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Saturday, February 27, 2016

DEMENTIA 13 -- Movie Review by Porfle



One of my most vivid childhood memories is of accompanying my older brother to a Saturday screening of a new horror movie with the puzzling title, DEMENTIA 13 (1963).

The stark black-and-white photography and dreary Irish castle setting were spooky enough, but it was this film which would introduce me, for the first time, to genuine, grueling screen terror.

The credit "Directed by Francis Coppola" meant nothing to me or anyone else at time--the future creative genius behind the GODFATHER films was merely an aspiring Roger Corman protege' helming his first "real" movie--and neither did the rather mundane plot about an eccentric Irish family, the Halorans, who were obsessed with the drowning death of the clan's youngest child Kathleen several years earlier.


I wasn't yet a fan of the wonderful Luana Anders (EASY RIDER, THE LAST DETAIL, NIGHT TIDE) who played Louise, John Halloran's scheming wife.  In the opening scenes, we see John die of a heart attack and Louise dump his body into a lake lest his death be discovered and she lose her share of the family fortune.

Nor did I know that William Campbell, playing oldest Haloran son Richard, would later guest star in two of my favorite episodes of "Star Trek: The Original Series" (he was Trelane in "The Squire of Gothos" and Koloth in "The Trouble With Tribbles"), or that Patrick Magee as family doctor Caleb would feature so prominently in Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi classic A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

All I knew at the time was that part of Louise's inheritance scheme involved stripping down to her bra and panties and taking a creepy late-night swim in the same murky pond in which little Kathleen had drowned. 


What happens when she resurfaces--and the spoilers are right there in the poster and trailer themselves--is one of the homages to the likes of PSYCHO that Corman instructed Coppola to include in his script.  (Corman also got Jack Hill to write and direct additional scenes to pad the running time and gore content, to Coppola's dismay.) 

It's also the first-ever movie scene that really and truly scared the ever-livin' crap outta me.

But DEMENTIA 13 isn't done yet, because later there's a beheading (also a first for me) and other creepy goings-on thanks to an axe-wielding maniac who seems to be stalking the Halorans. 

Unfortunately, much of these doings have lost their edge over the years--the leisurely-paced story is dishwater dull at times and most of the scares no longer chill the blood quite like they used to. 

But the film still has a strong Monster Kid watchability factor and (thanks largely to the authentic Irish locations) eerie, Gothic atmosphere to burn.


Hearing music maestro Ronald Stein's creepy, harpsichord-based theme music kick in during those pleasantly-morbid opening titles always makes me want the soundtrack CD.  Come to think of it, I feel that way about all of his film scores. 

After seeing DEMENTIA 13 that first time back in '63, I found its double-bill companion (Ray Milland's colorful PREMATURE BURIAL) a relief for my jangled nerves much the same way DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS would help me recover from the traumatic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD some years later. 

Modern viewers may find this hard to imagine since the film now plays as a slow but satisfying murder mystery with some mildly effective scares.  But it was my PSYCHO, and lovely Luana Anders' midnight swim was my shower scene. 

Read our review of ROGER CORMAN HORROR CLASSICS VOL.1



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