Mill of the Stone Women (1960)

Also known as:
Drops of Blood
Horror of the Stone Women
Il Mulino delle donne di pietra
Le Moulin des supplices (France)
The Horrible Mill Women

This Italian/French co-production is a wonderful little gothic horror-melodrama as directed by Giorgio Ferroni. It's loaded with atmosphere from start to finish, and I'd urge any fan of Italian favorite Mario Bava to take a look at this one - you'll see a lot of similarities to his best work. Gorgeous actress Scilla Gabel appears as a cross between Barbara Steele and Sophia Loren, and almost steals the show as our tragic anti-heroine.

In a gloomy, fog-shrouded setting in Amsterdam, student Hans von Arnam (Pierre Brice) arrives at an old windmill to meet Professor Gregorius Wahl (Robert Boehme). He's got the task of writing a book about the eccentric professor, who is a reknowned sculptor at Hans' University. The professor's sculpture work at the mill - "the mill of the stone women" as the scared locals call it - is a bizarre carousel of statues of suffering women such as Joan of Arc and Mary, Queen of Scots which rotate around it's base. After the reclusive professor gives him a few days to stay in the mill and access his documents, he meets the pale but beautiful Elfi (Scilla Gabel), Wahl's daughter who never leaves the mill. Though in love with down-to-earth fellow student Liselotte Carnin, (Dany Carrel) Hans finds himself seduced by the charms of Elfi, and they spend a night of passion together.

There's a doctor also living in the mill and caring for Elfi, Dr. Loren Bolem (Wolfgang Preiss), who tells the mysterious girl that he has a claim on her love. She laughs him off. Later, Professor Wahl tells Hans about his daughter's strange malady - that any heartbreak can kill her, and that he should leave. Elfi spots Hans and the visiting Liselotte embracing as Hans realizes he's in love with his childhood friend. Elfi, distraught, writes him a letter demanding she sees him that night. He obeys, and tries to break off with the girl and reason with her. Getting more and more agitated. Elfi suddenly screams, collapses and dies. Hans carries her to her bed and leaves. Later the shocked man has a dream about Elfi coming back to life, rising zombie-like from her bed. He also dreams about finding her buried in the family crypt with a red rose, and spots a red-haired woman he knows from the University tied to a chair in a dark room.

Later he confronts Professor Wahl with his sorrow, only to be shown the very much alive Elfi. Wahl and Bolem convince Hans he's insane, and he flees back to town, and the arms of Liselotte, to recover. Once Hans is gone, Wahl's, Bolem's and Elfi's dark secret is revealed. Elfi dies on a regular basis from her strange disease, only to be revived again and again by the transfused blood of kidnapped women. Dr. Bolem, who administers the procedure, was struck off the medical register for his experiments. The victims die of blood-loss and are coated in wax by Wahl, to become statues in his macabre carousel. The red-haired woman is their latest victim as Elfi is brought back to life yet again, her corpse becoming another addition to Wahl's collection of waxworks.

Worse still, Bolem has identified from a pin-prick of Liselotte's blood, that her life-fluid holds the key to curing Elfi foreve - at the cost of her own life, of course. They kidnap Liselotte just as Hans and his friend Raab (Marco Guglielmi) return to the mill to search for the red-headed woman - Raab was her beau and she had indeed gone missing. Now Hans is beginning to realize he's not mad at all. Stumbling around the mill, they discover the mummified true nature of the statues, just as Liselotte is tied half-naked to a table, in preperation for the transfusion that will kill her. At the last second though, a social faux pas turns things around - Bolem demands Elfi's hand in marriage in exchange for the final cure, and Wahl refuses, calling him a creature, a criminal and an outcast. The crazed Professor then stabs the doctor to death, at the cost of the serum which would have cured his daughter forever. It's spilled all over the floor as the glass vial it's contained in shatters in his coat during the struggle.

Hans and Raab crash through into Liselotte's prison just as the now utterly grief-crazed Wahl starts a fire, and escapes with Elfi's lifeless corpse. They attempt to save Liselotte as Wahl's fire threatens to consume them all in the flaming mill. Will anyone escape the inferno alive?

For an excess of style you won't go wrong with Mill of the Stone Women. The photography is sublime, using colours similar to Bava's palette in Blood and Black Lace. Sometimes the film also appears virtually black and white, the blues are so dark. The music is appropriately ethereal and very effective - lots of female breathey singing, evoking a nicely gothic mood. The basic storyline is reminiscent of many horror classics, from House of Wax to Les Yeaux sans Visages, but somehow the blend produces an original work worth seeing. Robert Boehme as the initially composed Professor, who gradually descends into sweaty, manic lunacy, is excellent. Scilla Gabel is also a standout as the voluptuous Elfi, who craves freedom and a love that she can't have, seemingly caring little that women are dying to keep her alive.

Although there's very little blood and only the tiniest whiff of nudity on show, Mill of the Stone Women satisfies with the rich aesthetic sense on display. Lovers of gothic cinema from any era will want to add this dark little beauty to their collection.

© Boris Lugosi, 2006.

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