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DVD review: 'Dementia 13'

Gene Triplett Modified: May 15, 2013 at 11:58 am •  Published: April 30, 2011
Nine years before “The Godfather” turned Francis Ford Coppola into a made man in the movie business, the Don of the B movies, Roger Corman, gave him a shot at directing his first mainstream feature.
And why not? Frugal filmmaker Corman had just wrapped a cheapie called “The Young Racers” under budget on location in Ireland and, hungry to cash in on the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” the way the equally tightfisted William Castle had with “Homicidal,” Corman decided to assign protégé Coppola the task of scripting and directing a shocker that in some way would involve the bloody murder of a half-naked young woman. It would be funded in part with leftover cash from the previous production, and proceeds from another producer who purchased the English rights to the film – $40,000 in all.
UCLA film school grad Coppola had served Corman well as an editor on “Battle Beyond the Sun” and dialogue director on “Tower of London” (both 1962), associate producer of “The Terror” and sound man on “The Young Racers” (both 1963). Coppola turned in a script almost overnight and ended up helming a fairly intriguing thriller called (inexplicably) “Dementia 13,“ about the greedy Louise Haloran (B-movie regular Luana Anders), who unintentionally causes her husband’s fatal heart attack, then schemes to have herself written into the will of her rich and crazy mother-in-law.
Shot in and around a spooky old Irish castle, and using much of the cast from “The Young Racers,” including William Campbell and Bart Patton as Louise’s weird brothers-in-law and Patrick Magee as the nosey family doctor, this gothic chiller included some impressively artful camera angles and an opening underwater sequence involving the sinking of a dead body and a diehard transistor radio that hinted at the Coppola genius that would develop in a few short years.
Still, Corman was displeased with Coppola’s failure to deliver enough graphic gore, and director Jack Hill (another apprentice who went on to make the blaxploitation hits “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown“) was brought in to add some grisly ax-murder action.
For years, “Dementia 13” has been available only in inferior, blurry, secondary copies, but Film Chest has managed to obtain the long lost original print and release a clean, clear, remastered version on DVD and Blu-ray, both in a two-disc combo package that is cause for celebration among fans of this cult favorite.
Extras are slim: a trailer, a brief comparison between the beat-up original print and the restored version, a postcard reproduction of the original poster, and that’s about it. But the picture is as sharp as the killer’s blade.
- Gene Triplett


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