Color, 1960, 84m. / Directed by Giorgio Ferroni / Starring Pierre Brice, Scilla Gabel, Wolfgang Preiss / Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

An often unheralded cornerstone in the gothic horror revolution of the early '60s, this multinational yarn purportedly based on a Flemish horror tale comes off like a mad, poetically filmed fusion of House of Wax and Eyes without a Face (not unlike Jess Franco's nearly contemporary The Awful Dr. Orlof). Less overt in its sex and violence than similar product streaming from Hammer Films and other Italian director, Mill of the Stone Women is a deliberately paced, visually startling treat finally presented on home video in a manner befitting its historic status.

In a remote, canal-lined Flemish village, Professor Wahl (Robert Boehme) lives in a decaying windmill containing a peculiar local attraction: strangely lifelike wax figures representing famous historical figures and various gruesome historical tableaux. A new apprentice, Hans (Brice), arrives at the mill and is immediately bewitched by the dark, mysterious Elfi (Gabel), the professor's daughter. Further complicating matters is old flame Lisolette (Dany Carrel), who's not happy about Hans' wandering attentions. When Hans tries to break away from Elfi, she seems stricken with grief and dies... but the mystery deepens when a drug administered by the professor sends Hans into a delusional frenzy that may or may not point to a real-life macabre plot within the mill.

Often compared to the work of Mario Bava (whose monochrome masterpiece Black Sunday bowed the same year), Mill usually suffers in comparison thanks to its haphazard distribution history and the fact that director Giorgio Ferroni never explored the same territory since. While it lacks the seductive charge of Bava's similar treatment of the Catholic madonna/whore convention, Mill makes up for it with a subdued but powerful color scheme filled with eerie blues and reds. American audiences have rarely had a chance to appreciate the film on its best behavior, thanks to muddy prints and godawful video transfers that drown its fragile pastel hues in a dark, murky sludge. Thankfully better elements began to surface over the past few years, including a much-discussed airing in Australia (in French with English subtitles) that revived much interest in this oft-discussed but rarely seen gem.

Bringing the film to a much wider audience, Mondo Macabro's DVD sports an even better, anamorphically enhanced transfer that should do wonders for the title's reputation. Though the somber pacing may put off fans expecting something along the lines of Black Sabbath, the more patient will be rewarded with a thoughtful, evocative combination of fairy tale logic and surgical terror. The disc also includes three language options, with optional English subtitles: the American dub track (an awkward mess included for those accustomed to U.S. drive-in screenings and videos), the European English track (better but still odd and detached from the action), and by far the most satisfying, the naturalistic French track (which lapses Anchor Bay-style into English for a couple of quick bits of dialogue).

Plentiful extras include the alternate (and more aesthetically pleasing) French opening credits, an alternate cut of the hallucination/nightmare sequence, an American theatrical trailer (slightly squished for some reason), a gallery of promotional posters and artwork, typically thorough bios for the cast (including some decidedly risque surprises), and appreciative comments by Mondo Macabro head Pete Tombs. Incidentally, the first pressing of this title exhibited problems at the layer change on some players, but a corrected pressing is now available.

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