Mill of the Stone Women (1960) aka Il mulino delle donne di pietra
Directed by: Giorgio Ferroni
Starring: Pierre Brice, Scilla Gabel, Wolfgang Preiss, Dany Carrel, Herbert A.E. Böhme, Liana Orfei, Marco Guglielmi, Olga Solbelli, Alberto Archetti
(out of 4)
Hans von Arnam (Pierre Brice) comes to the small Netherlands town of Veeze to write about what the locals call the Mill of the Stone Women, lived in by professor and sculptor Gregorius Wahl (Herbert A.E. Böhme). Professor Wahl is known for giving viewings of the mill’s musical carousel of lifelike female figures in addition to teaching local art classes (one of his students is Liselotte, a childhood friend of Hans who is also in love with him). While staying at the mill to do his research, Hans is called upon by Wahl’s mysterious daughter Elfi (Scilla Gabel), who declares her love to him (a love-at-first-sight kinda thing). Being a dude, of course, Hans doesn’t turn her away. In the morning, Hans is racked with guilt as he realizes that he’s really in love with Liselotte (Dany Carrel), who has been waiting patiently at his side for years. Well, he soon finds out what a mistake it was to sleep with Elfi in the same manner that a frat boy regrets the one night stand with a girl who won’t leave him alone now (time to change that phone number). Making things worse is Professor Wahl, who later informs Hans that Elfi has a serious blood disease which could kill her if she gets emotionally upset. (Oh, now you tell me!) Sure enough, Elfi’s jealousy and Hans rejection of her leads to Elfi dropping dead. Panicking and leaving her body in the bedroom, Hans returns later to confess his misdeeds. Given a sedative by in-house doctor Loren Bohlem (Wolfgang Preiss), Hans hallucinates, seeing images of a woman in captivity as well as Elfi rising from the dead. Later, Hans is really stunned to see Elfi alive and apparently healthy, while Professor Wahl and Dr. Bohlem brush off his strange story as some sort of mental breakdown. Is Hans crazy? Or is there something weird going on at the mill? And how come the sculptures on the carousel attraction look so lifelike?
The answers are revealed in this atmospheric Euro mood piece that plays like the 1953 classic House of Wax (with Vincent Price) mixed with Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (released that same year) and a dab of Riccardo Freda’s and Mario Bava’s I Vampiri. I suppose you wouldn’t be wrong if you called it a “ripoff” of those films, but the merits of originality is not how I choose to judge Mill of the Stone Women. I found it to be a nice rainy afternoon time-killer, mixing elements of Gothic and German expressionism, interesting colors and settings, and good looking European actresses. I have read some negative reviews of the movie that seem to concern the pacing; indeed, the flick may bore those who can’t get into the story, but I did not find the (somewhat-leisurely) pacing to be troublesome at all. Then again, these days I welcome the steadicam, the wide shot, the single take mise-en-scene. And speaking of Mario Bava, I got that Bava-feeling during the film (atmosphere, sets, colors), and a few times I was reminded of Black Sunday (also released in 1960) – probably because Scilla Gabel’s performance is a little bit like Barbara Steel’s (she’s even introduced in a similar manner – with a dog by her side). I guess what I’m saying is that Bava isn’t the only director who can do Italian Gothic horror.
The themes here involve immortality, beauty, and their shared connection. There’s also a subtle theme of vampirism (and Elfi is like Lady Bathory, except she’s not bathing in blood but stealing it from others through the miracles of modern medical science). Elfi just wants to live a normal existence though, making her a tragic character. There’s a touch of tragedy in the main villains as well – daddy just wants to keep his daughter around forever and Dr. Bohlem has fallen in love with her. Acting is decent, and I couldn’t help but notice the level of collaboration on the production between creators with varying backgrounds – Mill Of The Stone Women is a French/Italian effort, featuring German actors (Herbert Böhme, Wolfgang Preiss), French actors (Pierre Brice, Dany Carrel), Italian actress Scilla Gabel (once Sophia Loren’s stand-in), and an Italian director (Ferroni). Both Gabel and Carrel are gorgeous; there’s even a nipple shot of Carrel as she’s bound on an operating table that seems transgressive in the film world of 1960. The mill itself is presented well; like a music box decorated with a parade of victims, it embodies a true haunted house aesthetic. With macabre imagery and up-front adult themes, Mill of the Stone Women is worth visiting, especially for fans of Gothic horror cinema, which took the 1960s by storm. Director Giorgio Ferroni was also responsible for the 1972 horror The Night of the Devils, which has become a cult classic in its own right.
- Bill Gordon
Mondo Macabro’s DVD release of Mill of the Stone Women is as good as you’re going to get. The print is uncut and anamorphic with various audio tracks (British, U.S., French). Try not to have the subs on with the English audio tracks because they don’t really match up. There are plenty of supplementals, trailers (with that really cool theme MM does), and there’s a deleted scene (in French audio).