Dementia [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (20th October 2020).
The Film

"Dementia" (1955)

A young woman (played by Adrienne Barrett) who journeys into the dark atmosphere of the city one night. She encounters a dwarf newspaper seller (played by Angelo Rossitto) who gives her a paper with the headline about a grizzly murder. She also runs into a pimp (played by Richard Barron) and later a rich man (played by Bruno VeSota) who takes her out for a ride and a date at a fancy nightclub, but she is haunted by her past. Her abusive father (played by Ben Roseman) , the death of her mother (played by Lucille Howland) are all returning to her in dreams, which will eventually take a toll on her mental state and her livelihood…

Released in 1955, the 56 minute feature film is one of the most mysterious and unusual films to receive an American theatrical release. At just under an hour, it is quite a short piece but not short enough to constitute it as a short film. It was made entirely outside the studio system, produced and directed by an uncredited John Parker, who had never made a film before and would never after. The entire film was made without a single word of uttered dialogue. This was not a silent film in the traditional sense, as there were no intertitles to describe or narrate the happenings. Describing the plot of the film is something that could lead to confusion, as there are jumps in chronology and sometimes it is unclear what is reality, what is a dream, or if the film entirely is a dream without logic in control. Taking elements of film noir, expressionist films, and horror, “Dementia” is a striking, confusing, and odd work that has long been on the outskirts of the cult film circles for decades. Little known by the public, and little known about the production, the bizarre film has slowly but surely found its way into film circles in various ways.

The film was originally intended to be a ten minute short, based on an idea by Adrienne Barrett who was John Parker’s secretary. Parker came from a film distribution family, with his father being the head of a theater chain in Oregon. With funding from his father and enlisting actor Bruno VeSota in the role of the ill-fated rich man, the short was expanded with additional characters and crew, including veteran cinematographer William C. Thompson shooting, and even featuring the music of Shorty Rogers and his band in a crucial climactic scene. The look and feel of “Dementia” is quite unique but not completely out of left field. The use of light and shadows in the real locations of Venice, California are bold and striking. The use of fog and darkness in the cemetery scene is closer to a B-movie of the era, and it may not be a surprise to know that Thompson is famous for working on several films directed by Ed Wood. There are multiple sequences that are nods to the avant garde films “Un chien andalou” (1929) and “L’age d’or” (1930) directed by Luis Buñuel in collaboration with Salvador Dali with the surreal imagery. There are elements of the Universal horror films with the tension. But the themes it presents with abuse and trauma of women, the killings, the exploitation angles are precursors to films like “Psycho” (1960), “Peeping Tom” (1960), and the various 1960s works of producer William Castle. This was a horror film without a creatures, aliens, ghosts, or demons. Instead it was all about mental and physical fears by the people around, whether family, close ones, and how society looks at one another. Is the real monster the ones that are attacking, or the one that becomes a monster once attacked? Or possibly both?

“Dementia” was produced independently by Parker in the early 1950s and took some time to secure any kind of distribution. One notable person who highly praised it was filmmaker Preston Sturges, who saw it in 1953 and gave his word of approval, with permission to use his words to market the film. Parker used Sturges’ memo as the leader in front of the opening credits to the film. The New York State Film Board rejected classifying the film ten times, calling it inhuman and indecent. It finally received a theatrical release on December 22nd, 1955 as a double bill with Luciano Emmer’s documentary “Picasso”, creating a very odd double bill in a single theater. Two years later, producer Jack H. Harris bought the film from Parker for distribution, but instead of releasing it as is, the film was retitled “Daughter of Horror”, had some rearranging and cuts, plus an added narration by Ed McMahon to the opening and some sequences in between. It was still marketed with the idea that the film would be without dialogue, but also that it was one of the strangest films ever made, which was quite true. But even with the wider distribution and the rebranding, it was not particularly a hit. A year later in 1958, Harris’ production of the massively successful monster movie “The Blob” did give the film a boost, as the characters were watching “Daughter of Horror” in the movie theater when the Blob attacks. But even with that small boost, it was not enough to give it a significant push, leading it yet again to obscurity.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray / region 2 PAL DVD set

Video

The BFI presents "Dementia" in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer comes from the 2K restoration by Cohen Media in 2015. It isn't stated what materials were used for the restoration, but considering the origins of the film and the limited distribution it had, it looks great. The black and white photography is very strong with the grey scales being well balanced. The restoration has also cleaned up the image, with speckles, cuts, scratches, and other debris being removed. There are a few instances of damage remaining though the end result is a very strong and wonderful looking restoration. Telecine wobble has been fixed for a smooth look as well. Film grain has been kept intact throughout for a very film-like appearance.

