Monday, September 26, 2011

Travel, Broadening The Mind

My girlfriend just got back from a biking tour of Switzerland. No, she's not the kind of girl who does that all the time, but I can say she's done it one more time than I have! Anyway, aside from an appreciation of dairy-based cuisine and a higher metabolism, she also brought back a stack of French DVDs, because she knows how much I love the obscure.

Some of the titles were less obscure than she had hoped - for example, she didn't recognize a two-episode arc from CSI directed by Quentin Tarentino, dubbed into French; a few episodes of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo dubbed into French from the original Australian. But at least one item was a brilliant thing I'd never heard of: an Italian horror movie from 1960 called Le Moulin des supplices, or Mill Of The Stone Women.

Neither one of us knew anything about it; she was attracted by the lurid cover, pictured here. We watched it in English with French subtitles, and it's fascinating from the get go - just trying to figure out where and when it takes place for one thing. People are dressed in period garb but you can't quite put your finger on what period. The road signs and so on aren't in English, but they're not in Italian either. In fact, they're in Flemish.

The movie has a gorgeous technicolor gloss to it, like a Hammer picture from the same period - but the Hammer chaps were going for shocks. These guys had one thing on their mind, creepiness. Who is that woman who looks so much like Gina Lolabrigida, peeking from behind the curtain? Why does she have a tiny greyhound on a leash? Why is the old Flemish lighthouse filled with statues of agonized historical figures? Is the lead character really in a mausoleum at the base of the windmill or is he just dreaming?

The great thing about the movie is that the answers to these questions is even weirder than you thought, though also largely improbable and insane. Like any effective horror movie, the dream logic is a lot stronger than the normal kind.

Still it's probably that lack of plausibility coupled with the awful title that kept the movie out of sight for all these years. And they tried a lot of other titles over the years: The Horrible Mill Women, Drops of Blood, Icon or my favorite, Doktor Skräck och de förstenade kvinnorna. It's Swedish and funny because there is no Doctor Skrack in the movie.

Anyway it was worth the effort to watch, and considering it's copy protected AND encoded in PAL instead of NTSC that's saying something.

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