October 9, 2017 Dementia 13 (Movie Review)
In 1963, the original Dementia 13 was Francis Ford Coppola’s directorial debut, and it was produced by the simultaneously famous and infamous Roger Corman. About a widow who schemes to get her late husband’s inheritance by dealing with his family while unaware that she was being targeted by an axe-wielding maniac, Dementia 13 was an interesting start for the man who would eventually bring 1972’s The Godfather and 1978’s Apocalypse Now to the silver screen. Now 54 years later, Writers and Producers Dan DeFilippo (101 Salvations 2008, The Invaders 2016) and Justin Smith (Ghoul 2012, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming 2017) have decided to put a different spin on the tale for their production company Pipeline Entertainment.
Directed by Richard LeMay (200 American 2003, Naked as We Came 2012), the story starts off similarly to the original. Louise (Ana Isabelle: Decisiones Extremas series, Lost Cat Corona 2017) plots to take as much of the family fortune as she can from her husband John Haloran (Christian Ryan: NASCAR: The Rise of American Speed 2016, Who’s Afraid of the Octopus Man, 2016) and his family estate. Unfortunately, her plan is scuppered when the rest of the Haloran family come over for a memorial service to their late relative Kathleen (Leila Grace: Master of None 2015, Life 2017), while a mysterious, masked figure roams the estate’s grounds with an axe and some bad intentions.
Released in theaters on October 6th – with a VOD & Digital HD release on the 10th via Chiller Films – Dementia 13 is more of a retelling than a straight adaptation. Usually this would be greeted with skepticism at best but, for a famous director’s debut, the original Dementia 13 is relatively obscure.
Despite fresher releases on Blu-ray, the film can be found going for a song either online or in the racks at dollar stores or pound stores. As such, DeFilippo and Smith probably did not receive much backlash for turning the Haloran brothers Richard and Billy into sisters Rose (Channing Pickett: Little Drifter 2014, Redheads Anonymous 2015) and Billy (Marianne Noscheze: Horror Time 2018), thus introducing a new character in Rose’s boyfriend Dale (Steve Polites: The Murder Game 2006, The Gunslinger Grifter Logan 2018) or relocating the family’s ancestral home Castle Haloran from Ireland to the Connecticut woods.
There are enough similarities to see the connections between the two: the opening on the rowboat; the painting of Kathleen in the castle’s living room that dominates the frame in certain shots; or the character of Kane (Ben Van Berkum: Murder, My Tweet 2016, Gypsy 2017) being shown around the estate by the groundskeeper Arthur (Roland Sands: Black Wine 2005, Creating Karma 2006). Ultimately, however, the remake is a different deal altogether. Corman Productions were famous for having to make the most out of a tiny budget, whereas the remake has a healthy amount of money behind its shots.
Furthermore, the cinematography by Paul Niccolls makes the estate and the woods look as beautiful as they are eerie and foreboding, alongside some dramatic camera angles that work at suggesting there’s more than just a killer on the loose. When it works, it works fantastically, though there are some sequences that seem a little indulgent, like the amount of establishing shots of the fields and garden ornaments during the first half of the film. Some of them serve a purpose- like suggesting a passage of time or showing a character’s foibles- but other times it seems like if they moved faster and had a jingle playing, the audience could mistake this for a TV sitcom transition.
This could be an intentional way of beefing the film up, as the dialogue scenes are quick and to the point: they tell the audience what they need to know but do not give them more until the time is right, without any extra fluff in the meantime. It does a good job at building up tension and showing how dysfunctional the family is, so it is admirable in its workmanship. Though the acting in turn is more okay than outstanding, there are some entertaining performances. Gloria Haloran (Julia Campanelli: Walking Away 2012, Pamanhikan 2015) hams it up slightly as the family’s sour, traumatized matriarch in a way that adds to the movie’s eerie, uneasy atmosphere. Pickett’s Rose is appropriately sympathetic despite the odd duff line; Van Berkum’s Kane is quite memorable as an awkward hippy type; and Donal Brophy (Acajou 2017, En El Séptimo Día 2017) comes off as particularly menacing as the leader of a gang of thieves.
Speaking of menace, the scares- from the killer on the loose outside the castle to the spooky goings-on inside it- feel out of time. Though it is a remake of a 1960’s film, most of the scares are unique to the remake, but a first-time viewer could assume the creaky floorboards, whispery voices and night-time chases are done out of faithfulness to the original. It may be effective as someone’s introduction to Horror- a dip of the toe into a spooky swimming pool before they find more explicit stuff- but hardened fans of the genre may find it all too familiar. It works better as a suspense story where the twists and turns are more intriguing than spine-tingling. Though kudos must be given to Black Space VFX and sound designers Brian and Evan Joseph, as what they have produced is crisp and clean with little to no visible joins.
That could sum up Dementia 13 in the end too: it is made competently, the scenes flow well for the most part, and it tells an interesting story despite its old-fashioned scares, occasional duff lines, and overuse of establishing shots. It may be fair to say LeMay, DeFilippo and Smith are not the next Ford Coppola’s, but what they have produced is at least on par with the original film, if not a teeny bit above it. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Dementia 13 3 out of 5 stars.