“Fishy, fishy, in a brook, Daddy caught you on a hook.“
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Dementia 13 is not a good movie. But when it’s a Roger Corman production, you really can’t go into things expecting filmmaking magic. But then again, a lot of big directors got their start working with Corman — Joe Dante directed Piranha, Jonathan Demme directed Crazy Mama, Scorsese directed Boxcar Bertha, Ron Howard directed Grand Theft Auto — and Dementia 13 marked the feature film debut of Francis Ford Coppola.
All that to say is that Corman’s films, while generally perceived as rip-off cash-grabs of other popular films, still tend to have someone talented behind the wheel. The guy definitely could sniff out budding visionaries, and that’s where the big draw of this new release of Dementia 13 comes into play.
As Coppola’s debut, it presents itself as more than a curiosity, but also an early exploration of where Coppola started (he also wrote the screenplay).
Going into the movie though, it’s still most important to remember this is a Corman production — and from what I’ve read, Corman played a fairly heavy hand in reworking the film to his own satisfaction. That said, this new release from Vestron is designated as the Director’s Cut, and as I’ve never seen the movie before, I can’t speak to what the differences may be between what I saw and what originally debuted in theaters back in 1963.
So, where to begin? Historical curiosity aside, as I said earlier, this isn’t really a good movie. It’s also not nearly as bad as it could have been. The intro scene in the boat really sets things up well with tension and prepares the viewer for what is sure to be a strange ride. The only problem is, it really isn’t. Sure, there are some twists and turns here, and it’s clear that this thing was a cash-grab inspired by the success of Psycho. The storyline is confusing and disjointed, and not in a good way. But rather in a way that feels like it was all kind of thrown together, with a lot of bits and pieces cobbled together to try to make something coherent.
The acting, for better or worse, is at least earnest. Yeah, some of it’s cringe-inducing, and dead actors are clearly breathing in the shots of their corpses, leading to a further lessening of the effect.
But does it scare? By today’s standards, not really. But this thing does get a bit more gory than I would have expected for the time. The ax murders (did I mention there’s an ax murderer at the center of this all?) are well-shot, and the suspense definitely jumps up a notch when the murderer’s afoot.
All in all, however, it’s not a movie you need to run out and add to your collection. There are better slashers out there, though most of those were inspired by early slashers like this one. The story is disjointed at best, and the big “reveal” of the killer at the end is a pretty absurd attempt at a “twist” in an attempt to shock like Psycho did.
If you do want to check it out though, it’s worth picking up for the price I paid (about $12). The picture quality is quite good here in this restored version, and it’s if nothing else, an interesting footnote in the history of horror.
(This post has affiliate links in it, meaning I get a small payment if you buy from a product link in here. It doesn’t really influence the reviews though, and these reviews are definitely not paid for or sponsored).