Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Mill of the Stone Women (1960)

Mill of the Stone Women is a somewhat neglected classic from the early days of the Italian gothic horror boom. Made in 1960, it’s a film that relies on atmosphere and creepiness rather than thrills or action. Fortunately it has both atmosphere and creepiness in abundance. It’s set in the Netherlands, presumably sometime in the 19th century, and most of the action takes place inside a windmill owned by Professor Wahl. It is in fact a kind of wax museum, with the windmill providing the motive power for a series of moving tableaux of macabre subjects – hanged women, and assorted female murderers and murder victims. There is of course a ghastly secret hidden here, involving the professor, his enigmatic daughter Elfy and his partner, a disgraced doctor. The daughter apparently suffers from the sort of unspecified and mysterious ailment that tends to afflict beautiful daughters in gothic horror movies. The professor and his medical colleague have taken drastic and unnatural steps to prolong her life. All goes well until young Hans arrives at the mill and the aforementioned mysterious daughter seduces him. Hans is already in love with another woman, Liselotte, who is one of Professor Wahl’s art students. Hans and Elfy argue, and Elfy collapses, apparently dead. Naturally things are more complicated than that, but you’ll have to watch the movie for yourself to find out how. And this movie is very much worth watching for yourself. You effectively get not one but two mad scientists, some great sets with gigantic windmill-type wheels and gears, the very very macabre waxwork tableaux, and some reasonably effective acting. Robert Boehme as the professor and Wolfgang Preiss as his doctor accomplice are suitably sinister. The voluptuous Scilla Gabel has just the right air of strangeness and exotic beauty as Elfy, while Dany Carrel is equally beautiful and very likeable as the rather effervescent Liselotte. Pierre Brice is adequate as the hero of the piece, Hans. Mill of the Stone Women is worthy to be counted among the cream of the Italian gothic horror movies, perhaps not quite as good as the greatest of Mario Bava’s films but a very very fine film. It’s impossible to find anything to seriously complain of in the Mondo Macabro DVD release – the movie (shot in Technicolor) looks terrific. If you enjoy subtle horror this movie is an absolute must-see.

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