GORE IN THE STORE
DEMENTIA 13 ***
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Starring William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Patrick Magee, Mary Mitchel.
Horror/Thriller, USA/Ireland, 68 mins, cert 15.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray via Lionsgate on their Vestron label on Monday 15th November 2021.
There’s an old saying that goes ‘If you’re going to steal then steal from the best’, which would explain why DEMENTIA 13 bears more than a passing resemblance to PSYCHO, and when you consider that Roger Corman – a man famed for knocking out movies quickly and, more importantly, cheaply – was a producer on it then it all makes sense, with the year being 1963 and PSYCHO cemented as the standard bearer for mainstream horror/thrillers.
But what elevates DEMENTIA 13 from being just a mere PSYCHO knock-off is the fact that it was directed by one Francis Ford Coppola; in fact, it was Coppola’s first legitimate feature film directorial credit (apparently the sexploitation movies he was involved with don’t count), and despite hindsight being a wonderful thing it is very clear to see that there was talent behind the camera here. More than there was in front of it, if truth be told.
To move it away from Roger Corman’s instructions to Coppola to make something in the same vein as PSYCHO, what Coppola made was actually more in line with what Mario Bava was doing in Italy rather than what was coming out of Hollywood. The story is a Gothic chiller revolving around the very strange Haloran family and the ghosts that haunt their lives. The family is made up of three brothers and their extremely rich mother, all of whom are still grieving the loss of Kathleen, Lady Haloran’s young daughter who died many years before by drowning in the lake on the family estate. Louise (Luana Anders) is married to John Haloran, one of the brothers, and is intent on claiming John’s inheritance from his aging mother but if John dies before his mother Louise won’t get a thing, which means that the heart attack John suffers doesn’t go down too well with his scheming wife, who throws the body in a lake and goes to visit the family for John’s brother Richard’s wedding to his fiancé Kane (Mary Mitchel), telling them that John is away on business.
However, Louise isn’t the only vindictive person to be visiting the family mansion at that time as an axe-wielding maniac turns up and starts to work their way through the Haloran family, but luckily the family doctor Justin Caleb (Patrick Magee) is on hand to be suspicious of everybody and weed out the wrong ‘uns, and not at all believing the stories about Kathleen returning from her watery grave.
So part Gothic chiller, part proto-slasher with a bit of family drama shoved in there for character building, DEMENTIA 13 is enjoyable enough on a basic level as a horror/mystery and boasts some gorgeous black-and-white photography as well as having a certain energy to it thanks to Coppola’s camera barely staying still. Running at 68 minutes there isn’t enough time for it to get boring, and this cut just happens to be the Director’s Cut after the version that did the rounds back in the 1960s was a longer cut padded out by extra scenes written and directed by Jack Hill under Roger Corman’s instructions.
However, despite how good Coppola’s visual direction is the same can’t be said for the performances of pretty much all of the main cast, with only Patrick Magee seeming to be putting in any effort – occasionally too much, as was his way – but adding a lot of personality with his doctor-cum-detective role. Luana Anders gives the only other performance that doesn’t border on the wooden but given the short running time things move along at a fair clip so there isn’t much time to get too hung up on the acting.
Coming backed with a fun promotional short and a new introduction from Francis Ford Coppola, DEMENTIA 13 – in this new restoration - is unlikely to break any new ground as an undiscovered gem or a lost classic as the script and acting are, at best, very basic and just about serviceable, but viewed as an early work from a filmmaker who would go on to shape cinema in the decade that followed there is a certain charm to it and it is by no means shabby when it comes to production values, following the Roger Corman tradition of doing a lot with very little. An odd title to add to your Vestron Blu-ray collection certainly, but for those interested in a bit of genre film history DEMENTIA 13 is fun and creepy enough to warrant it.