Dementia 13 (1963)
US (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
Cast: Bart Patton, Bill Campbell, Eithne Dunne, Luana Anders, Mary Mitchel, Patrick Magee, William Campbell
Synopsis: John Haloran has a fatal heart attack, but his wife Louise won’t get any of the inheritance when Lady Haloran dies if John is dead. Louise forges a letter from John to convince the rest of his family he’s been called to New York on important business, and goes to his Irish ancestral home, Castle Haloran, to meet the family and look for a way to ensure a cut of the loot. Seven years earlier John’s sister Kathleen was drowned in the pond, and the Halorans enact a morbid ritual in remembrance. Secrets shroud the sister’s demise, and soon the family and guests begin experiencing an attrition problem.
Review: Suprisingly enough, Coppola started his directorial career in horror. “Dementia 13” is actually Coppola’s second attempt in the horror genre. At times the movie feels almost like a predecessor to the slashers of the 1980s. In fact, with a higher body count, some sexual escapades and the inclusion of some scantily clad teenagers, you could automatically assume that “Dementia 13” is a slasher.
“Dementia 13” is a well-paced, suspenseful horror movie revolving around the story of an unknown killer putting the axe to a rich family isolated in an old Irish castle. The movie starts off with the death of a rather crude husband, much to his wife’s delight. Instead of reporting his death, the wife covers up the incident as carefully as she can so that she can still stake a claim to his family fortune (if her husband dies before she does, the wife has no claim to the fortune). I was actually kind of glad the husband died, even though he appeared to be quite the rockin’ Elvis fan. The manipulative nature of the wife however, makes you not want to be on her side. So really, you don’t really take anyone’s side in the beginning.
As the husband’s family is later introduced, you begin to see how bizarre and detached from the real world they are. The mother is a mean old bitch who broods over her long dead daughter rather than giving any care to her living sons or her daughter-in-law. The oldest son is some sort of reclusive metallurgist (bizarre, considering his family’s nobility) and the youngest son is this weird repressed mama’s boy that definitely bears a strong resemblance (personality wise) to Perkins from “Psycho”. Really the only character you can side with is the bubbly blonde girlfiriend of the reclusive older son.
Despite the weird characters who seem totally lost in their own worlds, an interesting story develops whereby the recently widowed wife (of course the family doesn’t know she is a widow yet) devises a scheme to kill off the family matriarch. How she intends to do this isn’t quite clear, but it has something to do with tying the toys of the long dead daughter to a string in a pond. I’m guessing this was supposed to cause the mother to suffer a heart attack due to witnessing her dead child’s toys bobbing around in the pond in which she drowned. Seems a bit needlessly complicated to me. I would have voted that the wife just murder the old bat and cover it up as well as she covered up her husband’s death/disappearance.
The unknown killer ends up finding the conniving widow in a pond and brutally kills her as she tries to swim away. It’s a great scene shot half underwater and half above water. The killer ends up trying to add a few more bodies to the pile, but just ends up failing. Some annoying psychiatrist shows up and tries to rationalize what the hell is going on in the castle, but it really just seems like he’s talking out of his ass. Eventually the killer is revealed to be the younger brother (kind of a shocker, I expected it was the dead husband coming back for revenge) and it is also revealed that the younger brother accidentally killed his younger sister in the pond incident. Case closed. Too late for the wife though. No one really even seemed to notice she was missing or really care at all in fact. All in all, it’s a decent movie set up with some great atmospheric, moody tension courtesy of master director, Coppola.