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Dementia 13 (Blu-ray Review)

Dementia-13Produced by celebrated B-movie icon Roger Corman and directed by the legendary Francis Ford Coppola, the macabre thriller Dementia 13 has been digitally restored from 35mm archival film elements, bringing its terrifying suspense to the screen like never before. The 1963, B-movie classic will be available on Blu-ray July 26 from The Film Detective (distributed by Allied Vaughn).  Written and directed by Coppola (The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation) at just 24-years-old, Dementia 13 is considered his first mainstream, “legitimate” directorial effort. Backed by funds leftover from one of Corman’s (Death Race, The Terror, The Little Shop of Horrors) other projects – on which Coppola worked as a sound technician – the fledgling director wrote the screenplay in one night, bringing Corman’s idea for a low-budget, extremely brutal, gothic-themed Psycho knockoff to life.

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Film 

A scheming young woman who, while visiting her husband’s family castle in Ireland, inadvertently causes his heart attack death. She attempts to have herself written into her rich mother-in-law’s will since her husband has pre-deceased his mother. Her plans are permanently interrupted by an axe-wielding lunatic who begins to stalk and murderously hack away at members of the family.

Dementia 13 is a fun, very solid little look back at one of the earlier films that Psycho inspired.  As a fan of the slasher genre, its always thrilling to go back and check out the “proto-slashers” of yesterday that pre-date Halloween.  This one gives us an axe wielding maniac with an slight Agatha Christie approach.  Throw in some very early exploitation stuff and you’ve got yourself a fun time.  Directed by someone other than Coppola, maybe this isn’t very good, but with him its solid B-entertainment.

This isn’t Coppola’s first film, but it can be marked as maybe his first real or commercial effort.  He had done some skin flicks prior.  What’s great about it, is that though he’s very raw here, he has a vision and a lot of it comes across quite well.  There is footage here that was later shot by Jack Hill after Roger Corman was unhappy with Coppola’s first cut of the film.  Coppola was left with total creative freedom, shooting in Ireland telling via letters one thing to Corman while Roger saw the finished project as something else completely.

Francis Ford Coppola’s film is decent on its own, but its also a window into American International Pictures and one of our legendary director’s first output.  There are some terrific visuals within the movie and it the film features some wonderful twists and turns that still surprise today.  Having this as a part of a classic horror marathon or double feature with something else of its ilk would make for a splendid evening.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  I’m not familiar with the previous Blu-ray release, but looking around the internet, that one didn’t get high praise either.  Dementia 13 has a rough looking picture.  I imagine maybe some of the source elements aren’t the best, but it feels like more could have been done to restore it that didn’t break the bank.  Detail is average to mediocre at best.  Overall, the image is really soft and some scenes come across pretty blurry.  Its a mix of some moments that really impress, some that are okay to average, and some downright poor looking ones.  At times this looks like a Blu-ray and sometimes a poorly done DVD.  

Depth:  This one is okay, but rather on the flat end of things.  Rigid, quick movements provide a slight blur.

Black Levels:  Blacks are rich and deep, with plenty of detail hidden and crushing present in spots (especially sequences show the surface of the pond/lake).

Color Reproduction:  N/A

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones keep with a consistent white/gray throughout the film.  Facial detail clarity is hit and miss, but some close up shots look pretty grand and impressive.

Noise/Artifacts:  Its a tad rough looking in some places, blurry, having compression issues and some artifacts abound.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics:  Not faring much better than the video is the audio here.  This is a dated sounding track, complete with analog hissing and some crackle.  Its hangs on the high end with not much low frequency contribution into its sound.  Its kind how you expect an older public domain movie to sound.  It gets the job done, and while I have it rated the same, is much more impressive than the video.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue has an analog hiss to it, but vocals are clearly heard plenty loud in the mix.

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Extras 

Dementia 13 contains no supplemental material.

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Summary 

Dementia 13 is a collector’s item for the sheer fact its not only a Roger Corman film, but its a collaboration with and one of the earliest films of one of the greatest directors of the 1970s and pioneers of masterpiece cinema, Francis Ford Coppola.  Unfortunately, the presentation and complete package of this Blu-ray is nothing to write home about.  Though, its got a decent price point and if you’re a fan of anything listed above, its probably worth having in the collection.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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