Monday, July 11, 2016

DEMENTIA 13 (1963) (Blu-ray Review)

DEMENTIA 13 (1963) 
Label: The Film Detective 
Release Date: July 26th, 2016
Rating: Not Rated  
Duration: 75 Minutes 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: William Campbell, Luanda Anders, Eithne Dunn, Patrick Mcgee

Synopsis: Written and directed by a 24-year-old Francis Ford Coppola, Dementia 13 centers on the dysfunctional Haloran family, who have converged at Haloran Castle to enact a morbid ritual in remembrance of Lady Haloran's (Ethne Dunn) deceased daughter, Kathleen (Barbara Dowling). Secrets shroud Kathleen's demise, and soon there is a mysterious interloper prowling the grounds with a big axe to grind. Genuinely engaging and well-photographed, Dementia 13 is a bone-chilling horror classic sure to thrill horror enthusiasts and Coppola fans alike.

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 movie 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 treatment, that man was Francis Ford Coppola who would go onto direct the Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now just to name a few.

The movie opens with John Holoran (Peter Read) on a late-night boat excursion with his scheming young wife Louise (Luanda Anders) when he suffers a massive coronary, just after conveniently telling his wife that without him she will never see a penny of the family fortune. Despite her efforts to save her husband he expires, as his final words echo through her mind she dumps his body overboard into the murky depths. Cue some creepy Ronald Stein film score and an equally eerie opening credits sequence and the movie proper gets underway. Louise forges a letter from her deceased husband saying he's gone to NYC on business and then she hops an airplane bound for Ireland to her husband's family estate, you know, to be sure she's included in Lady Holoran's will should the old bird suddenly 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 earlier. The whole 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 with her from beyond the grave. The plan involves placing small trinkets from the dead girl's room and placing 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 swims down to the bottom of the lake she is shocked to discover the perfectly preserved body of Kathleen! Spooked by this discovery she frantically swims to the surface only to be killed by an axe-wielding maniac. 

Well, can you get more Psycho than a scheming blond protagonist shockingly killed off quick and a family with some serious mommy issues. Coppola pooled his limited resources and used them to chilling effects with Dementia 13. This Gothic black and white tale of an axe-wielding maniac is captivating stuff. Acting legend Patrick McGee who was so menacing in everything from Stanley 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. 

Coppola manages quite a bit considering the notoriously short Roger Corman purse strings, with some great use of light and shadow, an eerie Ronald stein score, and some stylish lensing. 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 Roger Corman the legendary producer was not pleased with what he saw and brought in director Joe Hill (Spiderbaby, Foxy Brown) to shoot some additional exploitation elements to spice the movie up, the results is a chilling and atmospheric slice of 60s horror that holds up really well. 

Blu-ray: Dementia 13 (1963) arrives on a high quality BD-R from The Film Detective framed in the proper widescreen (1.78:1) aspect ratio, sourced from  archival 35mm film elements, which I am sure is a print and not the negative judging by the look of it. The movie was previously released on Blu-ray from Film Chest back in 2011, which at the time looked better than any previous edition on home video but was marred by some severe digital noise reduction, leaving the movie devoid of grain and looking smeary and plasticine. The new transfer looks to be derived from the same source material but they've wisely toned down the DNR a few notches, leaving behind some trace of the natural film grain. Black levels are nice, detail is improved but I am seeing the same issues, an overall softness and some ghosting during movement. However, this is a marked improvement and the best the public domain movie has looked on home video yet. The Film Detective have also upgraded the audio by way of a DTS-HD MA Mono track which is clean and serviceable, if a bit flat. Its nice to have an uncompressed audio option on this version, the previous Blu-ray from Film Chest only offered a Dolby Digital option. There are no extras on this disc.

Dementia 13 is an atmospheric and chilling Psycho cash-grab from a talented first-time director named Francis Ford Coppola, who went on to direct just a few movies of note. This Blu-ray from The Film Detective is worth a purchase for fans looking for an A/V upgrade who do not mind purchasing a BD-R without any extras.