‘Mill of the Stone Women’: Italy’s First Color Horror Film [Blu-ray Review]

You need to check out this stunning release.

Mill Of The Stone Women

mill of the stone women blu 1024x1261 - 'Mill of the Stone Women': Italy's First Color Horror Film [Blu-ray Review]

The term “Italian horror” likely conjures up images of black-gloved killers and flesh-hungry zombies. But long before Argento, Fulci, and their contemporaries produced some of the nation’s defining genre films the Italian horror film industry had to open one important door: color. It wasn’t until 1960 that Italy produced its first horror film shot in color, director Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill of the Stone Women. More closely resembling something from Hammer or Mario Bava (who is rumored to have possibly shot some of this feature) the story is drenched in Gothic atmosphere, making good use of a few genre tropes and delivering unexpectedly unsettling imagery.

Arrow Video has gone all-out in bringing this seminal film to Blu-ray. It features a whopping four cuts of the film—Italian, English export, French, and U.S—a 2K restoration from the original negative, restored audio, and a heaping helping of bonus features, all housed within a beautiful deluxe package.

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Journalist Hans van Arnhim (Pierre Brice) is traveling to an isolated island in Holland to profile its most famous resident, Professor Gregorious Wahl (Herbert A.E. Böhm), creator of the famed Mill of the Stone Women, a carousel display depicting historical women in their death throes. Hans is invited to stay in the attic of the mill while he works. But his attention is quickly diverted by the mysterious Elfie (Scilla Gabel), Wahl’s daughter, who suffers from a rare medical condition. Elfie is seemingly a kept woman under her father’s watchful eye.

Things get even more complicated when Hans’ girlfriend, Liselotte (Dany Carrel), comes to town for a visit. This unintended love triangle creates a situation that reveals the severity of Elfie’s condition… though in ways so confounding Hans isn’t sure what’s real anymore. His mind is so consumed with uncertainty he hardly has time to learn just how Prof. Wahl is making his dolls…

…although if you are any kind of horror fan the how should be evident; guessing correctly is of small importance because it’s the why that makes Stone Women an intriguing feature. Ferroni’s film depicts a barren Dutch landscape, shrouded in fog, sparsely covered within bare trees, and under the gaze of Wahl’s monolithic windmill. The vibes are definitely of the Hammer Horror variety, an observation further supported by the rich cinematography, classical European styling of the actors, and the ornate sets. Just look at all those tapestries. I was happy enough to simply drink in the visuals. But the fact this is a story well told with a couple disturbing reveals made the experience even richer.

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Characters aren’t given short shrift either, as the main cast shares some interesting dynamics. Hans is a weak man who immediately gives in to temptation when Elfie presents herself. Yet once Liselotte arrives and he snaps back to his senses the reaction by Elfie proves maybe he should’ve just left his fantasies in his mind. Professor Wahl is ostensibly in charge but there’s a peculiar arrangement between him and Dr. Bohlem (Wolfgang Preiss) that drives the film’s central mystery and also sees Wahl put in his place when necessary. Ferroni teases a supernatural element by playing such games with Hans’ mind the poor guy nearly needs a trip to the nuthouse. What drives these people is intriguing enough to sustain the story. And with a decent 96-minute running time Ferroni doesn’t waste precious time on red herrings or unnecessary subplots.

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As mentioned, Arrow Video has given Mill of the Stone Women a 2K restoration from the 35mm camera negative and, as usual, I have no issue with the work done. The 1.66:1 1080p presentation is a thing of beauty. Colors are warm and densely saturated. A smooth layer of film grain gives a cinematic look as it swirls within the image. Black levels are solid with only a few sporadic moments of looking wan. The contrast is bold. A few scenes have focus issues, nothing major. This was my first time viewing the film and I had no comparison to previous releases but I can’t imagine anyone will be displeased here.

Audio is available in English, Italian, or French depending on which cut you choose, all of which are an LPCM 1.0 mono track. I went with the English dub—since all Italian films of this era did their audio in post anyway—and it’s a clean track with no obvious issues. Composer Carlo Innocenz’s scoring is extremely minimal, though effective in the moments when it does come into play. Subtitles are available in English SDH.    

Special Features:

TWO-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • New 2K restoration from the original Mill of the Stone Women negative by Arrow Films
  • 1080p presentations of four different versions of the film: the original 96-minute Italian and English export versions, the 90-minute French version, containing exclusive footage, and the 95-minute US version, containing alternate dubbing, re-ordered scenes and added visual effects
  • Limited edition packaging with 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 reproduction artcards

DISC ONE – THE ITALIAN AND ENGLISH EXPORT VERSIONS

  • Restored original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
  • Mill of the Stone Women & The Gothic Body, a new visual essay on the trope of the wax/statue woman in Gothic horror by author and critic Kat Ellinger
  • Turned to Stone, a newly edited featurette containing archival interviews with actress Liana Orfei and film historian Fabio Melelli
  • A Little Chat with Dr. Mabuse, an archival interview with actor Wolfgang Preiss
  • Rare opening titles from the UK release, re-titled “Drops of Blood”
  • German opening titles
  • US and German theatrical trailers
  • Image galleries

DISC TWO – THE FRENCH AND US VERSIONS (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)

  • Restored original lossless mono French soundtrack for the French version
  • Restored original lossless mono English soundtrack for the US version
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the French soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Mill of the Stone Women
  • Special Features
4.3

Summary

Arrow has given Italy’s first trip into the world of color a fully-loaded edition worthy of its place in horror film history. The beefy package is packed with multiple cuts, restored a/v, lobby cards, a poster, and more all delivered in one of their signature collector’s edition cases.

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