Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blu-ray Review: Dementia 13 (1963)

Dementia 13 (1963)
[Blu-ray + DVD Combo]

Label: HD Cinema Classics/Cultra
Region: [Blu-ray] A [DVD] 0 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 75 mins
Video: 1080p 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 with Spanish subtitles
Director: Francis Ford Coppala
Cast: William Campbell, Luanda Anders, Eithne Dunn, Patrick Mcgee
Tagline: You Must Pass the "D-13" Test To Prepare You for the Horrifying Experience od Dementia 13. If You Fail the Test... You Will be Asked to Leave the Theatre!

Synopsis: Following the untimely death of her husbands the scheming Louise Holoran (Luanda Anders) travels to her in-laws estate in Ireland, only to find herself trapped in a creepy, decrepit castle with her husband's demented family. Upon arrival she is introduced to a pair of maladjusted brothers (William Campbell, Bart Patton) and a distraught mother-in-law (Eithne Dunn), still grieving for the daughter she lost in a drowning accident many years earlier. When a mysterious axe-wielding psychopath enters the fray, leaving  blood spatter corpses in his wake, the family doctor (Patrick McGee) takes it upon himself to try to get to the bottom of things - before it's too late!

Film: As the story goes Roger Corman found himself with an excess $22,000 following the completion of the film The Young Racers (1963) and wanted to invest that capital into a profitable  Psycho cash grab. A young sound technician on the set of the The Young Racers was chosen to direct the film based on his screenplay, that man was Francis Ford Coppola. The film he crafted is an effective psycho-shocker set in an Irish manor. 

John Holoran (Peter Read) is on a late-night boat excursion with his greedy wife Louise (Luanda Anders) when he suffers a massive coronary just after conveniently telling her that without him she'll never see a penny of his families fortune. He expires despite her efforts to save him, as his final words echo through her mind she dumps his body overboard. Cue some creepy Ronald Stein filmscore and equally eerie opening credits artwork. Louise forges a letter from her deceased husband saying he's gone to NYC on business and then boards a plane for Ireland to be sure she's included in Lady Holoran's will should she expire. There she meets John's demented family whom annually gather at the family estate to mourn the death of their sister Kathleen who drown in a lake on the property years prior. The entire family seems to be under the thrall of their mother's grief for the long deceased girl. Louise plots to take advantage of the distraught mother's state of mind and sets about to convince her that Kathleen is communicating from beyond the grave. She sets about doing this by stealing small trinkets from the dead girl's room and planting them at the bottom of the lake where they will be discovered when they float to the surface. However, that evening when Louis strips down to her undies and begins placing the items at the lake bottom she is shocked to discover the perfectly preserved body of Kathleen. As she frantically swims to the surface she is murdered by an axe-wielding killer. Well, you can't get more Psycho than that now can you? Our scheming blonde protagonist shockingly killed off pretty quick and a family with mommy issues. Coppola pooled his limited resources and used them quite well her. This gothic black and white tale of an axe-wielding maniac is truly captivating stuff. Acting legend Patrick McGee, so menacing in everything from Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange to Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat, makes a memorably intense appearance as the intrusive family physician Dr. Caleb who takes it upon himself to solve the string of grisly axe-murders.

It's an eerie and macabre film, Coppola does a lot considering the notoriously short Roger Corman purse strings, with great use of light and shadow, an eerie score, and a stylish lens. He was obviously quite a talent even then and only 9 years later would direct The Godfather, 'nuff said.  Be that as it may after Coppola screened the film for Corman the producer was not pleased and brought in director Joe Hill (Spiderbaby, Foxy Brown) to shoot some additional exploitation elements.

Blu-ray: The film gets a brand new high definition upgrade sourced from original 35mm elements, a print I would assume, not the negatives. It's AVC encoded in 1080p, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Dementia 13 is one of the many Corman produced films that have fallen into the black hole of the public domain. Over the years every PD label and their DVD duplicating brother have released it several times over. The quality has ranged from  unwatchable to tolerable. Here its been digitally restored as evidenced with a before and after restoration demo and while the restoration is not awe inspiring it is a marked improvement. The film has also been heavily hit with the DNR which removed most of the films original grain structure and along with it a lot of fine detail and texture resulting in a plasticine effect. It's a small complaint perhaps given how well the film looks compared to previous editions though it's far from pristine and suffers soft image, contrast issues, some wobble and inconsistent black levels. We're given the option of Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 surround sound mix with optional Spanish subtitles. The 2.0 is quite a flat, it's very narrow with little depth and the dialogue suffers as it's occasionally swallowed up by Ronald Stein's eerie score. The 5.1 mix does little more than bleed into the surrounds. Given that the image is not particularly sharp I would have enjoyed a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track at the very least. Supplemental materials include a trailer, restoration demo, original art postcard and a DVD of the film with the same special features. An essay or commentary track would have been appreciated. The film has languished in the public domain for quite some time, why not boost the value of the Blu with some exclusive bonus content like we saw with HD Cinema Classics Poor Pretty Eddie Blu-ray?

Special Features:
- Trailer (1:53) 16:9
- Original Movie Art Postcard
- Before and After Restoration Demo (1:06)
- Region 0 DVD of the film with same special features

Verdict: Dementia 13 is a pretty fantastic cash-grab following the success of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho from a very talented first-time director (more or less) Franics Ford Coppola. This edition of the film is definitely worth a purchase for fans of the film looking for an image upgrade that don't mind some heavy DNR and aren't too concerned with special features. It's an affordable Blu-ray + DVD combo and you just gotta love that original artwork. 3.5 outta 5