Mill of the Stone Women
Italy - France / 1960
Directed by Giorgio Ferroni
Starring
Pierre Brice
Scilla Gabel
Wolfgang Preiss
Color / 94 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD / R0 - NTSC
Mondo Macabro
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
In 1890s Holland, handsome young researcher Hans von Arnam (Pierre Brice) travels to a rural village to collect data on a most unusual tourist attraction: the Carousel of Stone Women, a mechanical diorama featuring life-size moving figures of famous female martyrs and murderers. Built inside an old windmill along a gloomy, fog-shrouded dike, the macabre machine is operated by a complicated arrangement of cogs and gears. Hans, who's working for an academician preparing a monograph on the century-old carousel, is welcomed by the mill's owner, eccentric Gregorius Wahl (Herbert Böhme), esteemed sculptor and art professor. Wahl gives Hans a quick tour of the machinery and access to the papers and diagrams of his long-dead father, the carousel's creator. Though seemingly accommodating, Wahl tells his guest that he'll have only five days to complete the research instead of the ten Hans thought he'd been allotted.
Despite his truncated stay Hans finds time to rekindle a romance with an old flame, Liselotte (Dany Carrel), one of Wahl's students. But their renewed relationship is complicated when, in the mill that night, Hans encounters the professor's beautiful, mysterious daughter Elfy (Scilla Gabel) a daughter Wahl never spoke of. Elfy's cryptic words and behavior leave him unsure whether she's mentally disturbed or being confined against her will. Her come-on, however, is anything but ambiguous. Hans is unable to resist how could he? (Italian-born Gabel is a voluptuous cross between Sophia Loren and Black Sunday's Barbara Steele.) So he sleeps with her. Next day the subject of Elfy is awkwardly broached by Prof. Wahl, who explains that his daughter suffers from a strange, potentially fatal illness, the same malady that claimed her mother years before. The slightest emotional distress could cause Elfy's death. It is for her own well-being that she's kept a virtual prisoner within the mill. This is also why a physician, the rather shady Dr. Bolem (Wolfgang Preiss of the Dr. Mabuse films), lives at the mill full-time, with Elfy as his sole patient. Wahl more or less warns his handsome guest to stay clear of her to avoid any potential upset. Smartly, Hans doesn't mention that he and Elfy have already shagged.
After sleeping with Elfy, Hans has realized that he truly loves Liselotte and wants to marry her. How, then, to end his fling with Wahl's 'delicate' daughter? He calmly breaks it to her during a late-night rendezvous. Elfy doesn't take the news very well. She has a spasm and collapses on the spot dead. Hans freaks out, then sneaks her body back to her room. For the moment he keeps quiet about Elfy's sudden demise. Later he encounters Dr. Bolem, who provides him with a sedative to help him sleep. Instead he experiences a real acid-trip of a nightmare (a surprisingly long but well-mounted sequence accentuated by Bava-style lighting) which obfuscates the boundaries of reality and dreams. When Elfy shows up alive and quite well the next day, Hans suffers a nervous breakdown. Has he completely lost his mind?
Part House of Wax, part Awful Dr. Orlof, Giorgio Ferroni's Mill of the Stone Women (Il Mulino Delle Donne Di Pietra) is a stately, slow-paced Eurochiller that relies on macabre visuals and strong gothic atmosphere rather than shocks or thrills. As a consequence some viewers may get a bit restless. (If you're looking for sleaze, nudity and/or gore then forget it. This flick's not for you.) The mystery behind the carousel and Elfy's strange death and resurrection will have been deciphered quite early on, so the fact that it takes almost an hour for the film to catch up with the audience isn't exactly a positive. Fortunately unlike Antonio Margheriti's Castle of Blood Stone Women manages to keep us interested until we get there. The scenes leading to the plot's revelation and fiery climax, while at times lethargic, do advance the story. (The Margheriti film, in contrast, is padded with interminably boring shots of the protagonist wandering up and down seemingly endless, candlelit corridors.) Among the cast, raven-haired Gabel is fittingly bewitching as the mystery woman around whom the plot pivots, while Preiss, as the sinister cigar-smoking doctor, is as reliable as always (even though voiced by a different actor). The dilapidated windmill certainly makes an intriguing gothic setting; Ferroni uses the interior sets to excellent effect. (The same can't be said of the rather cheesy model sometimes used for exteriors.) The life-like figures of the carousel are undeniably creepy.
So if you've a proclivity for old-fashioned gothic horrors handsomely mounted, leisurely paced, heavy on atmosphere Mill of the Stone Women should prove entertaining. If you're the type of cult movie fan who finds films such as The Whip and the Body or Corman's Poe Cycle too tedious and tame, then steer clear.

Mondo Macabro's 'All' Region DVD edition of Mill of the Stone Women (compiled from various international sources) presents the film uncut and anamorphically letterboxed, in the finest condition possible. There are instances of print damage but these are so few and infrequent as to be inconsequential. Three mono audio tracks are offered: British Dub, U.S. Dub and French (with optional English subtitles). The dubbed British and American tracks actually share many of the same voice actors. Prof. Wahl's voice is performed substantially better (and the dubbing far superior in terms of timing) in the U.K. version, however. I recommend either this British track or the French one with subs.
Extras include: the English-language theatrical trailer; three alternate scenes; production notes and talent bios of Pierre Brice, Dany Carrel, Wolfgang Preiss, and Scilla Gabel written by Pete Tombs (the one for Gabel contains six nude glamor shots of the bodacious actress in her prime); and 8 mini-galleries of production stills and promotional materials. There's also a fun trailer reel of current and upcoming Mondo Macabro releases. NOTE: The packaging text proclaims that Mondo's DVD version "restores all the scenes cut from its original U.S. release including the notorious topless shots of sexy French star Dany Carrel." This is true, but be aware that these "notorious" shots are but a brief glimpse of a sliver of nipple... That's it. 3/26/04
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