I watched Dementia 13 a long time ago, probably on television - and I remember the quality to be outrageously bad, especially when during the night scenes, and it has a lot of those. So imagine my happiness when I finally found the blu-rayhere in Stockholm and finally would get a chance to watch it again. Because I've always felt that behind that atrocious quality a good movie was hidden. And of course, as usual, I was right.
Francis Ford Coppola, the enormously talented director behind perfect films like The Conversation and Apocalypse Now (but I must admit I have a soft spot both for Bram Stoker's Dracula and - believe it or not - Twixt!) assisted Roger Corman on Ireland, shooting The Young Racers, when he got a chance to direct his first feature - for the money that was left of the budget for the first film. He got the actors and locations and off he went to make something so Italian I would have thought it was a cheap knock-off of something Riccardo Freda or Maria Bava could have made during the same time - or more or less every Italian mystery movie then, you know the story "A bunch people comes to a castle/mansion and get killed". Always worth watching.
Louise Haloran (Luana Anders) is out rowing together with her husband Richard (William Campbell) when he suffers a fatal heart attack. It's wrong to say they had a nice marriage and Louise is mostly after his money anyway. So she dumps his body in the lake and tells his relatives that he's on a business trip. The problem is, as you can guess, that she only can get his family money if he's still alive. She travels to the Irish mansion where his mother lives to attend the annual ceremony of the youngest daughter Kathleen, who drowned seven years earlier. But someone wants to make it all end, and grabs and axe and starts to get rid of the family members - one by one!
This really feels like one of those twist-packed Italian gothic mansion-flicks, or a precursor to the slasher film. Or more or less like an early version of Mario Bava's Bay of Blood mixed with Seth Holt's Taste of Fear. Two masterpieces, so Dementia 13 is in good company. Also add some crumbs of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and you have this fun, gory and atmospheric proto-slasher! I guess - but I have no idea how many days - it was shot in a very short time, which makes it even more impressive because it looks fantastic. It sure looks like a movie that had least a month to be shot, with a lot of quite advanced set-up's, graphic violence (some more of it was added by Jack Hill on orders from Corman afterwards) and a script that's both confusing and impressive, when you think it was written in three days. It also have a lot of night-shooting and one underwater scene.
The more I think of it, this feels like a giallo. The characters, the violence, the childhood trauma. Not surprising of course, Corman wanted a movie in the same vein as Psycho and Homicidal, something twisty and violent and not for the faint of heart.
Dementia 13 is one of those controversially "underrated" films. It holds up pretty well for its age and delivers enough exploitation to make us genre fans jump of joy. And it has Patrick Magee in full grumpy-mode! :D