Movie Reviews 167 – Dementia 13 (1963)

Dementia 13Roger Corman is not only the king of the B movies, his stable of young actors and directors working their earliest projects reads like a Who’s Who of some of Hollywood’s biggest names including David Carradine, Jack Nicholson, Ron Howard, Joe Dante, and Martin Scorsese. Another fella that busted his film making chops under the helm of Corman was Francis Ford Coppola and one of his earlier directorial standouts was Dementia 13. I should point out that Coppola also co-wrote the script with Jack Hill (Spider Baby, Foxy Brown) yet another great who learned his craft under Corman.

As was usually the case with Corman projects, Dementia 13 was the result of squeezing out a second movie from an already available shoot location and set of actors making another movie for Corman. If they are still available for a little while longer, why not make another movie? In this case the locale was Ireland and the primary movie was The Young Racers. I would not call Dementia 13 a standout movie (which is why Coppola would have wait a bit longer for fame and fortune), but as a quickie effort the results are impressive.

It starts off with a squabbling young couple in a rowboat basically spilling out their loathing for one another. Husband John throws out the fact that he knows his wife Louise (Luana Anders) is only sticking around since the John’s family is wealthy and he should be up for a huge inheritance soon when his mother dies. As the arguing continues John himself suddenly dies of a heart attack. Knowing that with him dead Louise will not be getting any inheritance she dumps his body on the lake and cooks up a scheme to fake a business trip for her husband and then sets off to visit his family for their annual sojourn as if nothing has happened.

Once there we learn of the many eccentricities of all the family members and vague references regarding the sudden death of the John’s sister who drowned mysteriously as a child in the pond on the mansion grounds when John was just a child himself. The pilgrimage includes an annual mourning ritual for the young girl which has the mother fainting every year like clockwork.

It’s all very bizarre but there are great performances from Luana, Patrick Magee (who will forever be remembered as the wheelchair bound victim in A Clockwork Orange) as the family physician and William Campbell (Trelane in the original Star Trek) as one of the man’s brothers. The basic mystery is about what really happened to that young girl all those years ago and quite frankly every member of the family and the doctor are all suspect as they all seem to have secrets. I did not count how many characters there were in the movie but they were all demented to some degree so I would not be surprised that there were 13 in total, hence the title. And don’t worry about that

Not all Corman productions were successful but I would count Dementia 13 as one of them. You should find this movie easily enough as it has fallen into the public domain and can be found on a myriad of cheap DVDs.

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