Halloween is nigh upon us, the air filled with the smell of damp leaves and the cachinnations of children preparing for our most beloved night of tricks and treats. The mood is a bizarre mixture of the ominous and the joyful, and many a people this time of year are in search of good horror movie in hopes of putting themselves in the Halloween mood.
Those seekers of the mad and macabre need look no further than ‘Dementia 13’ (1963) a delightfully deranged picture directed by none other than Francis Ford Coppola. His first legitimate film after directing a series of “nudies”, Coppola was rushed by Roger “Z-film” Corman to create a cheap ‘Psycho’ knock-off – a task which the then young Coppola fully embraced in hopes of jumpstarting his film career.
Set mostly in a gothic Irish castle, the film follows Louise Haloran (Luana Anders), a scheming little minx who attempts to weasel her way into her mother-in-law’s will following the accidental heart-attack death of her [Louise] husband, John (Peter Read). Upon arriving at the family estate, Louise discovers that John’s brothers are more than just a little unhinged, and that John’s mother Lady Haloran (Eithne Dunne), is a frail and superstitious woman still mourning the death of a daughter long dead. Things only take a turn for the weird when a crazed, ax-wielding lunatic arrives, and soon after that, heads start to roll!
Faulted and flawed, ‘Dementia 13’ nevertheless manages to rise above the usual B-grade trappings to become something better than most of the films Roger Corman commissioned, thanks in no small part to its talented and competent director, Coppola. The film’s environment is potent, its cobwebbed immensity laden with ghoulish touches that help to weave an atmosphere of the ominous and suspenseful, while the film’s picturesque and professional-level cinematography creates a grim and haunting atmosphere that so few B-grade horror are capable of replicating.
In terms of acting, the cast of ‘Dementia 13’ is by no means a great assemblage of thespians, but Corman’s usual staple of actors and actresses do manage to perform adequately enough from Coppola’s direction, their performances better than most B-grade actors, but still flawed with touches of stillness or melodrama in certain moments that prevents their collective performance from becoming something better.
However, the true fault with Coppola’s ‘Dementia 13’ (and the reason for its subpar composition) is its script. The screenplay, which was admittedly rushed by Coppola, bears all the hallmarks of an underdeveloped and hastily written script, the story becoming muddling and confusing at times – not to mention frantic – and thus, resulting in a picture that occasionally mires in redundant or confusing scenes, in particular the “psychiatrist prologue” at the beginning of some versions of the film, which was put into the picture afterwards by Corman as a means of “padding” it out from its original length.
Ultimately, Coppola’s ‘Dementia 13’ is a fascinating, albeit flawed horror picture that moves quickly along and indulges us in our most macabre desires for scares, frights, and murder. While it might pale in comparison to some of the director’s later, more critically-acclaimed work, ‘Dementia 13’ still remains a good and entertaining picture, and definitely worth a viewing this upcoming Samhaim for those looking for something to set the mood for our favorite night of frights and terrors.
Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.