Mill Of The Stone Women (1960)

DECEMBER 14, 2021


One fun thing about diving so deep into older films is that I (and I assume most others) can usually tell more or less when a film was made just by looking at the film stock; I can usually get within a five year period after looking at a single shot in motion, regardless of the fashions or the age of any recognizable actors. It was a skill that threw me for a loop when watching Mill of the Stone Women, because for some reason I thought it was from 1972 but could tell just by looking at it that it had to be at least a decade older. And I was right - it was produced in 1960, and is in fact the first Italian horror movie made in color. I love seeing the firsts!

Ironically, if my eyes (and looking at the back of the damn Blu case, which noted the year) hadn't told me otherwise, I'd be convinced the film was a response to not only the Corman/Poe/Price films, but later Hammer Frankenstein entries that made Peter Cushing into more of a villain than the 1958 original. But no, it (obviously) came before those, being produced more or less at the same time as Corman's first Poe film (House of Usher) and having only the first two Hammer Frankensteins to draw from. The real influence (besides the Frankensteins and other Hammer films from the late '50s) were the two wax movies: House of Wax and Mysteries of the Wax Museum, as the titular Mill is actually a museum of sorts where historical women made of "stone" can be gawked at by townsfolk and tourists.

Being that it's a horror movie, there's no real surprise to learn that they're not stone, but the plot is still more interesting than you'd think. Turns out it's kind of a two birds with one stone (heh) kinda deal, as the resident mad scientist is indeed killing women and using them for his attraction, but he's doing it for a noble (to him) reason: his daughter Elfie (Scilla Gabel, an absolute stunner - thank you, remastered Blu-ray) has a rare blood disease that kills her whenever she gets excited or distraught, so he and his assistant find women with the right blood type, drain them out to revive his daughter, and use their corpses to keep his museum going instead of using actual stone or whatever earthly materials. It's a very environmentally friendly horror plot, I must say.

But being that this is a genre film from the olden days (61 years old! They didn't even have feature movies that old when this came out!), it takes a while to get to that stuff. It can be a bit "slow" at times, even when you consider its age, but then again, being that it was their first attempt at something like this (in full lurid color - there's even a brief nipple shot, which kind of stunned me) it shouldn't be a surprise that it wasn't exactly roller-coaster paced. Luckily, the hero, Hans (Pierre Brice) isn't as dull as a lot of the guys in those Corman movies it resembles - in fact, the plot kicks into gear because he cheats on his girlfriend with Elfie on the day he meets her, the dog. And it's his "I shouldn't have done that, sorry" dismissal that leaves her emotional enough to instantly drop dead, so he's feeling justifiably guilty on two levels for the rest of the movie - it's one thing to cheat on your girl, but to basically cause the other woman's death as a result? Damn.

Most of it takes place inside the mill or their homes, but there are a few exteriors that were lensed in gloomy Holland, giving it that proper foggy atmosphere that will make this an easy recommendation for the Halloween season. But even the interiors are quite nice to look at; both DP Pier Ludovico Pavoni and director Giorgio Ferroni have a lot of "sword and sandal" type movies on their resumes and are thus accustomed to having bigger areas to shoot in, but they clearly didn't let themselves be hamstrung by the confines of relatively small sets - the mill in particular is top-notch work, at least inside (the exterior miniature isn't very convincing, alas). The colors are also all vivid and lush; apparently they wanted to assure the money men that color film was worth the extra dough. I can't say the movie wouldn't work in black and white, but when coupled with its occasionally sluggish pace, it'd certainly be less memorable.

Arrow's deluxe set for the film includes a whopping four versions, but alas I did not have time to go through them all. The one to go with is, naturally, the Italian version, as it is the most complete, but it should be noted that the film has an international cast all of whom are speaking their native tongues, so you're still going to encounter some dubbing. You can just go with the English version (the content of the film is the same, I believe?) if reading the subtitles is an issue, but as is often the case the dub track and the subtitle track offer varations on nearly every line, so basically no matter what you're dealing with compromise. On the second disc there's a French version, which has a scene that was added at the insistence of its French producers (a conversation that clarifies some of the character's histories with one another), but is missing a few others, so it wouldn't be the best place to start. And the other version is of no use to any newcomer, as it removes those scenes AND the added French one, from what I understand. But I like that they went out of their way to include it; I'm sure it's someone's preferred version due to having it on VHS or whatever, so hey, now they can have their hacked up take looking all lovely on the remastered high def transfer.

There are also some bonus features, including a video essay by Kat Ellinger (I am a big fan of these; they're like Cliff's Note commentaries) and an interview with Liana Orfei, who plays one of the unwilling eventual Stone Women. There's also a commentary by Tim Lucas, who is the go to guy for Bava and thus it wasn't much of a surprise that the conversation turned to him a few times (he launches a convincing argument that Bava actually ghost-directed a couple of key scenes), though I was cerrtainly not expecting a history of LSD to be included. Overall it's not a bad track but one of the ones where I wish he was paired with someone to bounce off of and keep it a little more lively, as Lucas always sounds like he's reading from a report and thus it can be a bit dry to listen to even when the information is sound. The deluxe edition also includes a book that has two essays (one on the film's overall legacy, the other tracking its multiple versions) as well as some review excerpts from the time, which is interesting as not all of them are exactly glowing.

It's definitely a "not for everyone" kind of film, as its horror elements are relatively muted and it will probably remind any seasoned viewer of more exicting films, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The pre-giallo era of Italian horror is one area I am definitely not as well versed in (as I've noted, I "appreciate" Bava more than I "enjoy" his films, for the most part), so I'm always happy to fill that gap in a little more, and anything that might have helped influence my beloved Tourist Trap is obviously something I'm going to admire. And I love seeing so much care for it on Arrow's part; it's not exactly a film that people are beating down their doors for them to release, and yet they offer it this deluxe release with a book, a poster, four cuts of the film... basically, everything a fan could want, even if there aren't a lot of them out there. Every movie deserves this kind of treatment!

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Definitely an underrated little gem. Probable even more interesting for a European and specifically German audience, as French lead Pierre Brice starred in this shortly before becoming a superstar there as Native American/noble savage stereotype Winnetou in the German western series based on Karl May. The dutch countryside setting gives this film a pretty unique feature. I stumbled on this film as unannounced filler during off-hours on a movie channel. Since these films weren't announced in listings you had to get lucky to catch the beginning by accident. Another film I discovered that way: your beloved "Cathy's Curse"!


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget