim that Remigio Del Grosso, Ugo Liberatore, and Giorgio Stegani’s script was based on a story by one Pieter van Weigen, supposedly found in a book called Flemish Tales, but, according to Roberto Curti, the author of the Italian Gothic Horror Films series (McFarland & Company, 2015, 2017, 2019), both the author and book were made up for marketing purposes. The more likely influence (along with bits of everything from Shelley and Stoker to the Bronté Sisters) is Charles S. Belden’s The Wax Works (pub: 1932), in which an artist murders people and dips their carcases into wax to create lifelike wax sculptures. Belden’s story was first adapted in 1933 by Michael Curtiz as Mystery of the Wax Museum, but the more famous version is Andre DeToth’s House of Wax (1953). House of Wax was the first color 3D film and another influential horror film in its own right, which inspired Bava, who reused shots for Baron Blood (Italian: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, 1972), as well as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, who endeavored to team up and remake it as Wax Mask (Italian: M.D.C.: Maschera di cera, 1997). Mill of the Stone Women changes the formula (so to speak), turning the insane artist into even more of a mad scientist, who has created a chemical means to turn living flesh into a stone-like substance, but the idea is very similar (other interesting variations on the Wax Works blueprint include Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood [1959], Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Color Me Blood Red [1963], and Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Anatomie [2000]).



Mill of the Stone Women also shares an inordinate amount in common with George Fanju’s Eyes without a Face (French: Les yeux sans visage, 1960), specifically the presence of a ‘mad scientist’ who is actually a concerned father (albeit with psychopathic tendencies) committing murder as a means to save his mutilated/terminally ill daughter. Though both films were released the same year, there was enough time between the dates (Eyes without a Face hit French theaters in January and Mill of the Stone Women hit Italian theaters at the end of August) that Franju’s film almost certainly informed the script. In fact, it wasn’t even the only Eyes without a Face-inspired Italian horror movie to make it to theaters in 1960 – it followed Anton Giulio Majano’s more blatant Fanju-riff, Atomic Age Vampire (Italian: Seddok, l'erede di Satana), by a matter of weeks. Not being as spaghetti-flavored as the Gothic horrors that followed Bava’s lead doesn’t make Mill of the Stone Women an inferior brand of Hammer cash-in. Bolstered by French co-financing, it is a lushly-shot and fully dignified film that looks more expensive than almost any of its ‘60s contemporaries. And, while its relative lack of gore and insistence on appearing dignified can make it seem a little stuffy compared to Bava’s sexually unhinged and bloody work – or even the Hammer movies – Ferroni doesn’t scrimp on the scares, especially when it comes to the grotesquely distorted ‘stone women,’ who bridge the uncanny valley between unconvincing special effects and actual dead bodies. He was better known for making adventure movies, and followed Mill of the Stone Women up with a collection of peplum films, Giuliano Gemma spaghetti westerns, and war movies. He returned to horror and Bava’s shadow one more time for his penultimate film as director, The Night of the Devils (Italian: La notte dei diavoli, 1972). Night of the Devils is a far more graphic exercise and loosely based on Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy's The Family of the Vourdalak (pub: 1839), which was also the basis for the I Wurdulak section of Bava’s Black Sabbath.



Video

Mill of the Stone Women had a decent release stateside in theaters and appeared on a rather gaudy big box VHS from Paragon Video. Mondo Macabro released the US’ first anamorphic DVD in 2004 and fans had a chance to import a Blu-ray from German company Subkultur Entertainment in 2016 or French company Artus Films in 2019. Arrow’s new limited edition collection represents the first HD availability in North America and the UK and, like the German disc, includes four different cuts of the movie – the original Italian cut, the English language export cut, the French cut, and the US cut (the Mondo disc included a composite English/French version). There is a detailed explanation of the differences between cuts by Brad Stevens included in the limited edition booklet. The original 35mm Italian release negative was scanned in 4K at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, then was graded and cleaned up by R3Store Studios in London. The optional English titles were scanned separately in 2K and additional footage from the French edit was supplied by Subkultur via LSP Medien.


