GORE IN THE STORE
MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN ****
Directed by Giorgio Ferroni.
Starring Pierre Brice, Dany Carrel, Herbert A.E. Böhme, Scilla Gabel, Wolfgang Preiss.
Horror, Italy/France, 96 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray via Arrow Video on 29th November 2021.
With their latest limited edition Blu-ray release, Arrow Video have dug deep into the vaults of Italian cinema and exhumed 1960s MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN, a movie most notable for being the first Italian horror movie to be shot in colour. There are other elements that mark it out as being something a little different from the norm but originally coming out in the same year as Mario Bava’s legendary BLACK SUNDAY, it had some rather high-brow competition.
But this is a Frankenstein of a movie, in more ways than one. The references that connoisseurs will spot throughout range from the classic Gothic literature of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN (bloodlust and mad doctors) onto the then-contemporary likes of Hammer Studios – just check out those set designs – by way of Edgar Allan Poe, because nobody does tragic worship of the female form like ol’ Eddie. It’s all here, woven amongst the odd nod to HOUSE OF WAX/MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, but with a distinctly weird flavour of its own, in part thanks to the dreary Netherlands setting but also due to the story just being very strange, as it wasn’t based on the short story by Pieter van Weigen in the book FLEMISH TALES, as stated in the opening credits, which was totally made up thanks to a shrewd marketing team trying to capitalise on Hammer and AIP’s output based on classic literature.
The story follows Hans (Pierre Brice) as he arrives at a remote location in Holland where he has been employed by Professor Gregorious Wahl (Herbert A.E. Böhme) to write about the Professor’s carousel of wax figures that he has on display in his windmill. The figures are all of historical women who have some connection with death and the macabre, such as Joan of Arc, and if that wasn’t enough to enthral the young Hans then Professor Wahl’s daughter Elfie (Scilla Gabel) certainly is, although the mysterious Elfie seems to be harbouring a secret that her father is very keen for Hans not to know, and just why do the Wahl’s have a live-in doctor who seems equally keen for Hans to remain far away from Elfie?
Doesn’t really take much to figure out once things settle down and our main characters are established, if truth be told, but MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN is a movie that, like a lot of Italian horror movies, is more concerned with style than logic and with that in mind, MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN succeeds as it is a visual treat as the timber windmill sets are adorned with all sorts of colourful décor to contrast with the creepy shadows and atmospheric lighting. However, looking at such dazzling visuals is only satisfying for so long and MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN, for all of its lavish costumes and fancy props, is a bit of a plodder when it comes to pacing, and when the lead actor is quite bland and playing the damsel-in-distress with all the dreamlike quality of a stoned teenager trying to sober up before his parents catch him it doesn’t make engaging watching. Luckily, Herbert A.E. Böhme is never far away and adds a bit of authoritarian menace whenever he is onscreen but following an uninteresting main character does make the middle section of the movie drag.
Coming in a double-disc set that features four versions of the movie - the original 96-minute Italian and English export versions, the 90-minute French version and the 95-minute US version, all featuring different and exclusive footage – and an audio commentary courtesy of author Tim Lucas, plus an informative video essay by critic Kat Ellinger on the use of wax effigies of women in Gothic literature, an archival interview with actor Wolfgang Preiss and alternate titles, there is more than enough material to delve into should you so desire but the movie itself, whilst being a notable and interesting snapshot of a moment in Italian horror, falls slightly on the wrong side of the mark where a slow burning mood piece becomes a bit of a chore to sit through without being distracted by something more exciting. It is only slightly, though, as there is craft here but outside of genre afficionados the appeal will be extremely limited.