Friday, December 4, 2009

A couple of intense moments highlight the otherwise boring 'Dementia 13'

Dementia 13 (1963)
Starring: Luana Anders, William Campbell, and Patrick Magee
Director: Francis Coppola
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

After her husband dies of a heart attack, Louise (Anders) covers up his death and travels to Castle Halloran, his family's ancestral estate in Ireland, where her strange inlaws live. Here, she enacts a scheme to gain the trust of her mentally unstable mother-in-law and get a piece of the family fortune. Her plan is working well...until the crazed axe murderer shows up and starts hacking people to bits. Which member of the creepy family in Castle Halloran has an axe to grind with the rest of them?

Much like "Psycho" starts out seeming to be one kind of crime drama and then veers suddenly in another direction and turns into a completely different sort of crime drama, so does "Dementia 13" transform from a slow-moving, mildly interesting gothic thriller into a precursor for slasher-flicks like the "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" series. (The scene where the axe murderer is after Lady Halloran, and virtually demolishes a shack to get at her, would fit right into just about any slasher flick.)

"Dementia 13" is about average for a Roger Corman-produced low-budget quickie. The acting is pretty bad all around, although Magee is fun as the creepy family doctor, and Anders has an interesting look about her and is good at seeming sinister without trying. (She also has some of the creepiest scenes in the flick. The sequence of her in the pond is very well done; it is actually the film's highpoint.)

The attempts at scares are pretty feeble and universally badly executed, and aside from the aforementioned scenes with the axe murderer hacking his way into a shack, and the one where the scheming daughter-in-law is diving in the castle's pond, virtually no suspense or tension ever really gets going in the flick. To some extent, the bad soundtrack music can be blamed for that, as it is overly loud and dramatic at all wrong times, distracting more than adding to the film. However, the fault lies mostly with the fact that there simply is nothing scary about the scenes.

"Dementia 13" is worth watching if you're out of other things and interested in seeing the building blocks that led to the slasher flicks of the 1980s, or if you're a huge Francis Ford Coppola fan. This was his directorial and scripting debut, and it was before he became so huge a sensation that only three names could properly describe him!