Dementia 13 is Godfather director Coppola’s first feature film. After graduating from the UCLA film program Coppola landed a job as a sound recordist on, Roger Corman’s movie The Young Racers shooting in Ireland. Corman’s shoot ended up being both under schedule and under budget . He still had a little money left over and, more importantly, three of the principal actors were still under contract. Corman told Coppola that if he could quickly write a script using Irish locations that he could direct his first low-budget feature. The result is a compact little black-and-white thriller.
John and Louise Haloran (Peter Read and Luana Anders) visit Castle Haloran in Ireland to attend an annual memorial service for his little sister Kathleen. The girl had drowned in a pond seven years ago. A present-day mysterious disappearance does not prevent Lady Haloran (Ethne Dunne) from mourning the loss of her youngest child. Soon we are introduced to sons John (William Campbell), a metal sculptor, and recent college graduate Billy (Bart Patton). John’s fiancée Kane (Mary Mitchel) arrives from America for her wedding. Billy has flashback memories of playing with Kathleen when they were children.
Soon axe murders occur around the castle but because the bodies are hidden it is assumed that the missing parties have simply taken temporary leave. Lady Haloran’s doctor Justin Cabe (Patrick Magee) suspects that the disappearances are more sinister than they seem. Cabe investigates and eventually murderer and motives are revealed. Coppola’s script spreads suspicion among various characters although by the end the identity of the culprit may not be a big surprise.
Some of the performances are a little stiff but Campbell, Anders, and Magee are consistently good. Magee later went on to greater fame starring in Peter Brook’s production of Marat/Sade (1966) as well as an important supporting role in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). Coppola adds some stylistic touches such as extreme close-ups of faces to add suspense and a couple of underwater sequences that work extremely well. Most of the brutality is disguised in editing but there is one graphic scene of a beheading. Although clearly influenced by Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Dementia 13 is no carbon copy. Given the short time Coppola had to write and shoot the movie, Dementia 13 shows Coppola’s sure hand in shot choices and in creating a sense of mood and dread.
The music by Ronald Stein, who scored many AIP movies, is orchestral and includes a baroque harpsichord which works well with the style of the movie.
Trivia note: Actor William Campbell was ex-husband of Judith Campbell Exner who reportedly had an affair with JFK.
For years Dementia 13 was a public domain title available on VHS and DVD. The quality of most of these releases was very poor. This budget two-disc combo by HD Cinema Classics comes with both a Blu-ray and a DVD in the same package. The cleaned up soundtrack is still a little muddy apparently due to problems in the original recording. The mono track is spread to all of the 5.1 surround channels. Black and white picture quality is good on the DVD (although whites are sometimes harsh) and even better on the Blu-ray. Though not perfect, these discs probably represent the best quality as we’re ever likely to see.
- Theatrical trailer
- 5.1 sound mix (mono in all channels)
- Before and after restoration demo (it appears that the restoration was limited to scratch and dust removal)
- Postcard with original poster art
DIR & SCR: Francis Ford Coppola. Prod: Roger Corman. CIN: Charles Hanawalt. ED: Stuart O’Brien, Mort Tubor. SCORE: Ronald Stein. CAST: William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Mary Mitchel, Patrick Magee, Ethne Dunne, Peter Read. Genre: Psychological horror. B&W. Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1. Running Time: 75 min. American International Pictures. Blu-ray/DVD distributor HD Cinema Classics/Film Chest (http://filmchestmediagroup.com)