DirectorFrancis Ford Coppola
Release Date(s)1963 (July 26, 2016)
Studio(s)American International Pictures (The Film Detective)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: F
Dementia 13 was released in 1963 by American International Pictures as a double feature, paired with X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Besides being a Roger Corman production, it’s mostly notable for being one of Francis Ford Coppola’s first films, and has spent the better part of four decades as a title in the public domain with various home video releases of varying qualities. Although it has been released on Blu-ray previously, The Film Detective decided to give their own spit and polish to this horror mystery hybrid with some good, but not perfect, results.
The plot of the film is about a wealthy family, whose mother has suffered many years due to the death of her daughter at a young age. With an inheritance at stake, someone begins bumping off friends and family members with no real motive. A clear knock-off of Psycho, a lot of Dementia 13’s story is a bit choppy. It doesn’t meander so much as it does attempt to beef up its own story with unclear results. The editing in particular is quite laid back most of the time, with cuts to events that have no bearing on the narrative, or narratives.
Dementia 13 was mostly directed by Francis Ford Coppola, but later changed at Corman’s insistence. It was made for a little over $40,000, most of which was leftover from shooting Corman’s previous film The Young Racers, on which Coppola served as a sound recorder. Coppola was asked by Corman to put together a movie similar to Psycho with those leftover funds, which he did. The movie even borrowed a couple of key actors from Operation: Titian, which was shot around the same time in the same country. Coppola had some freedom as a director, but Corman was so unhappy with Coppola’s initial cut of the movie that he brought in director Jack Hill to shoot additional scenes to add in some more violence into it. Unfortunately, the new material didn’t quite jibe with the old material, and it ruined any narrative through-line that the movie had.
Obviously, I don’t think much of Dementia 13. I actually think that the musical score is probably the most effective thing about it. It features haunting chords played on a harpsichord, making certain imagery a little more effective than it would be without it. The movie overall is more of a curiosity today than it is a solid movie, mostly due to Coppola’s writing and direction under Corman’s grip. It has a bit of artfulness to it, but it’s hampered by meddling in the final results. Yet, at the same time, some of the sequences that were shot after the fact are quite stark. It’s a bit of a catch-22, and we wind up with a film that kind of works and kind of doesn’t simultaneously.
The Film Detective’s Blu-ray presentation of the film features a transfer that’s not altogether great, but is actually a lot better than most might perceive it to be. Available in horrible transfers in dollar bins for years, it was released on Blu-ray previously with an improved, but not completely satisfactory, transfer. One can assume that the original film elements are probably long gone, so anything that we get is probably going to look substandard no matter what. That said, the transfer on this disc appears to be a notch above its previous one. There’s actually more information in the frame on all sides, widening the scope a bit. Due to the overt lack of film grain, it can be unnatural-looking most of the time. There is some detailing, but most of it has been washed away using noise removal. Brightness and contrast levels aren’t very satisfactory either, making the blacks deeper and the whites brighter than they really should be. The good news is that it’s actually a very clean and stable image, without any major film damage on display. Minor specks, occasional lines, and tiny scratches are pretty much all that remain, as well as some mild flicker. The audio is an English 2.0 DTS-HD track sourced from the original mono. It too shows its age with hiss and occasional crackle from time to time, but dialogue is always clear and discernible. The score actually shines through as the strongest element, and sound effects land without much impact. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them, but there are no extras of any kind to be had.
Again, Dementia 13 is not an overly good film, but it has elements that make it worth seeking out. If archival elements could be found that get a little closer to the original camera negative, I could see this getting a little more of a resurgence. As is, it’s still a step up in quality for a public domain title, and for the very low price tag attached to it, it’s still worth picking up.
- Tim Salmons