February 18, 2006

RARE GEMS; MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (1960) REVIEW 4

1960 produced a small but significant revolution in milestones of what soon would be. The decade started off a boom year for international horror.


In the U.K Hammer were producing ingots of stylish celluloid guignol and Michael Powell created the seminal ‘Peeping Tom’ which received a very short release.

Mario Bavas’ ‘Black Sunday’ made its monochrome nightmare debut to an Italian audience. It also brought us the femme fatale Barbara Steele who, in my opinion, is vastly overrated when it comes to looks and acting (in?)Capability. Roger Vadim in France brought us ‘Et mourir de Plaisir’ (Blood and Roses) this movie was based on Le Fanus 18th century lesbian gothic novella ‘Carmilla’. The yanks spewed forth some interesting gems via Roger Corman and A.I.P, focussing predominantly on diarrhoea loose adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe.

This was a fistful of fun for many an early ‘sinema’ fan. Especially in Europe as the audiences usually got to see the fully uncut version and therefore could appreciate such work fully.


1960 also saw ‘Mill of the Stone Women’ joining the legion of the aforementioned new euro-Goth. It was the creation of director ‘Giorgio Ferroni’. It is an oft overlooked and ravishingly cinematographed piece of gothic propensity. Previously sourced in piss weak VHS hacks that were just about watchable the movie has now been given a whole new lease of life via the hit and miss Mondo Macabro label.

We can finally bear witness too how important colour was to the movie as well as the intricate plotline. The remastered print restores the initial Reds and Blues to their former dominant impetus.

We can see the other colours pale in comparison rendering them almost pastel-like, this realises the notion that maybe the director respects each frame of film as an artist respects every inch of his canvas regarding colour and complementary hues.



Where Franjus’ ‘Les Yeux ….’ and Bavas’ ‘Black Sunday’ used the monochrome to maximum stylish effect Ferroni had that luxury in colour. There are traits seen so reminiscent of Bavas style that one could quite easily mistake the film for that director.

The plot based on an old Flemish Tale by Peter van Wiegen probably originated from the passing seafaring folk as many races passed through the ports of Belgium and of Holland.

Lowland / Flemish folklore indicate that stories and mysterious artefacts were brought along with other merchant fayre. This tale substitutes the castle for a windmill and a welcome scientific update (albeit 1912 compliant) on the vampire theme.

THE PLOT

1912 and Hans Von Arnem (Pierre Brice) arrives at the rustic town of Veese near Rotterdam.

Hans is a writer and wants to interview the highly reclusive Professor Gregorius Wahl. In Wahls’ Windmill there housed is a most unusual tourist attraction, a morbid carousel and an accompanying infectious melody that is activated in synchronisation to the cogs and mechanics of the building.


Hans arrives and finds Wahl to be most hospitable though witnessing the carousel featuring scenes of female persecution and bondage renders him a little ill-at-ease.

After composing himself, whilst investigating, he meets the mysterious Elfi (Scilla Gabel) who reveals herself to be Wahls' daughter.

Elfi falls for Hans but feels aggrieved when Hans sweetheart Liselotte ( Dany Carrell) shows up on the scene. Elfi uses emotional blackmail due to her inane jealousy. She also reveals that any sudden upheaval or emotional distress could result in death due to an odd illness she has.

Hans does not succumb to Elfis allure, this triggers a seizure where she dies. Hans in a fit of guilt and disorientation wanders into the night, after a brisk walk, he returns back to the Mill.


Wahl attempts to remedy Hans’ trauma by administering a tranquilliser. This in effect causes delirious experiences not too dissimilar to L.S.D. He witnesses Elfi returning back to life from death, bloody knives, secret pendants and a redhead bound to an operating table where she looks like she is being drained of blood.


Hans becomes even more disorientated when he comes back to reality; Elfi is alive and seems to be perfectly well! Were the visions drug induced or reality?

