dementia 13 | francis ford coppola | jack hill | william campbell | luana anders | bart patton | thriller | united states | ireland | mary mitchel | patrick magee | eithne dunne | peter read | karl schanzer | ron perry | proto-slasher | cult film | neo-gothic | ron perry
Film: Dementia 13
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Writers: Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Hill
Starring: William Campbell, Luana Anders and Bart Patton
This is a movie that I’m not entirely sure when I first heard about it, but the title has stuck with me. I didn’t realize that this was technically the feature film debut for Francis Ford Coppola, who most of us know him for his work with The Godfather movies, Apocalypse Now or in genre with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I selected this to watch as part of Side Quest Podcast to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as this movie is a co-production from Ireland. The synopsis is shocked by the death of her spouse, a scheming widow hatches a bold plan to get her hands on the inheritance, unaware that she is targeted by an axe-wielding murderer who lurks in the family’s estate. What mystery shrouds the noble house?
Much as the synopsis states, we start this movie with John (Pete Read) and Louise Haloran (Luana Anders). He is listening to a radio on the dock. He wants to take out the rowboat, but his wife doesn’t think it is a good idea. She decides to join him though. While they’re out, she is concerned with the will as it appears his mother, Lady Haloran (Eithne Dunne), has given away most of their money to charity. She hasn’t been right since the death of her daughter, Kathleen. John points out that his wife is greedy. He also points out that if he dies, then she will get written out of the will. He then has a heart attack. Louise pushes his body into the water and goes about making it seem like he left on business.
Lady Haloran isn’t fond of Louise. She knows that too. Louise plays on the grief and depression of her mother-in-law, trying to get in better with her. John’s brothers don’t seem to care for her either. The eldest is Richard (William Campbell). He works with metal and spends a lot of time in his workshop. The other is Billy (Bart Patton). They’re coming up on the anniversary of Kathleen’s death. Louise isn’t invited, but she spies on their ceremony.
To complicate their time here, Richard’s fiancée joins them. Her name is Kane (Mary Mitchel). Billy must pick her up from the airport. She is bummed it isn’t Richard, but she is glad to see him. It is interesting as well that she doesn’t seem to care for Louise either. Lady Haloran isn’t fond of Kane either. There is the feeling that no one will be good enough for her sons.
Louise continues her plan to drive Lady Haloran insane and it involves hiding Kathleen’s dolls under the water in the pond. She makes a ghastly discovery and that scares her. She is then attacked when she tries to get out of the water. Louise isn’t the last one attacked as someone on the estate is picking off those that go into places they shouldn’t. A Dr. Justin Caleb (Patrick Magee), who looks after Lady Haloran, tries to solve this before it is too late.
That should be enough of fleshing out the synopsis a bit more as well as giving some of the backstory for our characters here. This is an interesting horror movie for sure. I read a bit of the synopsis on Tubi, where I watched this, and I wasn’t expecting what we got. This movie has almost a modern gothic set up. We are in an old castle that has a history. We get this from Lady Haloran who thinks that Kathleen is haunting the house. Billy also feels like the halls are haunted. There is a depressing scene where he doesn’t want to go his room due to all the history contained within. This feels like it could be a Hammer film, which would have been popular in this decade and the one before.
This movie also has a feel of an earlier slasher movie. We are getting a bit of the point of view of our killer at different times. Our killer is also using an ax and it is quite brutal. This film is in black and white, so that does hide some of it. There is blood though, which was something else I wasn’t expecting. We don’t have a high body count and not everyone is murdered either. It does make me wonder if people like John Carpenter, Bob Clark or Steve Miner saw this ahead of making the movies that would help define the sub-genre.
Now there is some social commentary here as well. It is done subtle, which I can appreciate. Louise is greedy. She is trying to drive Lady Haloran mad and then be there for her to stay on the will. Richard, Billy, Kane and Dr. Caleb can all see that. None of them care for her. Lady Haloran has commentary with her about the dangers of not properly dealing with your grief. There is nothing wrong with honoring Kathleen, but we see that once there’s an opportunity to contact or that her daughter could be alive, she is willing to explore it. Billy also feels guilty about what happened to his sister. Something I noticed with Richard is that Lady Haloran being overbearing has made him distant. It has affected her relationship with all her children.
That is about the extent of what I wanted to go through with the story so I’ll go to the acting. I would say that it is solid. Campbell is interesting as the eldest brother. He is stoic until Dr. Caleb accuses him of things. We then see anger there. I thought that worked. Anders is interesting as this shady daughter-in-law. She is money hungry and doesn’t mean well. I like Patton as this haunted son. He is the most likable for sure. He seems like he hasn’t fully grown up either. Mitchel is attractive and seems like a nice girl. I also like Magee. I know him originally from A Clockwork Orange. He seems like he means well, but there is always something villainous about him. I’d say that Dunne, Read and the rest of the cast worked for what was needed in this movie.
All that is left to go over is the cinematography, effects and the soundtrack. I’ve already said that the effects were good. What is more impressive is the cinematography. We get some interesting shots. I’m not shocked though knowing that Ford is the director here. The soundtrack is good. It helps to build the atmosphere. There is also some good editing along with the shots and music. The cues they use, especially when Louise is in Kathleen’s room was impressive. I thought all of this worked well in tandem.
In conclusion, this movie is one that I’m glad that I can say I’ve finally ticked off my list. We are getting an almost modern gothic film with an early slasher vibe. The acting is solid across the board. There is some subtle commentary with a few different things with the characters. The effects we get are solid. This being in black and white helps here. The cinematography was good and the soundtrack helps to build the atmosphere. The filmmaking here is well done in general. I’d say that for me, this movie is above average and one that is just shy of being good.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10