I do not have the German or French discs on hand for comparison, but assume the differences depend on authoring processes (DVDCompare.com’s page claims that Subkultur’s disc has inferior video quality, because it doesn’t utilize seamless branching). All I personally have to compare this beautiful restoration to is my SD Mondo Macabro DVD and it trounces that handily. This is a dark and grim film, despite its occasional flashes of vivid color, so the disc producers’ biggest challenges were probably in balancing detail levels with intended mood. There is quite a bit of grain, but it appears natural and doesn’t overwhelm the extensively textured backgrounds. Shadows are appropriately deep without overwhelming some of the more delicate details and blacks help the richer colors pop. I didn’t watch each cut in its entirety, but when I came across differences during my sampling I could see that the overall image quality is similar from version to version. The French and US exclusive footage seems to be from print sources, because it is mushier and has more print damage.



Audio

You have as many audio options to choose from as you have cuts of the film, though you don’t have the option to watch a cut without its intended dub. The Italian cut has an Italian dub, the export English cut has an English dub, the French cut has a French dub, and the US cut has a different English dub. Each is presented in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono and, since the film was shot without sound, there isn’t one intended dub track. Most of the lead cast originates from France, Italy, and Germany, and they seem to be speaking a plethora of different languages on-set (in an interview on this disc, actress Liana Orfei claims that she had to learn her lines in English, but that many actors just counted in their own language, instead of speaking lines, which was not uncommon), so the lip-sync is way off no matter which track you chose. The four mixes are fundamentally similar in terms of effects and Carlo Innocenzi’s traditionally gloomy/dramatic score. The Italian and English Export cuts are, in my opinion, the best options, but audio preference is a matter of taste. Assuming you watch a lot of spaghetti westerns, the English dub has a lot of familiar voices, but the Italian performances are arguably better this time. French performances are better yet, but the French track is a bit muffled, and the US dub is more buoyant than the international English dub, but considerably squeezed.



Extras

Disc One (Italian and English Export Cuts)

  • Commentary on the English Export Version by Tim Lucas – The author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (Video Watchdog, 2007) digs into the film’s production history, the work of its cast & crew, its extensive filmic/artistic/literary inspirations, its place in the pantheon of early Italian horror, and raises the possibility that Bava did some uncredited cinematography. A considerable amount of the discussion hinges on the similarities between Mill of the Stone Women and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), a film I have only seen once, so I think I’ll take him up on the suggestion that I (re)watch it with Ferroni’s film in mind.

  • Mill of the Stone Women & The Gothic Body (24:10, HD) – The author of Devil’s Advocate: Daughters of Darkness (Auteur Publishing/Liverpool University Press, 2018) and co-host of the Daughters of Darkness podcast (with Samm Deighan) explores the film, its place in the Italian Gothic horror canon, and other filmic and literary inspirations/films it may have inspired (she mentions all the movies I mention in my review, but also draws comparisons to a series of unusual vampire movies). More specifically, she discusses the tradition of dead and uncanny bodies in horror tales, such as waxworks, morbid Victorian spectacle, death photography, dead women in fine art, and the concept of mad science.

  • Turned to Stone (27:07, HD) – This featurette combines an interview with actress Liana Orfei with context and history film historian Fabio Melelli. Orfei talks about her greater career, from circus performer to model and actress, and her time making Mill of the Stone Women, while Melelli breaks down Ferroni’s work and the film’s production history.

  • A Little Chat with Dr. Mabuse (15:52, HD) – In this archive interview, actor Wolfgang Preiss, who portrayed the infamous Dr. Mabuse in a series of films following Mill of the Stone Women, beginning with Fritz Lang’s The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (German: Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse, 1960), discusses his most famous roles and the filmmakers and actors he worked with (and almost worked with) over the years.

  • UK ‘drops of blood’ titles (1:30, HD) and German titles (2:43, HD)

  • US trailer and German trailer

  • Image galleries – Posters, stills and lobby cards, German pressbook, US pressbook



Disc Two

  • French Version (89:51)

  • US Version (94:29)

Limited Edition box contents:

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais.

  • 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.

  • Fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais.

  • Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions.



The images on this page are taken from the BD (Italian Cut) and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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