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September 6, 2011

Movie Review: Dementia 13 (1963, Blu-ray)

We all know the story of Dementia 13, both on and off screen. Young filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola (rumor has it his eyebrows were only three feet long then) worked as an editor/assistant director under b-movie guru Roger Corman. After coming in underbudget on The Young Players, Corman decided to produce a grisly horror film with the remaining cash. Coppola’s script and directorial debut are then the stuff of legend. Even in this schlocky, often times cheesy film one can see the eventual director of cinematic masterpieces like The Godfather and disasterpieces like Francis Ford Coppola presents Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and, like these two examples, Dementia 13 runs the gamut from effective, creepy gothic to over the top ax murdering fiend throughout the film. The film, I believe, fell into that public domain miasma that so much classic cinema suffers from and has been released on a dozen DVD compilations so far. The quality of each of these is passable at best so a Blu-ray release of the film set me to drooling. There was no major disappointment… but, well. You remember how excited you were for Godfather III and, after you saw it, you were like, ‘meh.’ That’s me right now… meh. At least for the Blu-ray Coppola didn’t insert our not-so-masked killer screaming “Nooooooo” at moments of moral anguish. There is no moral anguish in Dementia 13. There is moral anguish that Nicolas Cage is a Coppola, but nothing stemming from this particular film.

The film’s story is basic and effective. Young couple, mansions, murder, axe wounds (take that any way you wish) and creepy black and white cinematography. Is she insane? Is the family out to get here? Can she pull off the her own deception and get the money? Etc., etc. Pretty standard fare, but it is the technical side of the film that gives us that glimmer of a future Coppola (not a future Coppola offspring, mind you, THE future Coppola). There are moments of real brilliance here in the offbeat lighting and strange angles that film students would later adopt as canon. Performance wise, Patrick Magee (A Clockwork Orange) steals the show for me but the rest are uneven at best.

The real ‘meh’ for me is in the transfer. I don’t know what I expected, but this looks like a very nice DVD version of the film. I know, I know, there really aren’t any of those out there. I’m not sure where the original elements are from, but they seem to have been reasonably well taken care of. I probably spoiled myself, though, by being blown away with the Blu-ray The Wizard of Oz immediately prior to viewing Dementia. Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful film in a great presentation, but I think honesty is the best policy.

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