The first film from legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, “Dementia 13” wasn’t a sign of things to come, but it was slick and gory.
An inheritance is up for grabs and everyone from a guileful widow to an axe murder is after it. Let’s dig into 1963’s “Dementia 13”, directed by Francis Coppola!
As I See It
All the way back in 1990, Coppola was speaking about revisiting all of his films — starting with his first — which is this imitative slasher flick in the vein of Psycho with the Victorian house replaced by a castle and the Freudian dynamic augmented with fraternal conflict.
That ambition never came to be, though it can be argued with a new Director’s cut there is a bit of a retrospective.
Produced by indie, shoe-string budget master Roger Corman and featuring a great score by Ronald Stein, the film has some really great shots and imagery that look surprisingly grotesque even in black and white. What it lacks is a bouncing ball to follow the story. The plot splays out like watercolor.
The script lacks originality but it is made up for with some brilliant Creature-like underwater shots and an odd but creepy crawling doll.
Knowing it’s a Corman production gives a little flexibility in the out-of-focus and oddly framed shots, but beyond the themes (family), I don’t see much of a resemblance to what would make the Long Island auteur (Coppola) a legend.
It is worth checking out, especially for those with a penchant for completism, and to get a glimpse of one of the valleys among many peaks of a cinematic icon.
William Campbell (Richard) played Sordi in an earlier Dig, Blood Bath.
Luana Anders (Louise) had a small role in the 90’s Dig Doppelganger, which starred Drew Barrymore. She also had a part in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider.
Of Gratuitous Nature
The film is bloody, and I love it. It feels tame by eighties standards (even seventies standards), but it must have been shocking to see such brutal axe murders on screen in 1963.
You ever wonder why that is such a cliche? “He looks like an axe murderer!” How common can an axe murderer be outside of cinema?
I have to admit it was hard to keep track of Kane (Mary Mitchel) and Louise (Luana Anders), but both are beautiful and vital to the film. It’s William Campbell (Richard) and his distinct widow’s peak that stick out for me though. He has that old-school leading man style.
Ripe for a Remake
With the new Director’s cut release and itself originally being churned out, Roger Corman style, I can’t imagine the need for ANOTHER remake.
A re-make was spat out in 2017 by the now-defunct Chiller Films. You’d have to surmise that it was only put through the trouble of regurgitation because of the fame that first-time director Francis Coppola found later on with a little story about a small Sicilian family.
Where to Watch
Lionsgate just released a Director’s Cut Blu-ray in September, which I’m curious to check out the extras including an intro by Coppola. You can also stream on Tubi, Paramount +, Epix, The Roku Channel, Kanopy as well as many other streaming services.