Monday, June 13, 2016

Dementia 13

Over the weekend, I got around to watching the DVR recording I made of Dementia 13 from when Roger Corman did the TCM Spotlight alongside Ben Mankiewicz. It's available on DVD, so I'm more than comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie.

The movie starts of with a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing. John Haloran is taking his wife Louise (Luana Anders) out on a small lake in a rowboat. She offers to take over the rowing, since he's got a bad heart. He refuses, and sure enough, he suffers a massive and fatal heart attack. Poor Louise. There are more pressing problems, such as the fact that with John dead, Louise won't inherit any of John's mother's money. So she disposes of his body in the lake and types up a phony letter to "Mother" saying that John had to go back to the States on urgent business and is going to miss the memorial service.

That's where we start learning about the rest of the family. John had a younger brother Billy (Bart Patton) and an older brother Richard (William Campbell). The three also had a kid sister Kathleen, but she drowned seven years ago. That's what the memorial service is for: every year on the anniversary of Kathleen's death, the immediately family gathers together for a memorial service at her grave, which is on the grounds of an old castle where Mother, the Lady Haloran presumably spends her days. Louise is there to visit but not to take part in the memorial; the same is true for Richard's fiancée Kane (Mary Mitchel).

And then Louise starts to investigate what's going on at this place, since everybody seems a bit off, as though there's something not quite right, but Louise can't quite figure it out. And everybody else figures that there's something not quite right with her, too (that's obviously the case; they don't know she's a widow). Louise decides to try to do something to provoke Lady Halloran by leaving some of Kathleen's old dolls to come floating up in the pond, but it's a bad decision: when she gets out of the pond, she's axe-murdered!

Who's behind the murder, and why? Naturally, that will be explained by the end of the movie, but the murderer hides the body and everybody starts wondering where Louise is. The only sensible person in the place is Lady Haloran's doctor, Caleb (Patrick Magee). And he'd better work fast to figure out what's gone on, because somebody else gets axe-murdered too. How many more deaths are there going to be?

Dementia 13 is one of the first movies directed by Francis Ford Coppola, although he's credited here without the Ford in his name. He had been part of the crew of a previous Corman movie, and apparently there was enough money to make another movie on the ultra-cheap. Coppola quickly came up with a plot, and Dementia 13 is what we see.

Quite a few of the IMDb reviewers give Dementia 13 high marks, presumably because it's a Francis Ford Coppola movie. I wouldn't be quite so generous. The idea is interesting enough, although the plot is a bit muddled in that it's tough at times to figure out exactly what's going on. The movie also looks like the ultra-low-budget film that it is, but you can't blame Coppola for this. Still, Dementia 13 is interesting, and people who know the Coppola oeuvre better than I say that his directorial touches are obvious. Overall, I would recommend the movie, but with the caveat that just because it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola doesn't mean you're going to get something that was up to his later standards.

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