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Francis Coppola
William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton
Writing Credits:
Francis Coppola

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.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.67:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS-HD MA 1.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 69 min.
Price: $17.99
Release Date: 9/21/2021

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Francis Ford Coppola
• Introduction by Writer/Director Francis Ford Coppola
• Prologue


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Dementia 13 [Blu-Ray] (1963)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 22, 2021)

Francis Ford Coppola made his directorial debut at the young age of 20. For a look at the director’s early years, we go to 1963’s horror tale Dementia 13, his first commercial feature made when Coppola was 24.

John Haloran (Peter Read) dies suddenly and leaves his young wife Louise (Luana Anders) a widow. He comes from a wealthy family but Louise won’t see a penny of his mother’s (Ethne Dunn) wealth if the clan knows John died.

Louise schemes to convince everyone that John went away on business as she attends an annual memorial for Kathleen, John’s sister who died tragically at a young age. While Louise works to secure an inheritance, she and others deal with an axe-wielding maniac who roams the grounds of the estate.

Well, that seems like a twist! Given the main plot, Dementia sounds more like a comedic farce, as one could anticipate shenanigans ala Weekend at Bernie’s as Louise tries to keep her husband “alive”.

Without the homicidal maniac, Dementia could still offer a dark thriller, one that revolves around the oddness of the haunted Haloran family – and that does play a role. I guess Coppola and those involved figured the tale needed something more aggressive and visceral.

When I go into an effort like Dementia, I feel curious to discern if this ‘early days” product shows any signs of the talent that would later become evident. In the case of Dementia, the answer is a resounding “no”, as this dull flick gives us no clues that its creator would someday earn Oscars.

As I understand it, the producers of Dementia commissioned Coppola – who had just worked for them as part of the crew on 1963’s The Young Racers - to write and direct the flick because they still had money left over from Racers. Apparently they wanted Coppola to give them a quickie Psycho knock-off, and he did – sort of.

To be clear, Psycho influences abound in Dementia, especially during its first act. The film’s music, graphics, style and tone all seem heavily reflective of Hitchcock’s 1963 hit during the opening 20 minutes or so.

After that, Dementia leans more toward Gothic horror, and it starts to feel like a copy of Robert Wise’s 1963 classic The Haunting. Because both films shot at about the same time – and Dementia made it to theaters first – it seems less obvious that Coppola “borrowed” from Wise than from Hitchcock, but it’s possible he was aware of Wise’s production and that became an influence.

In any case, Dementia largely loses the Psycho feel after the first act – with one massive notable exception that I won’t mention because it hugely enters spoiler territory. To call this scene a rip-off of a major Psycho sequence would demean the word “rip-off”, as Coppola couldn’t have made the theft more obvious if he ran subtitles that said “I stole this from Hitchcock!”

Even if a movie liberally takes from others, that doesn’t mean it can’t still entertain. With Coppola at the helm, even a mix of Psycho and Haunting could possibly succeed.

Alas, Coppola shows little affinity for the material, so he fails to elevate Dementia above “cheap knock-off” territory. The story does come with potential due to the screwed-up nature of the Haloran family, and perhaps if the film more fully explored that domain, it might fare better.

However, Dementia just uses the clan’s problems as window-dressing, for Coppola never digs into the topics in a satisfactory manner. The way the movie awkwardly shoehorns the axe-murderer into the story doesn’t help either, so the whole package comes across as a disjointed mess.

Because it represents Coppola’s feature debut, Dementia 13 merits a look as a curiosity. I feel no desire to ever see it again, though, as it just doesn’t provide a quality movie.

Footnote One: the movie includes the dialogue “especially an American girl - you can tell she's been raised on promises”. Tom Petty’s classic song “American Girl” features the line “she was an American girl/raised on promises”. If Petty didn’t lift that lyric from Dementia 13, it’s an amazing coincidence.

Footnote Two: at one point we see a creepy mechanical toy with four legs and a baby’s head, something that looks like one of the mutant playthings in Toy Story. I feel less certain that the folks at Pixar used Dementia as an influence than I am about “American Girl”, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Toy Story does pay homage to Dementia.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

Dementia 13 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.67:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a watchable image but not a great one.

Granted, I didn’t expect a lot from a cheapie horror tale shot in 1963, so I didn’t find myself surprised by the image’s occasional inconsistencies. Sharpness became one of those erratic elements.

Most of Dementia looked fairly accurate and well-defined. Some soft shots occasionally materialized, but the majority of the movie showed nice definition.

Jagged edges and moiré effects never became an issue, and I saw no edge haloes. With a good layer of grain, I didn’t suspect issues with noise reduction, and print flaws failed to turn into a concern.

Blacks were usually fine, though occasionally they felt a bit crushed. Shadows also worked fine most of the time but they could come across as a bit thick. Sporadic anomalies aside, this was a more than satisfactory image for a cheap old movie.

A 58-year-old old low-budget flick like Dementia 13 doesn’t feel like a logical target for a multi-channel remix, but this Blu-ray presents it with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 reworking nonetheless. Don’t expect much from the soundscape, though.

Honestly, outside of the score, the soundfield came across as glorified mono much of the time. The music managed to open up in a decent manner, but most effects felt concentrated on the front center.

Quality showed its age but remained satisfactory. Actually, the score sounded surprisingly rich, as the music exhibited nice range.

Effects became spottier, but they only occasionally showed distortion. While they didn’t boast much impact, these elements seemed more than listenable.

Speech suffered from weak looping at times. The lines largely lacked edginess, though, as showed reasonably natural impressions. While I’d prefer to stick with the original mono – which also appeared on the disc – the 5.1 remix seemed more than acceptable.

We find a few extras, and the main attraction comes from an audio commentary with writer/director Francis Ford Coppola. He offers a running, screen-specific look at the project’s origins and development, cast and crew, budgetary topics, sets and locations, and related domains.

Though Coppola starts pretty well, he loses steam before too long. Given the flick’s brief running time, a surprising number of empty spots occur, and he runs out of particularly useful notes as he goes. While not a bad track, this one disappoints, as it just doesn’t provide a lot of insights.

We can watch the movie with an Introduction from Writer/Director Francis Ford Coppola. In this one-minute clip, Coppola tells us he’s happy we can see the movie as he originally intended. The intro seems superfluous.

Finally, we get a Prologue. Also referred to as “Dementia 13 Test”, the six-minute, 44-second segment ran with some original theatrical runs of the film.

Here “Dr. William J. Bryan Jr.” – allegedly the “world’s foremost authority on medical hypnosis” – gives us his “insights”. We then find a “quiz” that intends to tell us if we can handle the “shocks” of the movie. It’s silly as silly can be.

One of Francis Ford Coppola’s earliest films, Dementia 13 deserves attention as a historical curiosity. However, it doesn’t actually work as a movie, for it seems silly and without suspense. The Blu-ray brings pretty good picture and audio along with a few bonus features highlighted by a lackluster commentary. Due to its place in Coppola’s past, I’m glad I saw Dementia 13, but I can’t claim it turns into an interesting cinematic experience.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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