Mill of the Stone Women
Before Black Sabbath, before I Vampiri, director Giorgio Ferroni (The Lion of Thebes, Blood for a Silver Dollar) introduced audiences to period horror Italian-style with his chilling 1960 shocker Mill of the Stone Women – a classic tale of terror redolent with the atmosphere of vintage Hammer Horror.
Young art student Hans von Arnam (Pierre Brice, Night of the Damned) 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, Secret of the Red Orchid). But when Hans encounters the professor’s beautiful and mysterious daughter Elfi (Scilla Gabel, Modesty Blaise), 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.
The first Italian horror film to be shot in color, Mill of the Stone Women prefigured a raft of other spaghetti nightmares, including the work of maestros Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Arrow Video is proud to present this brand-new restoration of one of the foundational titles of Italian horror.
Giorgio Ferroni’s Mill of the Stone Women receives a new 2-disc Limited Edition Blu-ray set from Arrow Video, presenting the original Italian and International versions on the first dual-layer disc and the shorter U.S. and French versions are found on the second disc, the latter of which is exclusive to this edition. All of the versions are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes. The 35mm original camera negative was the source for the new 2K restoration that is the basis for all of the presentations. For the International cut the English-language opening credits (presented via seamless branching) have been sourced from 35mm intermediary elements. Material exclusive to the U.S. and French versions found on the second disc appear to have been sourced from standard-definition sources.
Though I usually have high expectations for Arrow’s titles I still managed to come out of this one very surprised by the quality. The Italian and International cuts are razor sharp throughout, delivering a high amount of detail, every little detail crisply rendered. The finer textures of the mill setting, from wood to stone, look spectacular, and film grain is rendered cleanly and naturally. I never spotted any digital anomalies at any point during the those two versions. The same holds mostly true for the U.S. and French cuts, but the material exclusive to them have a noisier, less detailed look due to less-than-stellar materials available.
The restoration work is also remarkable, very little remaining outside of a few minor marks. The restoration was performed by L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna, so there may be reason to be concerned about colours, but they come out looking quite lovely here. The image leans warmer but not to an extreme degree; nothing comes off a heavy yellow or green, unless the scene's lighting is pushing it. Black levels also look great, going pretty deep without crushing out details, and there’s nice delineation in the shadows. Blues look great, but there some wonderful Bava-esque reds layered over scenes that really pop. All around, this looks striking.
All of the films come with lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtracks. The first disc presents the option of English or Italian (with opening titles to match), while the French version provides a French-language soundtrack and the U.S. version provides an English one.
The soundtracks for the two versions on the first disc sound to have had more work done and they come out sounding the best. Range is decent for the tracks on the first disc when it comes to the film’s music and louder moments. Dialogue can sound a little flat, but I would put that down to the original dubbing. Overall, the tracks are very clean.
The other two are weaker, limited in range and fidelity moreso than the other two tracks. But again, there is no heavy damage present.
Arrow’s 2-disc Limited Edition packs on a nice little collection of extra material, including two alternate versions of the film, the U.S. and French cuts, both of which are found on the second dual-layer disc. The base of each presentation uses the same 2K restoration the Italian and International versions use, though, as mentioned prior, the material exclusive to these cuts appear to come from a standard-definition sources. Both versions are shorter, the U.S. cut running about a minute shorter, the French running almost 6-minutes shorter. The U.S. version starts with an opening narration (which is addressed on the commentary found on the first disc) and the English dub is also different from the English track found on the first disc. It also inserts an extra shot of a sign for the art school, I assume to make it clearer that a transition between locations is taking place, and the hallucination sequence has also been modified and rearranged. Some material has obviously been cut due to the shorter time, though I can’t clearly say what, outside of one of the more obvious “nipple slips” in the last act of the film.
The French cut is the more interesting version, and not only because it ends up cutting out a lot (which inexplicably includes the introduction of a key character) but also due to its inclusion of one new scene, which doesn’t appear in any other version, at least in this set. The scene revolves around Liselotte and Ralf on a bridge, Liselotte admitting her feelings for Hans to Ralf. It’s just over a minute long and doesn't feel to add all that much, so I was a bit perplexed at its addition at first, and only more-so after I found out the French producers of this French/Italian co-production insisted on its inclusion. An essay by Brad Stevens, found in the set’s included booklet, mentions the producers wanted it to clarify the relationships of the characters, though I think it’s just awkwardly shoehorned in. Interestingly, in-film text has also been reshot to show French text instead of Italian, with neither of the English versions attempting something similar, just presenting the Italian text.
