You don’t need to be a film buff to have heard the name Francis Ford Coppola. He is famous for directing such works as The Godfather Trilogy, Apocalypse Now, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, among others. Before any of those, however, he wrote and directed Dementia 13 which would become his first mainstream feature film and that would be produced by another Hollywood heavyweight in Roger Corman. The two would later clash over the direction and certain scenes in the film as Coppola decided to make Dementia 13 different from what he told Corman. Corman then had additional scenes shot and placed in the film without Coppola’s involvement.
Dementia 13 takes place in Ireland, focusing on the Haloran family and what transpires in their possibly haunted castle. The film opens with Louise and John Haloran taking a late night row boating excursion out on the lake, when suddenly John has a heart attack and dies. Not so overcome with grief, Louise dumps his body overboard and forms her plan to explain John’s absence. With some quick thinking she is able to dupe the rest of the family in thinking he went away on urgent business. Louise knows that if John is found dead that she will be out of the family and not be entitled to any of the estate.
As we meet the rest of the family, Louise begins to notice some odd happenings between the other brothers, Billy and Richard, and their mother. As more of the script is revealed we learn about a sister, Kathleen, who passed away seven years ago. The Haloran’s have never truly gotten over her death. Strange things start happening in the house when toys start moving on their own ,and shadows and noises seem to come alive. All of this of course leads into some brutal killings (and the occasional plot hole).
The script for Dementia 13 was written in just a few days, and the shooting for the film was only a little over a week. Unfortunately, that is evident in the film and does take away from what could have been a great thriller. Some scenes are certainly rushed, while other don’t make sense or are forgotten later on in the film. It would be interesting to see the original film before Corman added extra scenes into it and see if the story made more sense; although the film already has a short run time of just 75 minutes even with all the extra scenes put in. With a bigger budget and more time to shoot, Dementia 13 could have had the makings of something truly remarkable. As it stands, it is still an interesting film to watch. There is some nice suspense and a couple unique shots. Anyone who is a fan of Coppola should probably give it a look if they haven’t already to get a glimpse into the mind of someone toeing the line prior to stardom.
Visuals/Picture Quality (2.5/5)
This film is in the public domain, meaning anyone with a print can put out a copy. This has lead to numerous DVD offerings throughout the years that have certainly been sub-par. The Film Detective has released this on a BD-R with a transfer from archival 35mm elements. It’s hard to properly dissect the quality when the state of the original film elements are unknown or suspect. While this will look markedly better than any version you could get on DVD, it is far from a great release. The transfer is pretty much scrubbed of any cracks and pops with an almost total lack of film grain. The film at times can look very soft and detail can get lost quick. In the beginning of the feature there is quite a bit of ghosting where movement is just blurred between frames. Contrast is also a little off in places with whites being very bright at times and blending together. For those that like a nice stable look without grain or pops, you can still be satisfied with the transfer. For fans of the film this is still the best it has ever looked and worth snagging a copy just to re-watch.
The score is one of the best parts of Dementia 13. Even though the horror is spread out in the film, the score does a fantastic job of keeping tensions high. As our different protagonists scour the darkly lit castle, you will be kept on the edge of your seat, expecting danger at any moment, even if it usually doesn’t appear. The dialogue comes through crisp and clear and has no issues. Some of the effects can seem muddled at times, but nothing that is too distracting.
Special Features (0/5)
No trailers, no features. Not even a chapter select function. It almost doesn’t even need a menu since the only option is the English SDH which most Blu-ray players can just hit the audio button to cycle through.
- Standard BD-R
- Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
- English 2.0 DTS-HD
- English SDH
Runtime 75 Mins
As much as I like older thrillers in black and white, it is hard to recommend Dementia 13 for anyone that isn’t already a fan of the film. For fans, the fact that it is in the original aspect ratio and does look the best it ever has so far is encouraging, but there is still so much room for improvement. It’s possible that we have become spoiled as movie lovers, with all these older films releasing on Blu-ray with great transfers and tons of special features, that we forget about just loving the film. If the film didn’t feel incomplete or was more iconic then maybe more would have been tried with it. Being a public domain film, I suppose it is not worth the expense to really put in the time and effort, which is somewhat disheartening when Coppola and Corman are still around and could possibly give some great commentary. Those that are interested can pick this up at Amazon here.
Note: This Blu Ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.