See 1963′s Dementia 13 for its atmospheric flair … not its plot
Today’s October “Throwback Thursday” feature is none other than the first film by ‘The Godfather’ director Francis Ford Coppola who also wrote the script. This film “classic” has got something for everyone … but in little bits and pieces.
Where you go with Dementia 13 — the initial effort by the legendary film (and wine) maker Francis Ford Coppola — is up to you. Is it a classic? Is it a cheese-fest? A diamond in the rough? Or do you simply chalk it up as a film by a young, wet-behind-the-ears first-time director looking for his sea legs?
It’s all of these, actually.
I consider myself somewhat of a creepy old film buff (and yes, there was probably a better way to word that which wouldn’t directly reflect on me, but I’m good with it), so my initial viewing of Coppola’s freshman effort revealed plenty of pluses going for it … but with a caveat. You have to get into a 1960′s mode of thinking (which was when it was made) where mystery and suspense were paramount in films of this sort and where the gore was relatively tame by today’s standards.
Having disposed of her husband’s body in a lake when he suffers from a heart attack, Louise Haloran (Luana Anders) heads over to the Haloran estate to see about convincing her dead husband’s mother that her will needs to reflect Louise as a beneficiary. But mystery abounds around the Haloran home where Louise discovers an annual ritual revolving around a tragic accidental drowning death of mother Haloran’s young daughter. In her attempt to convince her mother-in-law she can speak with the dead child, Louise winds up “sleeping with the fishes” as it were, courtesy of a shadowy, ax-wielding figure.
Along with mother Haloran, there remain in the mix two brothers and a rather creepy family doctor who keeps his nose in the family’s business. You get the sense one of the three men is the maniac with the ax … but which one is it? And how does any of it revolve around the younger Haloran sister Kathleen?
I’d heard a lot about Dementia 13 over the years, but I didn’t know what the plot was about, who was in it nor what all the hoopla was surrounding the story. And I was good with that, really. It was the perfect recipe for heading into the tale with a clean slate and nothing to taint my experience as I viewed it for the first time.
But I was left screwing my face up more than I was enjoying it. Too much story confusion (the result of the many inconsistencies in the film … and let me tell you, there are a lot) as a result, no doubt, of the rush in which Coppola put together the script, and too much stilted dialog that seemed forced and jumbled at the same time.
However … there are some nifty, suspenseful scenes giving this show a nice flair for the dramatic and rescuing some of it from utter dismay. And, of course, there’s some sex and innuendo and violence (hands being mutilated, a decapitation, terror and mayhem courtesy of the ax-wielder) that make up for the awkwardness of the tale. Plus, the younger Haloran brother’s little recitation in the bar scene (“Fishy, fishy in the brook … daddy caught you on a hook …”) is rather eerie.
Additionally, old school Star Trek fans will recognize the elder brother Richard Haloran (William Campbell) from his roles as Trelane in the original series episodes “The Squire Of Gothos” and as the Klingon Koloth in “The Trouble With Tribbles.”
Is Dementia 13 good October Halloween fair? Yes, to a degree. But don’t expect lots of hackin’, blood-spatter filled scares that keep coming at you throughout. This throwback to the 60s, recorded on a shoestring budget, is more atmospheric in its mannerisms. And it’s a bit of an oddity as Coppola’s directorial debut.
Still, there are some worthy chills along with nice atmospheric music from Ronald Stein who did tons of 50s and 60s ‘B’ movie scores.