Hans returns to Liselotte and his best friend a confused mess. With their help Hans is determined to reveal what secrets lay behind the windmill and the strange Elfi. The thirst to separate fact from fiction is fuel enough for Hans to unearth the truth which will horrify him and jeopardise the life of the one he most cherishes; where she could literally be drained of her life.



CRITIC

Mill of the Stone Women starts as an eerie supernatural thriller and changes part way into a sci-fi medical horror.

I have great admiration for this motion picture due to its pioneering stamp on the blotting book of celluloid individualism. Without that crown we would have a well stylised piece of eerie melodrama. As this contributed to and influenced so heavily the surfeit of imitators that not necessarily imitated all, but borrowed heavily from the visual style in which Ferroni excelled in, the film deserves high praise on this alone.


Some sequences have a bewitching ethereal quality that caresses from start to finish.

The enchanting lead female protagonist combines melancholy and doom as skilfully as she achieves the hard ‘ugly but beautiful’ achievement that is so finely balanced on a knife edge and be a catastrophe if not steered with cinematic know-how.

Tragedy and mortality celebrate their marriage dwelling in the sadness of the windmills inhabitants; throughout the mill are littered skulls reminding the inhabitants of mortality an omen too perhaps, of the perils of ignoring it and the consequence.


Object d’art clutters the space emphasising decay, agedness and mortality again. It’s though the inhabitants of the Mill, by avoiding mortality, are causing the interiors/atmosphere to deteriorate on their behalves. Ferroni uses the canal side exteriors by emphasising on the damp, the dark and the overcast.

His technique not only to affects the visual sensibilities of the viewer but others are lured into the experience. You can smell the must of the cramped indoor spaces, the stagnancy of the canals can be revisited depending on if you are engrossed or not (I obviously was!).

In one brilliant sequence Wahl is introduced. He moves along the narrow aisle of intricately carved mottos and emblems. Dogmatic sculptures also grace the aisles slightly animate via the red and blue Technicolor.


Elfi can be seen languishly draped over her bed suffused in powerful chroma dominating its pastel neighbours. Candle lit archways, cobwebbed vaults and draped curtain backdrops are formed into stylish compositions.

We also see an early example of exploitation. In a much excised scene- Dany Corrells’ nipple can be seen exposed as she is strapped to the medical table. This is thankfully restored in the region 1 release.


It is also an error that this is the first ‘horror nudie’ – it isn’t. In Michael Powells ‘Peeping Tom’ made one year earlier featured a brief nude scene with Pamela green, this was expectedly excised by our censors, I have never seen this, so have personal reservation.

With poetical imagery and the rejuvenation aspect of restoring the features of a young woman disfigured due to emotional concerns harks back again to Franju.


Finally we must not forget the culprit that lured Hans to his destiny in the first instance – the carousel of pain. This addition of mechanical macabre is virtually hypnotic to witness; soft lens photography makes beauty out of barbarity courtesy of Pier Ludovico Pavoni.

The tempo may seem slow at times but is not out of place to the dreamlike quality that makes the narrative flow. I feel this should be seen by all enthusiasts who show a true appreciation of the exploitation genre or the horror genre in general as it is too damned important to miss.


MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENT

In one of the hallucinatory sequences Hans finds himself in a sombre room, the four poster is illuminated by candlelight; the corpse of Elfi sits upright in bed wide-eyed. She turns bleeding from the corner of her mouth; her face contorts in merciful pain as she holds out both her hands. She seems trapped in esoteric limbo, in unimaginable pain, in an area cocooned in web, dust and darkness. Are these things witnessed caused by a drug induced hallucination or simply esoteric reality................


I AM ALSO KNOWN AS ……..

Drops of Blood

Horror of the Stone Women


Icon (USA) (video title)

Mill of the Stone Women (USA)

Moulin des supplices, Le

The Horrible Mill Women

THE DIRECTOR; Giorgio Ferroni

THE YEAR; 1960

THE COUNTRY; Italy / France

THE MUSIC; Carlo Innocenzi

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