Dementia 13 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - The Film Detective
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (11th July 2016).
The Film

On a nocturnal boat ride on an Irish lake, John Haloran (Freakshow's Peter Read) suddenly dies of a heart attack during an argument with his wife Louise (The Pit and the Pendulum's Luana Anders). Seeing an opportunity to inveigle her mother-in-law Lady Haloran (The Mutations's Eithne Dunne) to revise her will – in which she left all of her fortune to charities in the name of long dead daughter Kathleen – Louise weights down John's body and pushes it into the lake. Louise returns to Castle Halloran ostensibly to stay on while John has returned to the states on business. Already married into the family, Louise is more grudgingly tolerated by Lady Haloran than Kay (Panic in Year Zero's Mary Mitchel) , the fiancιe of elder son Richard (Blood Bath's William Campbell), whose arrival coincides with the annual memorial ceremony for Kathleen. Although Lady Haloran's obsession with Kathleen has affected all three of her sons, youngest brother Billy (Zotz!'s Bart Patton) seems most victimized by the unhealthy atmosphere of the castle, having a recurring nightmare in which an insane Richard climbs in through his bedroom window and his equally insane mother throws him into the pond to drown as did Kathleen. When Lady Haloran collapse during the ceremony (as she does every year), Louise – using knowledge she solicited from Billy – takes advantage of her weakened physical and mental state to make the woman believe that she has been in contact with Kathleen's spirit and that the girl will soon show her mother a sign. Creeping into Kathleen's enshrined bedroom, Louise steals several dolls and dives into the pond under cover of night to plant the toys so that they will float to the surface later on. Underwater, she is terrified by the apparition of Kathleen but then meets a more corporeal terror wielding an axe when she surfaces. Louise is thus absent when the dolls surface and give Lady Haloran another shock, but Dr. Caleb (A Clockwork Orange's Patrick Magee) feels that the psychological make-up of the Haloran family as a whole is of more concern than Lady Haloran's immediate health when he has the pond drained and discovers a stone monument to Kathleen bearing the inscription "Forgive Me Kathleen." He casts suspicion for the continuing torment on Lady Haloran as well as the disappearance of likely suspect Louise upon the brothers, particularly the defiant Richard. After Lady Haloran suffers another violent shock and is confined to bed, Richard and Kay decide to go ahead with the wedding now that she cannot interfere; but the killer is sharpening his axe once again…

With twenty-thousand dollars left to spare from the production of The Young Racers for American International Pictures – lensed in England, Ireland, France, Monaco, the Netherlands, and Belgium – Roger Corman (The Fall of the House of Usher) greenlighted the heavily Psycho-indebted thriller Dementia 13 for relatively new company The Filmgroup from a pitch by a shifty UCLA film student Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) to take advantage of the Howth Castle location Corman had scouted while in Ireland. The film's indebtedness to Hitchcock shows not only in the staccato editing of the axe murder scenes, but also the surprise killing off of the seeming protagonist (however dubious her motives) early on. While the rest of the film has a modicum of atmosphere from the castle setting and the tinge of a gothic ghost story, the film certainly does not Coppola at his best as a storyteller. It's a catalogue of red herrings and poorly-motivated incident that owes much of its effectiveness to the performances – particularly Magee, Anders, and Campbell (who skulks about as an obvious red herring but gamely plays up the ambiguity even if it's all for naught) – some occasionally handsome but largely workmanlike cinematography by regular Corman grip Charles Hannawalt, and a superbly spooky harpsichord-dominated score by Ronald Stein (The Haunted Palace). Not only does the script make the identity of the killer all-too-obvious, the killer's silhouette is also a dead giveaway. When Coppola had jumped on the opportunity to supervise the English language performances and dubbing of the Dubrovnik-lensed heist thriller Operation Titian, and it was discovered in the editing room that Dementia 13 not only came up short in the running time but also in terms of its horrific content, Corman hired Coppola's UCLA classmate Jack Hill (Pit Stop) to shoot additional scenes featuring Karl Schanzer (Spider Baby) as a poacher – including one in which he crosses paths with Patton and Mitchel who were married in real life – who meets a grisly demise (Hill, Coppola, The Two Jakes' Jack Nicholson and Two Lane Blacktop's Monte Hellman would all shoot additional footage at different times for Corman's The Terror the same year, and Hill would later be tasked with turning a half-hour of footage from Operation Titian into a more exploitable horror film). While Dementia 13 may compare poorly to Psycho, it is actually quite the enjoyable guilty pleasure.

Video

Previously released on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack by Virgil Films' HD Cinema Classics line in 2011 in a transfer that was criticized for its use of digital noise reduction, this VHS and DVD public domain staple has never looked that great with either the processing or much-duped film elements even in the digital realm having a 16mm-like softness in long shots and blown-out whites (although it was lensed in 35mm). This 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen BD-R encode from The Film Detective also bears these faults but close-ups and medium shots fare better. Contrast still seems a bit high during the night scenes – with Anders' hair only just distinct from her white cardigan (or her underwear during her later night swim) and skin while John's black jacket is swallowed up by the inky night background in long shots – and even some of the daytime exteriors long and wide shots are problematic (the white- or gray-painted top of the airplane Kay arrives in merges with the overcast sky). As with The Film Detective's recent BD-R reissue of The Terror, the film still seems at the mercy of its source and a degree of sharpening and filtering that may have been done to the master in spite of a high bitrate. With the 35mm negative apparently lost, I am not sure if The Film Detective's encode is the best the film can look, but it seems safe to say it is the best the film has looked.

Audio

Although The Film Detective's Blu-ray case and disc face feature a Dolby Digital logo, the sole audio track is in fact a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track which is reasonably clean if not particularly vivid (although Buddy Fowler & The Fad's "He's Caught" sounds better than it has on previous PD releases). Optional English SDH subtitles are also available.

Extras

There are no extras. The previous Blu-ray/DVD combo had no extras of great interest, and it is a pity that the company could not have licensed the audio commentary recorded by the late Campbell for the Roan Group laserdisc (which was ported over to the long out-of-print Roan/Troma DVD).

Overall

While Dementia 13 may compare poorly to Psycho, it is actually quite the enjoyable guilty pleasure.

 


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