Studio: Chiller Films
Director: Richard LeMay
Writer: Dan De Filippo, Justin Smith
Producer: Dan De Filippo
Stars: Julia Campanelli, Ana Isabelle, Marianne Noscheze, Channing Pickett, Steve Polites, Christian Ryan, Leila Grace, Ben van Berkum, Roland Sands, Donal Brophy, Leif Steinert
A ghost, an ax murderer, two thieves, and an estranged family converge upon a castle where everyone¡¯s secrets are exposed.
Francis Ford Coppola¡¯s 1963 directorial debut ¡°Dementia 13¡± is one of those public domain thrillers like ¡°Night of the Living Dead,¡± ¡°Carnival of Souls,¡± or ¡°Plan 9 from Outer Space¡± that appears on almost every horror DVD budget pack ever created. If you own anything along the lines of ¡°50 Fright Films Collection!¡± or ¡°25 Classic Terrors for $4.99,¡± you more than likely have ¡°Dementia 13¡± on a disc in there somewhere.
Somehow, I¡¯ve never actually sat down to give the movie its due with a viewing, despite it undoubtedly crossing my path on more occasions than can be counted. Its status as a common inclusion on cheapo compilations subconsciously soured me on considering it in any way essential, so I¡¯ve mostly dismissed the film as a Corman quickie whose main relevance is as a Coppola curiosity.
Having now seen Chiller Films¡¯ 2017 remake, the only fresh inspiration I might have to finally plunge into the original would be to verify if it is as bizarrely ill-conceived as this updated version. Either that or to see if problems with plotting, pacing, and production stem from the source material or are entirely new issues. Alas, I¡¯m not driven to solve such mediocre mysteries. Maybe the movie¡¯s macabre melodrama worked 54 years earlier. Today, it plays like a silly soap opera shot as a feature film, with all the same overwrought writing and exaggerated acting usually reserved for daytime TV.
The story involves an implausible convergence of a scheming gold digger, her hired gun accomplices, a masked ax murderer, a drowned girl¡¯s vengeful ghost, and a family full of ingrates whose wealthy matriarch talks to dolls. If that sounds like a nutty amount of nonsense to pack into a slow-burn gothic chiller, wait until a shifty groundskeeper and some backstory about dead Japanese construction workers swirls into the mix.
Considering everything coming together on the grounds of Castle Haloran, where disputes over money mar a memorial service with various nefarious intentions, you¡¯d think the movie wouldn¡¯t be so ploddingly dull. And yet its faint pulse can¡¯t sustain a full blip of intrigue, despite only having to beat for 80 minutes of semi-supernatural suspense.
Enough ham exists in ¡°Dementia 13¡± to put HoneyBaked out of business. Actors are all over the place, with some fighting to swallow mismatched accents while others perform as though they¡¯re on a Branson, Missouri dinner theater stage.
A big bite of blame falls on dreadful dialogue. In its dizzying tailspin to whip up more than one mystery, lines lean in excessively cryptic directions with consistently vague references to ¡°it¡± or other unknown entities. One woman phones someone with the instruction, ¡°just get it done.¡± Another says, ¡°he is the only one who can talk her out of it,¡± while someone responds, ¡°talk her out of what?¡± Viewers sighingly pine to find out too, and the movie doesn¡¯t make the wait interesting.
Additionally dippy exchanges include one crook suggesting he and his partner ¡°ride off into the sunset, like Butch and Sundance,¡± without a hint of irony. Another features forceful foreshadowing when someone says, ¡°the place looks good,¡± and her companion ominously warns, ¡°looks can be deceiving.¡±
Maybe it doesn¡¯t matter much since the material isn¡¯t engaging to begin with, but poor editing confusingly trips up the tempo. In one sequence, a woman is seen checking doors in the mansion looking for someplace to hide. The next shot shows a man outside running toward a car less than one hundred yards away. Cut to a third tangent that plays out over a two-minute period before jumping back to the man getting in the car, and then finally to the first woman opening a door. ¡°Dementia 13¡± either has a peculiar sense of timing, or simply doesn¡¯t grasp how to edit concurrent threads together for pacing.
In the ¡®Pros¡¯ column, where entries are few, the sprawling castle grounds make for a visually terrific location. So much so that the camera can¡¯t stop sweeping in on an overhead drone for yet another establishing shot during every other scene change. Production design lifts the look a great deal, only to be boned by sore thumb shortcuts such as a prosthetic face wound that looks like it is trying to conceal a baseball on the actor¡¯s cheek. At least the crew knows enough to film him in profile from the other side of his face.
I don¡¯t know if Coppola¡¯s version also included a cast of inconsistent talent or more storylines than it had the ability to handle. But even without having seen it, I can say with certainty that ¡°Dementia 13¡± 2017 ends up more like its predecessor than it probably planned on. By that I mean we can expect the flimsy film to quietly join its 1963 brother as forgotten budget-pack filler.
Review Score: 30