Buy DEMENTIA 13!
|Luana Anders hides from the axe man in Francis Ford Coppola's DEMENTIA 13.
Three years after PSYCHO (1960), future auteur Francis Ford Coppola directed this gothic shocker for producer Roger Corman. Upping the violence of Hitchcock’s film - although somewhat mild by today’s standards - an axe murderer stalks a castle in rural Ireland preying on members of a bereaved family. DEMENTIA 13 pre-empts the Giallo, as we know it, and the slasher movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Stylishly shot in black and white on a minuscule budget, it still packs something of a steely-edged wallop today.
Each year, the extended family of Lady Haloran (Eithne Dunne) gather at their family pile to commemorate the death of her daughter Kathleen (Barbara Dowling); who drowned in the nearby pond when she was a young girl. Attending are her three sons Richard (William Campbell), Billy (Bart Patton) and John (Peter Read). John’s new wife Louise (Luana Anders) has joined the family for the first time. However, the night before the memorial, John takes a boat out on the pond and tells Louise that she will get nothing from his mother’s will should he die. They argue and he somewhat ironically has a sudden heart attack and drops dead at his wife’s feet. Fearing she will be destitute, Louise weighs his body down and throws it into the lake. She fakes a letter saying that John has gone to New York and begins to ingratiate herself with Lady Haloran by pretending she is in touch with the spirit of her dead daughter, to get her to change her will.
Meanwhile, Richard’s fiancé Kane (Mary Mitchel) arrives from the States and watches as the family pay tribute to Kathleen. Louise investigates the castle looking for things she can use to further convince Lady Haloran that she can help her communicate with her dead daughter. Only someone, carrying an axe, is watching her every move …
It would probably be best not to expect a slasher movie, as such, when watching DEMENTIA 13. The majority of the film is a melodrama about a family still dealing with the reverberations of a loved one’s death. However, the film plays as a whodunit - with the killer’s face veiled in darkness. The one murder is surprisingly grisly for a movie of its vintage. The sudden and shocking act of violence is clearly modelled on the shower scene in PSYCHO. Another scene of note has the axe-wielding killer smashing down a shed to get to a would-be victim.
|Beware the axe!
Although Hitchcock’s film - the Bate’s House notwithstanding - was a very modern tale of murder for its time. The violence shocked audiences and it was even the first theatrically released film in North America to feature a flushing toilet. The Bates Motel itself was a slice of then-modern Americana and a stark contrast to the gothic trappings of Castle Haloran. Corman, of course, was successful with his period-set Poe adaptations, such as THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) and PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961). Coppola had done some uncredited directorial duties on Corman’s THE TERROR (from the same year) - starring Boris Karloff and a young Jack Nicholson.
DEMENTIA 13 melds the two then-popular horror genres together. The post-PSYCHO proto-slasher best typified by William Castle’s HOMICIDAL (1961) and the gothic romps that Corman was well known for. Coppola excels with some eerie gothic touches, such as the underwater grave holding a seemingly miraculously preserved Kathleen (in an image flinched from Charles Laughton’s NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)). Sure, the wandering around the castle by candlelight looks a little creaky by today’s standards, but it’s still a very entertaining slice of hokum - and doesn’t outstay its welcome at a very trim 75 minutes.
Coppola assisted Roger Corman on the set of THE YOUNG RACERS (1963) in Ireland. Corman allowed him to use the same set, crew, and actors Luana Anders, William Campbell, and Patrick Magee for DEMENTIA 13 if he could work around the shooting schedule of that film. It was shot in just nine days on a budget of only $22,000 (left over from the production of the other film).
Coppola earned pundits for DEMENTIA 13, despite it mostly being released in second billing to THE TERROR. In the UK, the film was released as the more accurately titled THE HAUNTED AND THE HUNTED. The Bristol Evening Post said of the director: “[he] … emerges indeed, as a man who makes horror an art.” Wendy Michener, in The Toronto Star, said: “The suspense is neatly triggered, but this is hardly a picture suitable for children who made up the bulk of the audience last night.” The Catholic Missourian called the film “Morally objectionable in part.”
In a William Castle’esque move, DEMENTIA 13 was released to some theatres with something called the ‘D-13 Test’ to ascertain if audiences could take the mooted sheer terror unleashed by the movie. It had the promise that: “IF YOU FAIL THE TEST . . . you will be asked to leave the theatre!”. There are no records of how many people - if any - were asked to leave!
Coppola was just one of many directors who got their start through low-budget shockers. Whilst it looks a little tame today, DEMENTIA 13 is still an important cornerstone in the development of the slasher subgenre and remains required viewing.
female: 1 / male: 1
1) Female killed with an axe
2) Male shot dead
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