Updated: Mar 6, 2022
Although I can find no evidence of this, I remember a horrible VHS cover box for Mill of the Stone Woman (1960.) It was light brown with a fuzzy photo of a woman on the front. I can’t tell you how many times I picked up that box to read about it and never had a desire to go further and watch it. I could never tell if it was a horror film or not. It just didn’t look… “good.” Plus, it’s inclusion in public domain box sets over the years didn’t help change my impression of it.
Arrow Video has nearly obliterated this memory with it’s gorgeous and colorful Blu-ray box art. Perhaps it’s the title of the film, but I’m still not sure it conveys what the movie is about. To me, the word “mill” combined with “women” evokes some type of historical drama with an assembly line where women are pounding grain to make flour. Even with a windmill in the upper right corner, I don’t think of "mill" as a “windmill.”
That’s certainly my problem, not the movie’s, because it’s very good and, at times, very scary. I can’t say I “love” it, though, like so many people say they do. Ironically, the windmill that has eluded my understanding for so long is the real star of the film and makes a familiar plot seem fresh. The production design (Arrigo Equini) and set decoration (Carlo Gentili) are magnificent, rivaling Hammer Films at their best.
The same can be said of the cinematography (Pier Ludivocio Pavoni) and direction (Giorgio Ferroni.) From what I can tell by looking at a list of mostly Italian titles, Ferroni specialized in spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal films, although his next to last movie was Night of the Devils (1972), which sounds like it could be good. This is definitely a home video release into which I want to explore the bonus features, which Arrow always provides.
When Hans von Arnim (Pierre Brice) arrives at the windmill in Veeze to do some historical research for the upcoming centenary, it’s similar to Jonathan Harker arriving at Castle Dracula. Instead of a bloodthirsty vampire waiting for him, though, there’s a frightened young woman peeking at him from behind a curtain. Her identity is one of several plot points that I didn’t necessarily anticipate.
Our interest piqued, Mill of the Stone Women then spends a good long time introducing us to its other cast members. Prof. Gregorius Wahl (Herbert A.E. Bohme) runs the place and he’s repurposed the gears of the windmill into a carousel for the statues of females from history, many of which are depicted being burned at the stake or beheaded. A popular tourist attraction, people are known to gasp and faint as they see them circle the stage.
He also teaches art classes in which other characters are involved. Red-headed Annelore (Liana Orfei) is a model. Ralf (Marco Guglielmi) and Liselotte (Dany Carrel) are students. Liselotte is an old friend of Hans who’s excited about rekindling a romance with him. Also prowling around the windmill are Selma (Olga Solbelli), the housekeeper, and Dr. Bohlem (Wolfgang Preiss.) Both are at times red herrings, but we’ll learn that one of them has a backstory woven deeply into the plot.
I don’t want to share much more of the plot. Let’s just say the situation of placing these characters together in this location leads to murder, mystery, and mayhem. All you really need to know is that it’s a kind of movie where there’s only one way to prove someone hasn’t died: go to the cemetery and open the grave! And who doesn’t love that kind of movie? It’s all handled in a way that, again, is familiar, yet feels like we’ve never seen it before.
Written by Giorgil Ferroni, Ugo Liberatore, Giorgio Stegani
From the short story by Pieter van Weigen
Directed by Gioergio Ferroni
Starring Gioergio Ferroni
RT 96 min.
Released Sept. 30, 1960 (Italy), Jan. 23, 1963 (US)
Home Video Blu-ray (Arrow Video)
Rating 7 knife-wielding psychos (out of 10)