Dementia 13 (1963) Review

8 out of 10 Skulls
Written by: TerrorCorner   

I'm going to go back in time for my first movie... all the way back to when Francis Ford Coppola was just starting out... back to 1963...

Producer Roger Corman hired Coppola to direct "Dementia 13" right after shooting the movie "The Young Racers," with a budget of $22,000.00, and his friends acting in it for about $600.00.  The script was written in about three days, and shows in the slight stiffness of the dialogue.  When it was released in theatres, Corman insisted on having a William Castle-like "prologue", where a "professional psychiatrist" discusses the D-13 test handed out to the audience... in order to see if they were mentally fit to watch the movie.

Louise Haloran (played by Luana Anders), after her husband dies of a heart attack during an argument about his mother's will, disposes of the body and plans on convincing Lady Haloran that her son is still alive- and to make some changes to the will.  Upon her arrival, she learns of a tragic accident that is commemorated each year... the loss of Lady Haloran's daughter.

Louise conives to convince Lady Haloran that she can communicate with her lost daughter, Kathleen.  She goes as far as planting dolls at the bottom of the pond where Kathleen died so that they float up to the surface as a "sign".  While setting up this, she runs into what seems to be a perfectly preserved little girl laying on the bottom of the pond... with a gravestone at her head.  Fleeing, Louise joines her husband on the "other side" at the hands of a shadowy shape with an ax.

The only person who doesn't think Louise just left is the family doctor, who has been trying to dispel the aura of depression that haunts the Haloran family for years.  His investigation uncovers the truth about Kathleen's death... and the identity of the ax weilding killer.

For me, this is one of my favorite horror movies.  True, the dialogue is stiff and awkward, and the storyline is a little confusing and disjointed, but under that roughness created by the short span of time used to write and film the movie, you can see the potential sparkle of a true gem.  The low budget and short filming time is one of the characteristics of movies made in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

The characters are interesting, and the actors do a great job of portraying them.  William Campbell (who Star Trek fans will recognize as Trelane from "The Squire of Gothos" episode of the Original Series, and as the Klingon Captain Koloth), was superb as the moody elder Haloran brother.  I also enjoyed Patrick Magee's turn as the slightly condescending and sinister Dr. Caleb... even if I did want the character to die.  Bart Patton was suitably cast as the slightly innocent, and disturbed younger brother.  The scene in the pub where he's reciting, "Fishy fishy, in the brook... Poppa's gonna hang you on a hook..." was a nicely chilling scene.

Coppola uses his budget well by being creative with the camera angles, limiting the number of locations needed for shooting, and his use of shadows and light to create an errie and ominous mood.  The scene with the child's bedroom and the toy monkey still gives me goosebumps.  The shot of the boat dock at the beginning is a beautiful shot as well.

The music was well done as well, and the opening credits were creative and moody too.

It's been claimed that this is a gorey film, but it's not really.  In fact, there are only two "gorey" scenes, with very little blood on the screen.  In fact, horror fans looking for a high body count will be a little dissatisfied with this movie.  But the scenes are well shot, and suspenseful, which- for me at least, balanced things out.

Now, I'm known amongst my friends for having a rabid dislike and wariness of remakes- especially of horror films.  Having said that, "Dementia 13" is a movie that I'd love to do a remake of, since the general storyline offers opportunities for more insight and development of the characters.  There is potential to bring something new to this movie.

In the end analysis, this movie isn't for everyone.  However, if you do enjoy classic black and white horror movies, and care to see an early piece of Francis Ford Coppola's work, I definately recommend "Dementia 13"

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