After the unexpected death of her husband from a heart attack, Louise Haloran (Luana Anders) attempts to cover up his passing from the remainder of his family to not get written out of his mother Lady Haloran’s (Ethne Dunn) will. Things take an unexpected turn when a maniac with an ax shows up to put a dangerously sharp crimp in the young woman’s plans.
Francis Ford Coppola’s first film for producer Roger Corman, Dementia 13 was not the low-budget shocker the director originally intended it to be. Taken away from him in the editing room, with scenes shot and added by fellow renegade filmmaker Jack Hill (Spider Baby, Foxy Brown), it’s safe to say The Godfather and The Conversation auteur always envisioned something completely different than the down-and-dirty bit of craziness that’s been available in the public domain for decades.
Featuring a new HD transfer and a surprisingly rambunctious English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack (not to mention a spiffy cleanup of the original mono track), Coppola returns to his debut and delivers a definitive “director’s cut” more in line with his original vision. This is a lean, mean Hitchcockian knockoff that shows early signs of the director’s future brilliance. It’s also not nearly as different from the original theatrical version as one might expect going in.
Undeniably structured to duplicate (and hopefully to similarly cash-in at the box office) Psycho, the basic plot is a clever bait-and-switch where what is perceived to be the main plot quickly proves to be nothing more than a violent red herring to deceive the audience. The true mystery is the identity of the ax-wielding psychopath stalking the grounds of Lady Haloran’s estate, and the determined Dr. Caleb (Patrick Magee) puts it on himself to solve a bloody mystery before anyone else goes missing.
The film is still breathtakingly short, meaning most of the more interesting narrative beats aren’t explored in anything approaching depth. But Coppola has tightened up the editing and given things a more viscerally sinister feel in this new cut, keeping things determinedly focused on the climactic outcome and precious little else.
Dementia 13 remains an oddity, but if that’s the case it’s a supremely entertaining one. Coppola stages a handful of superior suspense sequences, and definitely – maybe even defiantly – makes the most of the minuscule budget Corman supplied him with. I say give this one a look.
Dementia 13 is presented on a 25GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.67:1 1080p transfer. The only other time I’ve seen this film is when it aired on TCM, and it’s never looked this good. NEVER.
This new Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono tracks, both of which are outstanding, and includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include:
Audio Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola
Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola (1:00)
Prologue (Dementia 13 Test) (6:44)
How was the original theatrical release of the film not included as a bonus extra? It’s in the public domain, after all. I imagine Coppola didn’t want it on this release. That’s got to be the answer, right?
A Digital HD copy of the film is also included.
Dementia 13 is undeniably an ultra-low-budget affair produced by Roger Corman. It’s still easy to see Francis Ford Coppola’s immense talents even with all the limitations he had to deal with both behind and in front of the camera while crafting his debut motion picture. This director’s cut presentation is not so much an improvement over the theatrical release version as it is a more enjoyably pulpy and brutal take on Coppola’s original scenario. Give it a look.