Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dementia 13 (1963) review


     Cheesy horror producer, Roger Corman, teams up with a young Francis Ford Coppola to produce Dementia 13, a slasher flick well worth the watch. The movie may have its flaws, from unimpressive performances to lack of plot information, but Coppola's directing style and Corman's fear factor combine to form a horror movie that's actually kind of memorable, well-made, and pretty creepy.

PLOT: After her husband suffers a fatal heart attack, Louise Haloran (Luana Anders) must travel to the Haloran family estate to secure a place in the family's inheritance and remove suspicion by showing up for the anniversary memorial of John's sister, who died tragically as a child. An opportunity comes up for Louise when she convinces John's mother (Ethne Dunn) that she can talk to spirits and would try to communicate with the late child. However, things start to go wrong when people start to slowly disappear from the estate due to the hands of an unknown axe murderer stalking the premises. The remaining members of the family must help fight off the murderer and solve the mystery of whom it is and what the motive is. The plot is a great concept executed brilliantly for the most part. The many twists and turns that the main story faces are obviously written with great care, stringing together a classic slasher movie plot. However, some events just don't seem to be explained as well. Dementia 13 ties up most of its loose ends by its conclusion, but we have a surprising lack of character development. What was the true relationship between Louise and her husband, and has it always been that way? How about the relationship between all of the siblings disregarding the little girl's untimely death? So much is left unexplained that could have clarified some questionable aspects in the story.

ACTING: The performances in the movie weren't bad, but they also weren't excellent. Each played his or her part accurately and fittingly, but not to a prestigious or memorable degree. The best performances came from Luana Anders as Louise, Ethne Dunn as Lady Haloran, and Bart Patton as Billy Haloran. A lot of performances were just hit-and-miss, like that of Patrick Magee (who would go on a decade later to play the wheelchair man in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange) as Justin Caleb. Some moments, he was brilliant, whereas others came off as kind of silly. As stated previously, the acting isn't terrible, but nothing too impressive.

SCORE: The score for Dementia 13 is actually very intense and scary for its time. It helps build suspense and tension and hypes up every scare. The creepy mood is very much influenced by the intensity of the score, which isn't terrible, especially if the score is as well-made and fitting as this one.

EFFECTS: The special effects in this movie are actually pretty great for the time. The blood looks as real as it can in black-and-white, and heads do roll this early in horror film. Personally, I think Roger Corman is to blame for the effects, but rightfully so. For the time, they're gory, gutsy, and intense like a true horror/slasher needs to be.

OTHER CONTENT: One of the best things Dementia 13 has going for it is having Francis Ford Coppola in the director's chair. Though very early on in the fantastic filmmaker's life (he'd go on to direct The Godfather - Parts I & II, Apocalypse Now, The Outsiders, etc.), this film reflects a good portion of his signature directing style. Coppola uses powerful imagery and harrowing cinematography to stir up certain emotions, establish symbolism, and hint at certain concepts that help establish the tone of the movie. If one looks with a keen eye, one would be surprised. Coppola and Corman vibe together very well as filmmakers, as evidenced by how genuinely creepy the movie is. Everything is built up and set up right, with the story falling into place and the horrifying mayhem chasing behind it, bloodthirsty, dark, and just the right amount of macabre. This is laden all the way up to the shocking conclusion, which is genius and pretty frightening at heart, but rushed. No sooner than the viewer sees who the murderer is the movie ends. The murderer shows his face, the motive is explained in two sentences, and the credits roll. No falling action, no "what now?", or even a reaction from the others watching on in horror is provided, but a speedy ending. It's very intelligent and kind of mind-blowing, but it's also kind of a trippy place to just end the film with all that's provided.

     Coppola and Corman's horror gem, Dementia 13, is actually a great slasher flick for its time. It's creepy, bloody, intelligent, well-directed, and kind of mind-blowing near the end, but it suffers from some bland performances, unexplained plot elements, and a rushed ending. The movie is well worth a watch for horror fans everywhere and should be remembered just as much as the well-known slashers like Psycho or Black Christmas. 

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