Francis Ford Coppola
Launa Anders - Louise Haloran
William Campbell - Richard Haloran
Bert Patton - Billy Haloran
Patrick Magee - Dr. Caleb
Mary Mitchell - Kane
Eithne Dunn - Lady Haloran
Year - 1963
Score - 2 Howls Outta 4
Dementia has to do with a loss of cognition due to changes in the brain due to trauma or disease. Things that can be affected are decision making, memory, thinking, reasoning, and can cause behaviorial changes. It can be reversed depending on the level of damage in the brain.
I think dementia actually affected the filmmakers behind this cult horror film. DEMENTIA 13 has nothing to do with the disease I described earlier or the unluckiest number. What it does have is the distinction of being one of the earlier slasher films ever released in the wave of Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO. DEMENTIA 13 is also the first mainstream film ever directed by Francis Ford Coppola [he had directed "nudies" previous to this and worked for producer Roger Corman]. So is this "cult classic" worthy of its title? Well it is a cult film, but classic? Only if it refers to its age.
John Haloran (Peter Read) and his wife Louise (Launa Anders) are out on a boat one night. After John tells Louise that the only way she'll get the family inheritance is if he outlives his mother (Eithne Dunn) to change the will, he suffers a heart attack and dies. Louise dumps John's body in the water to get rid of any evidence of his death. Wanting the family inheritance, Louise takes a trip to Ireland to meet the Haloran family. She lies about John being dead, instead telling them that he's away on business in New York. Eventually, Louise creates a scheme to convince John's mother, Lady Haloran, that her dead daughter Kathleen [who had died in a drowning near the estate 7 years ago and was the sole beneficiary of the Haloran will] is still alive and trying to tell her somehing. However it backfires and Louise ends up dead by an axe-wielding maniac, who decides to scare and kill the rest of the Haloran family.
Produced by Roger Corman, DEMENTIA 13 has all the makings of a low budget B-movie. It uses leftover sets from Corman's previous film THE YOUNG RACERS. It has over-the-top acting. But thing is, the film takes itself seriously and there's really no fun in watching this movie. There's really two movies in DEMENTIA 13. Too bad neither one is remotely interesting.
That's not to say that the film is boring, because it isn't. It's just that the stories presented in this film aren't established enough for the viewer to really care. The Louise storyline with her wanting the family inheritance had me kind of hooked, until she was killed off [like Janet Leigh in PSYCHO] and left with a dull mystery of who is killing people around the estate. Honestly, it wasn't much of a mystery to begin with since you see a silouette of the killer from head-to-toe and you can pretty much guess who he or she is. DEMENTIA 13 just feels like the script was slapped together without really creating a complete vision of what the film was supposed to be. Was it supposed to be a psychological ghost story or a slasher film? I don't think Coppola or Corman know how to answer that. And there was way too much exposition in this film that's made to seem more important to the story than it actually is. And the dialogue is pretty weak, especially the dialogue given to the ultra-annoying Dr. Caleb played by Patrick Magee. Honestly, I don't know what this film was supposed to tell the people watching it.
The weaknesses of the story and script is made sadder for the fact that Francis Ford Coppola directs a pretty good film here. The pacing is extremely well done and he uses enough stylistic elements [pan and track, reaction close-ups, low-key lighting] to visually create a beautiful looking film. I especially liked how he would turn away from the violence whenever the killer attacked people. Especially Louise's death, where we only hear her scream over and over again while seeing her lower half of her body inside the pond where Kathleen drowned. It's pretty effective, even today, because we have no idea where the axe is striking and how the murderer is killing her. Plus there's another death where someone gets decapitated and you actually see that one, as the head rolls down a small hill and lands in the pond. I thought that was pretty cool. So there's a lot to like visually in this film and it's definitely the showing of a director on the rise. It's no THE GODFATHER trilogy, but hints of that greatness are here.
But then again, did Coppola actually direct the entire film? I've read rumors that director Jack Hill directed additional scenes after Roger Corman found Coppola's version not that exciting for release. So which scenes were directed by who? Did Coppola direct the murder scenes? Or was it Hill? There are stories that detail Corman's and Coppola's disagreement over how the film was to be released. Corman wanted more murders and a longer film, but Coppola wanted to stick to his script. Maybe that's why the film feels so disjointed. Plus I had issues with the editing some of the time, where there would be cuts that were too quick for the audience to feel a reaction to. But whoever did what, the film looks great.
The acting was okay for the most part. Launa Anders was great as Louise. I don't know if she was a bitch in real life but she played one excellently on screen. She had great facial expressions and a voice that would seduce you into her devious web. Too bad she was only in the first half of the film because I really enjoyed watching her. William Campbell was cool as Richard, the hot-headed Haloran brother. He always had an angry face expression with fit the character well. He seemed to have more depth than the script allowed him to have, but Campbell did the most with what he had to work with. Bert Patton was okay as Billy, the younger Haloran brother. He was connected to the Kathleen death scenerio more than anyone and played the nice guy role well. Mary Mitchelle as Kane, Richard's fiancee, was okay too. She was pretty much the opposite of Louise. There was no real depth to her either but she didn't bother me. Eithne Dunn was also good as Lady Haloran, the matriarch of the Haloran family. She was very melodramatic in her delivery, but protraying a grieving mother, I tolerated it. Her character also disappeared two-thirds into the film, never to return. And it was never explained! Like I said, the story was a mess.
The annoying actor of the film was Patrick Magee as Dr. Caleb, the annoying and commanding Haloran family doctor. With a horrible accent and over-the-top acting, I just wanted to punch him a few times in the face. I cringed every time he would appear. He dragged down this film for me every time he was on, I'm sorry. If he were my doctor, I'd change health plans.
THINGS I WANT TO FORGET WHILE WATCHING THIS FILM
1. Don't piss off your wife while you row a boat with her in it. Instead of her, you'll be the one who's gonna get wet.
2. A grieving widow will cry over one of two reasons:
a) Her husband was great in the sack
b) Her husband was rich and didn't leave her any money
Like Tina Turner once said, what's love got to do with it?
3. Louise wants to kill her husband's entire family to be the sole beneficiary of his family's will. Evil? Yes. But I never said I don't appreciate her drive and determination. Very sexy in a lady.
4. The best horse riders are the ones who claim not to ride horses. They ride other things, if you know what I mean...
5. Louise used Kathleen's death to get into the good graces of her mother-in-law. Never mess with death. Remember, what goes around WILL come around.
6. Dr. Caleb is controlling and acts like he runs Haloran Castle. I didn't realize you had to take "How To Be A Prick 101" to get your medical degree.
7. Kane [not the wrestler but Richard's fiancee] believes Richard sees her as a Christmas ornament that you hang on a tree for happy days that you tie up into a box and shove away in a closet during gloomy days. Hey, at least she knows her place in life!
8. Don't go hunting in the woods. It's no way to get ahead in life, especially when nature has an axe to grind with you. Literally.
9. Irish people have to drink Guinness, even if they don't want to. They also have to take responsibility for LEPRECHAN, even if they don't want to. Now I see why they drink in the first place.
10. Don't be upset when you can't find your new husband at your wedding reception. Now if he's missing on your honeymoon, then there's a problem. Hope your brought batteries. Or a cucumber.
THE FINAL HOWL
DEMENTIA 13 is a mixed bag. While I love the direction, the decapitation scene, and Launa Ander's performance, the rest I can do without. For a horror film, it's not at all scary or suspenseful. And the mystery lasts all of five seconds, which is really disappointing. However, if you're a Coppola fan or like to see a precursor to gaillos and slasher films in the horror genre that's not PSYCHO, you may want to check this film out.