Hans von Arnem (Pierre Brise) arrives at the rural town of Veese, on the outskirts of Rotterdam, in order to interview reclusive artist Professor Gregorius Wahl (Robert Boehme), whose macabre sculptures featuring horrifying scenes from history are displayed via a revolving carousel in an old mill house, referred to by locals as "the windmill of the stone women"¯.
Hans is invited into the mill by the housekeeper to await the Professor's arrival and notices a beautiful woman, whom we later discover is the Professor's daughter, Elfi (Scilla Gabel), gazing at him from behind some curtains, but before he can talk to her he is swiftly ushered away into Wahl's studio in an adjacent room. Hans hears what appears to be a scream, but doesn't think too much of it. The studio is full of half finished sculptures, in various states of death. One half-naked female statue displays a lolling tongue and a hangman's noose around its neck. Hans visits the main exhibition room; a theatrical-like stage bearing the infamous carousel. It is suddenly activated and bears images that include Joan of Arc burning at the stake and Cleopatra and her asp. Hans is interrupted by Professor Wahl, who, despite having initially appeared surprised at the journalist's appearance, offers his services at the writer's disposal. Wahl leaves Hans to conduct some research in the mill whilst he takes charge of his art class, on the proviso that he leaves by seven that evening, and that his research is completed within six days time.
Further encounters with the mysterious Elfi reveal that she may never leave the mill, and suffers from an illness that means that she may die if ever submitted to emotional upheaval. Hans has a momentary lapse of self-control and one night the two have a passionate embrace. When Hans' childhood sweetheart Liselotte (Dany Carrel) arrives on the scene, Elfi's jealousy is evident and she attempts to win the love of Hans through emotional blackmail. Alas, Hans isn't swayed, and this acts as a trigger for Elfi's tragic illness.
It is left to the enigmatic Dr. Bolem (Wolfgang Preiss) to tend to Elfi, as we slowly discover the dark family curse of the Wahl legacy, and the sinister secret that lies behind the mill of the stone women.
Film buffs have long considered Giorgio Ferroni's MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (1960) as one of the finest Euro-horror entries. Rarely seen in an uncut form - previous US prints excised a brief shot of actress Dany Carrel's nipple whilst bound to an operating table (see insert still) Mondo Macabro's DVD not only restores this sequence in its entirety but includes several scenes shorn from the French version, together with a couple of deleted/alternate scenes (included as extras) for this definitive release, in widescreen for the first time.
Utilising stylish composition and drawing on the use of draped curtain backdrops, candle-lit archways, gothic dĆ©cor, cobwebbed interiors, mirrors, and vaults to frame its characters, MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN in many ways resembles the work of Mario Bava (BLACK SUNDAY (1960), THE WHIP AND THE BODY (1963)), and one could be forgiven for believing that Bava had an uncredited hand in its cinematography. Particularly reminiscent of Bava's style is a scene in which the viewer becomes voyeur via the camera as first person¯ through the eyes of protagonist Hans as the camera slowly pans towards an opening door, to follow the sounds emanating from within, and through which we briefly glimpse a woman bound to a chair. This shot is almost identical to one from Bava's KILL, BABY, KILL! (1966), where the first person camera technique is also employed as it slowly pan towards an opening door to follow the sound of music, whereupon we spy a man seated at a grand piano. *
With its poetical imagery and plot involving a smitten antagonist attempting to rejuvenate the beautiful features of a young woman torn by emotional concerns, MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN also resembles George Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959), and Jess Franco's AWFUL DOCTOR AWLOF (1961), and to a lesser extent Jean Rollin's THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (1982). Like the doomed femme of Rollin's movie, and, indeed, Bava's haunted descendent of witch Asa Vajda in BLACK SUNDAY, Elfi is transformed into the 'petrified monster' of MOTSW's tagline because she ultimately falls victim to the desire to live a normal¯ existence despite the dreadful consequences it may entail.
MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN stands as a cornerstone in the development of the European horror film, with its depiction (in technicolor) of tragic female victim doomed by a rare condition (pre-dating John Gilling's Hammer horror, THE REPTILE by six years). The film's three-way love triangle, is never overly melodramatic, and the acting by a seasoned cast, and helped by a convincing script, prove above standard for horror fare from this period. The sets by Arrigo Equini, (HERCULES VS. THE MOLOCH, 1963), particularly those involving the sinister carousel and its mechanical workings, are visually hypnotic, and sumptuous soft-lens photography by Pier Ludovico Pavoni depicting the riverways, windmill-laden landscape, and open blue skies of day effectively convey isolation and sparcity, contrasting nicely with shots of the warm tavern and cosy lamp-lit streets of the town of Vesse by night.
Despite being incorrectly cited as the first 'horror nudie' by a number of commentators, due to its brief shot of a female breast (Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM featured Pamela Green in a brief nude scene, admittedly cut upon its initial release, one year earlier), MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN still holds much to interest discerning horror fans. It is an example of stylish and intelligent film making and filled with enough mood-laden visuals to have Goth-minded viewers reaching for the candelabra.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Giorgio Ferroni
English (with alternative USA track) / French with optional English Subtitles
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
Stills and Poster Gallery
A Mondo Macabro DVD release
All region NTSC
MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN