By Chris Hammond
DEMENTIA 13: Director’s Cut Blu Ray Vestron Video Collector’s Series release (Lionsgate)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by Roger Corman
This independent 1963 black and white film is directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by Roger Corman. Made on a shoestring budget of funds ($42,000) leftover from an earlier Corman film (The Young Racers). This film is also is notable as it’s the first film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The film was shot is Ireland as Coppola had just finished working as a sound man on the film The Young Racers (1963). Coppola wrote a brief draft in one night, which piqued Corman’s interest and the film Dementia 13 was born.
Many of the American cast members were friends of Coppola from his UCLA days and even paid with their own funds for travel for the opportunity to be part of the film. Irish cast members made up the rest of the cast. Most of them were members of Abbey Theatre and were only paid a minimum wage to be in the film.
During filming Coppola was left to his own devices with nary a note or word from Corman. Once the film was complete Corman viewed the film in which he left the screening room in a huff. He demanded many changes be made to the film including the use of voiceovers to make scenes more cohesive. Also, on his list of wants was more violence. Coppola and Corman would squabble over these changes. Upon release in the fall of 1963, the film was met with mixed reviews. Now with thanks to Vestron Video collector’s series Dementia 13 will be seen in its digitally restored Director’s cut for the first time on Blu-Ray. Following his recent director’s cuts for “Apocalypse Now Final Cut” and “The Cotton Club Encore”, Coppola delved into his own private collection to restore his directorial debut from 1963. The film has only ever been shown in low-quality 16MM prints or transfers, but never in the way it was intended by the director. Now fully restored and remastered, collectors and fans can see Dementia 13 in its definitive release.
QUOTE “DEMENTIA 13 obviously occupies a place in my heart as my first film and I’m very proud that it can now exist as I intended it,” said Coppola.
For those who don’t know the film Dementia 13 fades in with John Haloran and his wife Louise out for a late-night row in the middle of a lake after dark. Here the two argue about John’s rich mother’s will. Louise is upset by the fact that his mother has decided all her possessions are to go to charity in the name of a mysterious “Kathleen.” The argument, and hard rowing of the boat cause John to have a heart attack. As John gasps for breath he lets Louise know, should he die before his mother, Louise will receive none of the inheritance, seconds after these words are spoken he dies. Louise, who doesn’t want to lose her piece of the pie, decides to dump his lifeless corpse over the boat’s side, to sink to the lake’s bottom. She then hatches a nefarious plan to pretend that John is still alive so that she can somehow work her way into the will. She then hastily types up a letter to Lady Haloran (John’s mother) inviting herself to the family’s castle in Ireland while her husband is “away on business.”
Soon after arriving at the castle, she comes to the realization that things are a little off with the Haloran clan. John’s brothers Billy, and Richard, take part in a mundane, ceremony with their mother. This part of a tribute to their deceased younger sister Kathleen, who died years ago in a drowning accident. Lady Haloran, overcome with grief faints and falls to the ground (like she does every year). Louise, who still has her sights set on getting into the will comes up with a plan to trick Lady Haloran that her dead daughter is trying to make contact with her from beyond the grave. Things take a whirlwind turn once this plan is put into motion and not everyone will survive. People start to go missing and bodies start to pile up, but who is to blame or what?
Dementia 13 as a film works to not only entertain, but also keep viewers guessing what is actually going on with the Haloran family. Is there something supernatural at play or is it something much simpler? This director’s cut of the movie is a much more enjoyable version of the film than ever released before. Other cuts had scenes shoehorned in to add more violence (Jack Hill was brought in to shoot an additional sequence where actor Karl Schanzer plays a poacher and is beheaded by the murderer), which to me didn’t really add much to the story. Coppola has also stated that Corman wanted to oversee the dubbing and add voiceovers to better explain scenes for the viewing audience). The film is described by many as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) ripoff, but I think it stands on its own as an early slasher/thriller with Gothic undertones. The story is intriguing and the characters all feel interesting enough to keep one’s interest. Viewers should also take into account that this film is nearly sixty years old and the fact that fans are finally getting a director’s cut is pretty amazing in of it in itself. The acting is actually decent and very believable, the story is somewhat straightforward, but at times does feel disjointed, but honestly, on the budget that Dementia 13 was shot, this is a glorious achievement overall. The gothic horror feel and atmosphere of the film stand out the most. The Irish surroundings only help to drive this feeling home even more so. Dementia 13 may not be a perfect film, but it is a very entertaining 69-minute romp that won’t disappoint.
The film’s transfer is stunning in 1080p resolution. The scenes are bright and being black and white there is a pretty steady framerate throughout the film’s runtime. Presented in 16×9 (1.78:1) this is the most definitive way to enjoy this movie ever. Audio tracks included are English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio. Both these tracks offer a great audio experience, with the 5.1 just adding a more encapsulating listening experience. There are also English and Spanish subtitles included on the disc and an English SDH track for the hearing impaired.
Special features on the disc include an Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola, an Audio Commentary track by Francis Ford Coppola, and a Prologue (Dementia 13 Test). These are pretty interesting to see and listen to as I’m not sure if other releases of this movie included any extras at all. Also included is a digital download code for the film
The Blu-ray SRP is $17.99 and Digital SRP is $9.99 The film will be available in 4K digitally