The reissue cut of "Daughter of Horror" is in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer comes from a standard definition master from Cohen Media and upscaled to HD. This version has not been restored but actually doesn't look as bad as one might expect. The opening titles is a little rough though, with telecine wobble, speckles and scratches, and some missing frames leading to soundtrack jumps. In better moments there is less damage but still prevalent, though the image is fairly sharp and grey scale is on the fair side.

The original version "Dementia" has a runtimes of 56:01 on the Blu-ray and 53:43 on the PAL DVD, while the reissue version "Daughter of Horror" has a runtime of 55:18 on the Blu-ray and 53:02 on the DVD.



















Audio

LPCM 2.0 mono
Dolby Digital 2.0 mono

"Dementia" on the Blu-ray comes with an uncompressed LPCM mono track while "Dementia" on the DVD and "Daughter of Horror" on the Blu-ray and DVD have lossy Dolby Digital mono audio. For the restored "Dementia" it's not on the same restoration standard as the image, but is still a good track. The music and effects are well balanced throughout, including the excellent jazz club sequence in the climax, but there are a few moments of imperfection with crackle and pops in the audio. As for the "Daughter of Horror" cut, the audio is weaker, with more hiss and other distortion heard throughout. The narration by McMahon is also a bit weak.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for both versions of the film in a white font. As there is no dialogue for "Dementia", the subtitles caption sound effects and music cues. for "Daughter of Horror" it captions both the opening added narration and the sound effects and music cues.

Extras

This is a dual format set with the film in extras in HD on the Blu-ray and the same content repeated on the DVD in SD PAL.


DISC ONE

Audio commentary on "Dementia" by film critic and editor-in-chief of Diabolique magazine, Kat Ellinger
In this newly recorded commentary, Ellinger talks a great deal about the film with the mysterious history, including its production history and troubled releases, information on the reactions to the film, its themes on violence, about the score and much more.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Alone with the Monsters" 1958 short (15:44)
"Alone with the Monsters" is a BFI funded experimental short by poet Nazli Nour in her only film credit as director, writer, and actress. Like "Dementia", it is a film without dialogue and looks into the mind of a woman. From paranoia and social pressure, the silent short uses some interesting visuals and techniques to showcase on the outside a elderly bag lady and inside a beautiful young dancer. The short does look quite rough, with horizontal scratch marks being prevalent throughout and the music being fairly hissy. In addition, the short comes with an optional audio descriptive track.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, English Audio Descriptive Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with no subtitles

Trailer with commentary by Joe Dante from "Trailers from Hell" (2:28)
From Trailers From Hell, filmmaker Joe Dante gives an introduction and commentary to "Daughter of Hell" in the brief runtime. The introduction portion looks great in 1080p, but the quality of the trailer itself looks very blocky and stuttery in comparison to the trailer found later on the disc.
1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1/1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Before & After: Restoring Dementia" featurette (3:14)
A series of film clips showcasing split frames and side by side comparisons between the restored version of the film and the unrestored version, which has its usual assortment of problems, from speckles and cuts to telecine wobble. There is no narration about the restoration and only uses the film’s audio. The clips only showcases the restored image, and not of the soundtrack restoration.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Stills and Publicity Gallery (2:02)
A series of rare black and white stills from the film are presented in a silent slideshow.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

"Dementia" trailer (1:11)
The 2015 Cohen Media trailer of the restored version is presented here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 with English text

"Daughter of Horror" trailer (0:55)
This is the trailer seen above in the Joe Dante clip, taunting it as the strangest picture ever.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 with English text


DISC TWO (DVD)

Audio commentary on "Dementia" by film critic and editor-in-chief of Diabolique magazine, Kat Ellinger
"Alone with the Monsters" 1958 short (15:05)
Trailer with commentary by Joe Dante from "Trailers from Hell" (2:21)
"Before & After: Restoring Dementia" featurette (3:05)
Stills and Publicity Gallery (1:56)
"Dementia" trailer (1:15)
"Daughter of Horror" trailer (0:58)

Both versions of the film plus the extras are repeated here.


Booklet
A 24 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is a printing of the original letter by Preston Sturges with his statement and permission to use it in selling the film. "Dementia and the Art of Horror" by writer Ian Schultz is an essay that looks at the film's history and troubles. Next is "Complex Parentage: Daughter of Horror" by the BFI's William Fowler, which looks at the alternate cut and its place in the film's history. There are also special features information, stills, acknowledgements, and transfer information.

Embedded below is a clip courtesy of the BFI, and the 2015 restoration trailer courtesy of Cohen Media



Overall

"Dementia" is quite the oddity that has experimental fun and B-movie goodness in this little known cult film. The BFI release gives a great presentation with two cuts of the film including a restored version of the original cut with a good selection of extras including a great commentary.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B

 


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