Kicking off Spooky Movie Tuesday with an old favorite: Dementia 13
|The opening placard actually gives away part of the mystery.|
Now that it's October, I'm going to shift the page to a "Spooky Movie" format for a bit, to give me a chance to reunite with some of my favorite "scary" old films (yes, I put that in quotes, for reasons that will become apparent throughout the month).
What's the deal with Dementia 13?
We're kicking things off with "Dementia 13" (Roger Corman Productions, 1963). The film starts out with a couple taking a late night boat ride. The wife, Louise Haloran (played by Luana Anders) and her husband, John (Peter Read) are having an argument. Louise covets the family fortune, but John's mother is determined to leave her fortune to charity. Repulsed by his wife's greed, John continues to row until he succumbs to a heart attack. Failing to save her husband, the desperate Louise ties him to the anchor and pushes him over the side, then rows back to the Irish Castle Haloran to fabricate a scenario in which John has left early on business while she can manipulate the family out of some sort of inheritance.
|Louise Haloran (Luana Anders), the greedy, inhumane "main character."|
Meanwhile, the youngest of the surviving Haloran children, Billy (Bart Patton) is at the airport to pick up his brother Richard's (William Campbell) fiancé Kane (Mary Mitchel).
|Billy Haloran (Bart Patton), haunted by the memory of his drowned sister Kathleen.|
|Richard's fiancé, Kane (Mary Mitchel), is disturbed by the family's obsession with death.|
|Richard Haloran (William Campbell) is a tormented sculptor and artist, but could he be a murderer?|
|Lady Haloran (Eithne Dunne), the mourning matriarch of Castle Haloran.|
|Kathleen's ghost haunts every inch of the film.|
With the remaining family reunited, their mother (Eithne Dunne) insists on having a funeral ceremony in memory of her youngest, Kathleen, passed seven years ago that day. Her children placate her, and the ceremony results in her fainting when one of the flowers dies while touching the grave.
|The Haloran family gathers for Kathleen's annual funeral.|
Looked over by the family doctor Justin Caleb (Patrick Magee), she is warned that the aura of depression and regret that clings to Castle Haloran is a detriment to her mental health.
|The sinister Doctor Caleb. Does he have the family's best interest at heart?|
Soon afterward, people associated with the castle begin seeing the eerie form of a ghostly little girl's preserved corpse before they're brutally murdered. Can the survivors figure out who the murderer is before their own grisly demise?
|Draining the drowning pond reveals a horrific clue.|
|The appearance of the ghostly form of Kathleen is always followed by a brutal attack.|
A fine pedigree equals a fine film (this time).
This is one of the many movies produced by the legendary Roger Corman (never has a director/producer done so much with so little, for good or bad). Film buffs will recognize this as one of the first directing credits of one Francis Ford Coppola (renowned director of "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now"). This wasn't a big budget studio production, but for what's here it's absolutely outstanding: Great atmosphere, a spooky setting with lots of haunting imagery, horrific murders, a mysterious villain, and yes… Some 1960s cheesecake scenes (it is a movie, after all).
|Pictured: 1960s cheesecake. If you've ever seen a horror movie, you can probably predict what happens next.|
The cinematography is head and shoulders above many similar low budget films of the time, and that probably has a lot to do with director Coppola's vision.
|Yes, even in 1963 old toys were scary.|
The pacing is pretty good, so that even when there's not a lot going on the settings and dialog change at a respectable clip; it's as long as it needs to be and never overstays its welcome.
|In the midst of calamity, Richard and Kane find happiness.|
|Is the doctor genuinely trying to solve the mystery, or is he setting up more victims?|
|I cannot restate enough how terrifying old children's toys are.|
It's not all great, though.
Is it perfect? Um… No. I wouldn't say that the film is bad, but it does have some rough spots: Chief among them is that while this film takes place in Ireland, and was filmed in Ireland (Corman liked to film multiple movies with the same actors and crew at the same time, so while he was in Ireland filming "The Young Racers" they made this one during the downtime), but there's nary a scent of an Irish accent among the entire cast. A few incidental characters do have what sounds like a genuine Irish lilt, but for the most part it sounds like bad impressions and Americans not even pretending to have an Irish upbringing. This is usually dismissed as "the children went to school in America," but it's kind of painful in spots (I love Patrick Magee's sinister performance as Dr. Caleb, but his accent is strange to say the least). The other detriment is that this film was made three years after Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," (1960) and it is highly derivative of that superior work at times.
Should you watch it?
Well, that depends: If you like films with a historic pedigree, want to watch a spooky autumn film, and find black and white horror movies to be otherworldly (in the good way), it's a great time. Although it's unrated, I highly recommend not watching this one with young children, as some of the incidental scenes are supernaturally spooky and a few of the murder scenes are quite nightmarish (not quite "modern slasher film," but still disturbing).
|What is the secret of the dead girl?|
Where can you find it?
I watched "Dementia 13" on DVD, but because of its open license it is an easy film to find on multiple streaming services, usually for free.