The Godfather, Apocalypse NowDementia 13? Although you may have not heard of it, this low-budget black-and-white horror thriller from 1963 comes from the same mind that brought you these undisputed classics. Every director has to start somewhere, and in the case of Francis Ford Coppola his opportunity came about working for Roger Corman on The Young Racers. When Corman wrapped up shooting that film in Ireland, he found himself with an extra $22K left over from the allocated budget. Fortunately for Coppola, Corman was always eager to produce a decent film on a shoestring budget so he challenged the aspiring filmmaker to rapidly develop a movie that he could shoot while still in Ireland. Working within the parameters he knew Corman liked, Coppola banged out a script in record time and somehow got Dementia 13 completed after raising a little bit of extra money. The only sour part of the story is that Corman was unhappy with Coppola’s cut of the film and forced some additional footage to be shot and inserted, but at long last this new Blu-Ray presents the film as Coppola always intended. 

This gothic tale tends to work better in atmosphere rather than narrative, but the story is compelling even with some hiccups. In the beginning, we find John Haloran (Peter Read) and his young wife Louise (Luana Anders, The Pit and The Pendulum) rowing on a lake after dark while having a heated conversation. The young woman is none too pleased to hear that her mother-in-law has written a will which will give away all of her assets to charity upon her death in memory of her deceased daughter. John informs his greedy wife that if he dies before his mother, she will receive nothing. This is conveniently said right as he is revealed to have a weak heart and drops dead from the stress of rowing and arguing. Eager to not lose out on the money, Louise throws her husband overboard in the lake and sets about on a plan to trick her mother-in-law into including her in the will before anyone realizes that John is not actually on a business trip. 

The most damning thing that can be said about Dementia 13 is that you can tell that Francis Ford Coppola wrote this script in a matter of days. The basic framework of the story is quite twisted and intriguing, but if you dwell too long on the dialogue you will find yourself perplexed by some of the clumsy lines that make the final edit. You are never lost when it comes to what is happening in the plot, but the particulars are bandied about without much real weight given to them. Still, when you consider the fly-by-night nature of this production, you can forgive some of this. Coppola is very clearly a filmmaker with an eye for composition and atmosphere from these early days. When Louise comes to the estate of her in-laws which houses Lady Haloran (Eithne Dunne) and John’s two brothers, Billy (Bart Patton) and Richard (William Campbell, Star Trek), she realizes hers is not the only secret being hidden. The mystery of the deceased younger sister who drowned as a child brings about a new set of questions, plus a malicious presence who aims to keep certain truths buried. 

Corman initially wanted Coppola to make a more violent version of Psycho, an emphasis in the psychological with plenty of gnarly limb separating and decapitations. What Coppola produced on the sly was something with some nasty bits of violence, but ultimately was a feature that ratcheted up the tension through the dread of the unknown. The story takes some bold turns and rarely sags in its spry 68 minute running time. The Irish castle that they had for shooting is used to maximum effect to draw out the gothic elements of the story, giving the story a bit of class compared to a straightforward slasher. The performances are nothing spectacular, but once again this could be partly attributed to some of the clunky dialogue in the script. We expect some level of greatness from Francis Ford Coppola, but you have to grade him on a curve for what amounts to an impressive student film. It is a strong starting point for a director who would bring us some of the greatest films of all time. Dementia 13 is decently spooky and unsettling with a handful of surprises, making this well worth a watch for both fans of Coppola and old-school horror.

Video Quality

Lionsgate Home Entertainment presents Dementia 13 with a lovely new 1080p master transfer sourced from a 4K restoration supervised by Francis Ford Coppola. This Vestron Video line has been a mixed bag for film fans in terms of A/V with some stunning releases and others with weaker masters. Dementia 13 ranks among the best we have seen from the line and is still quite a sight to behold. The film features some gorgeous black-and-white photography that maintains a fairly strong contrast. The black levels are quite deep with fine detail rarely faltering in shadows. The level of detail and clarity is often stunning outside of fleeting moments where it fluctuates. The film does not present with any digital manipulation as it maintains the appropriate amount of natural film grain. The film has been cleaned up immensely, but some specks of damage arise to foul up the otherwise pristine nature of the production. The team at Zoetrope Films has done a really nice job of bringing this production to disc. 

Audio Quality

Lionsgate has delivered a pleasing presentation featuring both the original DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio mono track, as well as a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that gets the job done. The track balances vocals with the environmental sounds quite well with basic fidelity feeling mostly strong throughout. The track does not utilize the multi-channel roots to the fullest effect as information stays very much in the front center channels. There was no underlying hiss or other such anomalies detected throughout the course of this presentation. While music sometimes presents as a bit warm, the normal dialogue comes through clearly from beginning to end. Lionsgate has provided a really strong audio presentation that presents the film quite capably. The disc also comes with optional English (SDH) subtitles.

Special Features

  • Introduction By Francis Ford Coppola: A minute-long introduction from director Francis Ford Coppola in which he discusses getting to release his intended cut of the film after all of these years. 
  • Audio Commentary: Director Francis Ford Coppola delivers a fantastic, insightful commentary track in which he reflects upon the production of this film, how the film came to be, his cameo in the film, how he assembled the cast and crew, selling the idea to Roger Corman and more. Although there may not be many special features on the disc, this one is essential. 
  • Prologue (Dementia 13 Test): The original seven-minute prologue featuring Dr. William J. Bryan, Jr., the “world’s foremost authority on medical hypnosis,” in which he tests the audience’s ability to handle this film without going into a psychosis. While an interesting oddity, it was a wise decision not to include this in the film as it would start it off on a very laborious foot. 

 

Final Thoughts

Dementia 13 is a really intriguing first effort from the great Francis Ford Coppola. The film has some deficiencies in the script thanks to a rushed schedule to production, but the basic feats of filmmaking remain impressive and allow the filmmaker to conjure some eerie moments that stick with you. This new Director’s Cut allows the film to move at a really swift pace that keeps you invested and properly in suspense. Lionsgate Home Entertainment has released this Blu-Ray as a part of their Vestron Video line, and it ranks among their best work with a stellar A/V presentation and a few good supplemental features. If you are a Coppola fan or just want to check out a forgotten thriller, this one is an enjoyable piece of work. Recommended 

Dementia 13 (Director’s Cut) is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and Digital. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Lionsgate Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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