Monday, October 01, 2007

DEMENTIA 13 (1963)

It's October, which means it's time for a month of horror and sf flicks, and I've got a bunch in the viewing queue. This is one I read a lot about in the monster magazines of my youth. I thought the title was weird and cool, and I still do even though it doesn't make much sense; "dementia" is generally defined as a group of symptoms which result from physical changes in the brain and it's never made clear to what the title of this film refers (is the 13th dementia alcoholic? senile? vascular?). Despite being one of the first movies directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this winds up being not as cool as its name, though there are pleasures to be had especially if you view it, like many critics do, as a direct descendant of Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. The Haloran family is having a reunion at their Irish castle, occasioned by the 7th anniversary of the mysterious drowning death of the youngest child, Elizabeth. One of the sons (Peter Read) is there from America with his wife, Luana Anders, of whom the rest of the family does not approve. In fact, she has found out that she'll be cut out of the family inheritance if he dies first, which is likely as he has a weak heart. Sure enough, while the two are out for a midnight canoe trip in a lake on the grounds, Read has a heart attack and dies. Anders dumps his body in the water and tells the dysfunctional relatives that he was called back to New York on business, hoping to keep herself in the will. After a ritual reenactment of Elizabeth's funeral that the nutty family does each year, the matriarch (Ethne Dunne) faints and Anders decides to pull a scam on her, perhaps in hopes of killing her off, by making it seem as if the drowned girl is still alive and haunting the grounds. However, in a Psycho-like twist, the plot suddenly changes direction when, as she is planting creepy wind-up toys in the lake, she herself is killed by an ax murderer, and the hunt for the killer takes up the rest of the movie. The only actor aside from Anders to make any impact is Patrick Magee (the deranged attack victim in CLOCKWORK ORANGE) as a police inspector. Magee overacts as is his wont, but his presence is always welcome. William Campbell (no relation to the delightful Bill Campbell of THE ROCKETEER) and Bart Patton are the brothers, and Mary Mitchel is Campbell's fiancee. Despite the presence of an ax murderer, this isn't really an early slasher film, but more like an old-fashioned Gothic mystery. Some stylish atmosphere, but overall not that different from the run-of-the-mill B-shockers of the era. [TCM]

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