Shot in Ireland for a reported $40,000 (or somewhere in that neighborhood), this Roger Corman-produced quickie was director Coppola's last exploitation excursion before gliding into a mainstream Hollywood of mostly ignored comedies and musicals that would make way for that memorable mob masterpiece. Obviously influenced by the success of PSYCHO, Coppola's initial foray into horror (often noted as his first feature – it's not) is a flawed but effective black & white chiller from that great early 1960s era that also gave us CARNIVAL OF SOULS, HOMICIDAL and NIGHT TIDE. DEMENTIA 13 now makes its second appearance on Blu-ray, from The Film Detective, the company who has recently done the same with Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD and THE TERROR.
After her tubby husband (Peter Read) has a heart attack on a rowboat, Louise Haloran (Luana Anders, PIT AND THE PENDULUM) intentionally dumps the body and proceeds to an Irish castle to visit her husband's family. Unfortunately for her, she has not yet been accepted by them, yet she wants to ensure herself a piece of her husband's fortune. Forging a letter, Louise gets the clan to believe that her husband is still alive and has gone away on a business trip. Once at the Haloran castle, Louise learns of her husband's sister, Kathleen, a little girl who drowned years earlier.
The surviving family consists of mother Lady Haloran (Ethne Dunn), her two sons Billy (Bart Patton, GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN) and Richard (William Campbell, BLOOD BATH), and Richard's fiancée Kane (Mary Mitchel, SPIDER BABY). To get on the mother's good side, the scheming Louise dupes her into believing that she can contact the ghost of the late daughter, whose dead image seems to pop up virtually everywhere. A number of bloody murders ensue, and it's more than likely up to a pub-frequenting family doctor (Patrick Magee, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS) to resolve them.
Aided by authentic Irish locales, savory black & white cinematography, an eerie score by AIP regular Ronald Stein and hearty acting by Campbell, Magee and especially Anders (who died of cancer in 1996), DEMENTIA 13 rises above its minuscule budget and boasts some very gory (for the time) murders, including a graphic ax hacking and a decapitation that was filmed by Jack Hill after Corman decided that some tampering was required to better market the film. The title was also changed after it was discovered that a film called DEMENTIA (aka DAUGHTER OF HORROR) already existed.
On the down side, we get some less than professional acting by the locals (Campbell later proclaimed that he was the only actor who actually got paid!), a number of puzzling plot holes, drawn-out dialog and some technical flubs (a boom mike's ample shadow is painfully visible in one shot). But these are just the things that make low budget films interesting, and its good points outweigh the bad, and I could think of a number of worse ways to spend 75 minutes.
DEMENTIA 13 (much like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE TERROR and a number of other familiar horror titles) is a public domain film that has been issued on video and DVD many times over from various budget companies. HD Cinema Classics/Film Chest released the film in on Blu-ray 2011 (in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio) in a transfer created from 35mm film elements, and it biggest problem (likely as a result of the work done through the telecine) scenes with a lot of movement in them caused a jerky, spiral “ghosting” effect. The Film Detective’s new Blu-ray (which is actually a BD-R and not a pressed disc) appears to be sourced from the same elements with some improvement. The “ghosting” problems can still be detected from time to time, but are less blatant, and the image is also less waxy than the Film Chest transfer, even boasting some welcomed filmic grain. Here it’s presented in 1080P HD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with white levels being bright and black levels also looking proper, and although some long shots can be on the soft side, close-up remain reasonably sharp. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track has clear dialog and sound effects, while showcasing Ronald Stein’s terrific score to its full mono potential. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
There are no extras on The Film Detective’s Blu-ray. The 2011 Film Chest Blu-ray included a restoration demo, a demo trailer which mixed newly-generated titles and scenes from the restored transfer (with narration taken from the original AIP theatrical trailer) as well as a postcard depicting the original poster art. The Roan Group’s non-anamorphic DVD release of many years ago included a good audio commentary with actor William Campbell originally conducted for their 1996 laserdisc, as well as the extended theatrical trailer which commenced with Dr. William Joseph Brian, Jr. (obviously reading from an idiot card) informing the audience about his "D-13" test, a quiz that was devised to determine an individual's ability to withstand shock. So if you have other discs of this film, you might want keep them for extras, but in terms of visual quality, even with some flaws, this is the best of the bunch thus far. (George R. Reis)
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