Thursday, March 25, 2010

Roger Corman Week - Day 4 - Dementia 13 (1963)

As we noted on Day One, one of the major reasons both for Roger Corman's success in the industry and for his long-lasting impact is his eye for talent. He is credited for discovering or helping to develop the talent of a number of actors and directors who went on to become big stars and household names. One of his biggest discoveries is the director of today's Corman produced feature, Francis Ford Coppola.

Coppola, the director of films such as The Godfather, The Conversation, and  Apocalypse Now, in 1963 was working as a sound man on Corman's film The Young Racers. Finding himself with $22,000 left in the budget from the film but needing to get back to New York (the crew had been filming in Ireland), Corman suggested that Coppola stay and direct a quickie horror film using the leftover money. He gave Coppola a few guidelines - he wanted a film in the tradition of Psycho, with a homicidal maniac, an axe murderer and a twist ending - then left the fledgeling director on his own. Coppola whipped up the outline of a script overnight, and with Corman's approval filming soon began.

The finished film, to which Corman insisted some changes be made before release, is honestly something of a mess. It begins with a couple feuding over the husband's mother's will. Louise Haloran, the wife, is upset that everything is designated to go to a charity in the name of a mysterious woman named Kathleen. After informing Louise that she had better be careful because if he dies before his mother she will get nothing at all, John, the husband, promptly dies of a heart attack. Hiding the body in a lake, Louise pretends that her husband is still alive, just "away on business", and ingratiates herself into the family's ancestral home.

Once there she (and the audience) meets John's mother, Lady Haloran, and his two brothers, Billy and Richard. It's immediately obvious that something is not right in the house, a suspicion that is confirmed when she spies upon the trio carrying out a ritualistic ceremony that is an annual tribute to the brothers youger sister Kathleen (remember the mysterious Kathleen?) who drowned many years before.

Devising a plan to drive the mother mad, Louise takes some of Kathleen's toys to the middle of the lake and plants them so that the next day they will be seen to mysteriously float to the surface. However, (and this is where the Psycho connection bears its fruit), as she pulls herself from the lake, Louise finds herself at the feet of an axe-weilding madman. From this point on, the body count begins to build as the focus of the movie shifts from the psychological drama of Louise's plot to a hunt for the unknown killer.

All-in-all, Coppola's hurriedly-written script definitely has its flaws, the dialogue is incredibly stilted, and as noted, Corman was not terribly happy with the end result, reportedly storming out of the creening room and demanding extensive changes. Nonetheless, it's easy to see why Corman had enough faith in this budding film-school graduate to hand him the budget for this film. Coppola, even this early, is obviously developing the eye that would soon turn him into one of America's most celebrated directors.

Let's take a quick peek, shall we?

And now, the Skinny:
Title: Dementia 13
Release Date: 1963
Running Time: 75min
Black and White
Starring: William Campbell, Luanna Anders
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by: Roger Corman
Distributed by: American International Pictures

Dementia 13 is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: Dementia 13.
Once again, Netflix unfortunately doesn't appear to have this one in stock at the moment, but you can reserve it: Fright Night Horror Classics: Vol. 2: Dementia 13.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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