Friday, October 19, 2007

Dementia 13

(1963) ***

This year I have had the opportunity to see a weekly double bill of b-movies at a local cinema for $5 a pop. Although the offerings have been a mixed-bag, it's been an absolute joy to watch these old films on the silver screen. Last year I reviewed Dementia 13 and gave a rather negative review. For the first time since Horrorthon began, I'm chagning my opinion on a film. Below I included my older review with new comments at the end.

While cruelly bickering during an evening canoe ride, John Haloran suffers a fatal heart attack much to the chagrin of his opportunist wife Louise. Louise, you see, is not upset about the untimely passing of her beloved, she is pissed off because his demise means that she will not receive a large inheritance once her wealthy, battleaxe of a mother-in-law kicks off. Driven by greed, Louise quickly hatches a plan to ensure that she gets her dough. The first part of her plan involves getting rid of the body, which she handedly achieves by dumping it over the side of the canoe.

The second part of her plan involves forging a letter from John that is designed to convince his family that he has been called to New York on urgent business. The third part of her plan, the complicated part, involves traveling to her deceased husband’s ancestral home, Castle Haloran, to meet his family and to figure out a way to ensure some inheritance.

Upon arrival Louise quickly learns that John’s sister, Kathleen, drowned in the pond abutting the family castle seven years prior and it is now the anniversary of that tragedy. Louise witnesses the family mourn this loss in a bizarre annual ritual, which her mother-in-law insists upon. While watching the machinations of this ritual Louise hatches a plan; drive her mother-in-law, who already believes that her dead daughter haunts the castle, into insanity by using the deceased daughter as leverage. Her plan, which is complicated, involves taking some of the deceased little girl’s toys, diving into the pond where she drowned, and arranging them underwater is such a manner that they will eventually rise to the surface creating much creepiness. She decides to do this at night, of course. Much to her horror she discovers a shrine to Kathleen on the bottom of the pond, and Kathleen’s perfectly preserved body, which freaks her out.

As if this isn’t stressful enough, as soon as she attempts to climb out of the pond someone tries to behead her.

Apparently Louise’s attempts at chicanery have stirred up old family secrets, kind of like poking a beehive with a stick, or publishing anti-Muslim cartoons. It would seem that Kathleen’s death was not accidental and someone will go through great lengths to protect the secret of this “tragedy”. Soon family members begin to die and deeply buried madness emerges.

Dementia 13 is mostly notable for being an early effort by Francis Ford Coppola. What you get is a b-movie material by an up and coming a-list director. Marginally entertaining, the “whodunit?” mystery is really not that difficult to unravel. The murderer is fairly obvious and is telegraphed early on. The discovery of the underwater shrine is effectively creepy, yet it’s one of those situations where you’ll say to yourself, “How could she see that clearly…underwater…at night?” In real life the “shrine” would be at most a blurry dark spot. Meh, it’s okay.

Perhaps it was the opportunity to catch this in the proper venue or maybe I simply did not give Dementia 13 enough props when I caught is last year, but watching it again I really enjoyed it. Having seen numerous “bad” older films this year, Dementia 13 really stood out as a better effort than I originally stated. As noted above, the "mystery" isn't much of a mystery at (Whirlygirl called it almost immediately), yet Coppola does a nice job creating a moody atmosphere full of arrested lives, pathos and loss. His cinematography is amateurish, giving no hints of his future amazing career, but he does a decent job creating a dark little tale that no doubt frightened audiences at the time.


Johnny Sweatpants said...

I'm jealous that you're catching these old movies on the big screen. Figures they start doing that after I swap coasts...

I'mNotMarc & I are gonna try to catch Army of Darkness on the 30th.

Jordan said...

William Campbell was a guest star on two original Star Treks, playing two different characters: "Trelane" from "The Squire of Gothos" and the Klingon Captain in "Trouble With Tribbles."

JPX said...

The whole time I was trying to figure out where I had seen William Campbell! Thanks, Jordan!