Video Review of ‘Dementia 13’: Ax me about Coppola’s first time

Dementia 13

William Campbell, Luana Anders in Francis Coppola’s ‘Dimension 13’

Everyone has to start somewhere, and before winning Oscars as one of the most prominent directors of our time, Francis Ford Coppola started with B-movie master Roger Corman, assisting on films such as 1963’s The Young Racers. Then he got his shot to write and direct his own film, Dementia 13, which returns to home video July 26 on a Blu-ray release from The Film Detective.

(Prior to this Coppola is rumored to have directed some scenes in Corman’s The Terror, also recently released by The Film Detective, but he wasn’t credited for that.)

Reportedly presented in its correct 1:78:1 aspect ratio for the first time on Blu-ray, the black-and-white Dementia 13 is derivative of the edgier new horrors of Psycho and the embryonic slasher genre, while also offering a traditional haunted house tale. So it’s far from original.

Yet Coppola, then billed as Francis Coppola, showed flashes of raw talent — especially in shot composition, mood-setting and use of music — which would bloom in the ’70s when he helmed The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Apocalypse Now and others.

A slow go even at just 75 minutes, Dementia 13‘s story is a gloomy if not depressing little saga of a dysfunctional family living in an Irish castle (really, just a very large house — no moats or anything) where, years earlier, a young daughter drowned in a pond. The event continues to torment her mother and brothers, who assemble for an annual funereal service with sinister undertones.

One brother’s American wife (Luana Anders) is a wicked sort, driven solely by obsession with inheritance. The family doctor also appears — virtually living on the estate — to observe more than treat, wary of the family’s dark past.

Oh — and ax murders occur, along with Anders stripping down to her undies for a midnight swim. Eploitation-R-Us Corman had to have sex and violence, and when Coppola didn’t deliver as much as promised, he got Jack Hill to hone the script and properly exploit the audience at which the film was aimed.

But what really makes the movie work — for me, at least — is the great cast, including several actors who also appeared in The Young Racers.

Anders, then 25, was at the top of her game as the devious wife and was one of my favorites from the era, thanks to her work on The Outer Limits. She was a good friend of Jack Nicholson, who starred in Corman’s The Terror in the same year, and she later appeared with him in Easy Rider. (Decades later, Nicholson remembered Anders in a dedication for his Oscar-winning speech for As Good As It Gets.)

William Campbell, then 40, who played one of the brothers, soon afterward appeared in two ’60s Star Trek episodes, including fan favorite The Trouble With Tribbles as a Klingon commander. He also appeared in later Trek series.

Patrick Magee, then 41, was a great Irish stage actor who also appeared as the crippled writer in A Clockwork Orange and as a white-wigged gent in Barry Lyndon, both from Stanley Kubrick.

Like Coppola, these actors had to start somewhere, or at least earn a paycheck somewhere. And given its surprisingly high quality for a $40,000 knock-off, Dementia 13 was as good a place as any. The budget may have been low, but the acting chops were not.

— Bruce Westbrook

 

 

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