As usual, it’s always interesting to see these alternate cuts, though they’re probably not ones I would visit again if I were to ever come back to the film. I’d say they are more curiosities and probably something the bigger fans of the film would be interested in.
The first disc, which features the Italian/International version(s) of the film, contains the rest of the supplements. When the disc is first loaded the menu gives the option for the English (International) or Italian language versions. The presentations are the same outside of the credits (which are presented in their respective languages), and, of course, the spoken languages.
Over these versions of the film you also have the option to listen to a new audio commentary by author Tim Lucas, who has an especially interesting attachment to the film: he saw it as a young boy and it made an unbelievable impression on him thanks to some of its imagery, with his obsession for it leading to the film being the first Betamax Cassette he ever purchased. It’s a passionate track, Lucas talking about its production, its release in various territories, and its importance in relation to Italian horror (for example, it’s the first colour one), which even leads to him talking about the history of Italian horror cinema, starting after Mussolini’s reign, when horror films were basically banned. He also takes the time to explore why the film probably had such an impact on him, breaking down some of its imagery, admitting that some of it still went over his head at a young age, and he also talks about the possible links the film has with Mario Bava, who he suspects may have helped on the film, and he presents whatever evidence he has been able to dig up. It’s a wonderfully put together commentary, covering all of the bases thoroughly, and when the film doesn’t warrant any specific discussion at a moment, he’ll segue off onto other interesting, if loosely related topics, like discussion around the French horror film magazine, Midi-Minuit Fantastique. Really worth listening to.
Kat Ellinger next provides a great little 24-minute visual essay around the gothic tropes present in the film, most specifically that of statues or wax figures representing women. She first covers early sources of the trope and its appeal (probably the “dead eyes”) and how it has been represented in literature and media, from Edgar Allen Poe to House of Wax. She also looks at certain cultural influences behind it (like “death photos” taken in the early days of photography) and then touches on other tropes, like the “invalid woman” one, where women are usually presented as weak and fragile, apparently seen as a sign of delicacy and “good breeding.” As usual, it’s a wonderfully researched and delivered presentation.
Arrow then digs up a couple of archival features, including a 16-minute interview with actor Wolfgang Preiss from 2002, who goes through a scrapbook around the films he has done, recounting stories around the films and the people he worked with (including Otto Preminger, Klaus Kinski, Gert Frobe, and others). There is also an edited presentation from 2019 featuring interviews with actress Liana Orfei and film historian Fabio Melelli. Melelli talks about the film in relation to its time and place, and goes a little over director Giorgio Ferroni’s career, while Orfei talks about her career in the circus, how she came to work in film, and covers about her time on this one, her death scene in particular. Melelli’s contribution doesn’t add all that much since Lucas covers everything and more in his track, but I enjoyed listening to Orfei’s contribution. The feature runs 27-minutes.
Arrow then includes a couple of alternate opening credits, including the UK one with the alternative title, Drops of Blood, followed by the German one, which gives Wolfgang Preiss top billing. The UK one is sourced from video tape by the looks of it, while the German one is sourced from a badly deteriorated print, which is chipped and peeling on the right side of the frame.
Finally, the disc closes with the U.S. and German trailers, followed by an image gallery featuring promotional art and production photos along scans of the German and U.S. pressbooks . The gallery also offers close-ups of some of the art and content.
The Limited Edition then houses the two discs in one of Arrow’s standard 2-disc Blu-ray cases, which is then held in a sturdy cardboard sleeve. The sleeve also holds a fold-out poster featuring new art on one side and original art on the other, as well as a 59-page booklet. The booklet first features an essay on the film by author Roberto Curti followed by the essay on the different versions, written by Brad Stevens. The booklet also includes some contemporary reviews, including the positive one from Midi-Minuit Fantastique that Lucas ends up reading in his track. Another great booklet from Arrow.
All around, Arrow has put together a very satisfying release for the film, covering the film’s many versions, its gothic elements, and its importance as a steppingstone for Italian horror.
Arrow has lovingly assembled another knock-out Limited Edition package that delivers some great features and a real knock-out of a presentation.