Dementia 13 (1963) Movie Review

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Dementia 13 begins with Louise Haloran (Luana Anders) throwing her husband’s body overboard after his heart attack while out on a lake in a rowboat. She lies about the incident in order to claim his will. Louise types up a letter to Lady Haloran (Eithne Dunne) stating her husband is away on a business trip. Louise arrives soon after at the family’s Irish Gothic Castle. She plans to take advantage of the sickly Lady Haloran and hoping she would die soon so she can inherit the fortune.

When she arrives she begins to notice odd things like the two brothers Billy (Bart Patton) and Richard (William Campbell) holding an annual ceremony for their dead younger sister Kathleen. Their sister died years ago in a mysterious drowning accident.

While the greedy Louise is there she convinces Lady Haloran and her two sons Billy and Richard that her dead husband is away on a business trip. While talking to Billy she finds out that the castle is supposedly haunted by Kathleen.

She also schemes up a way to convince the distraught and superstitious, Lady Haloran that her daughter Kathleen is still alive. The plan involved her placing Kathleen’s toy dolls at the bottom of the lake and then suddenly they float to the surface right in front of Lady Haloran. Louise’s elaborate plot would wind up to be a fatal endeavor for her. It isn’t long till the mystery ax wielding murderer starts racking up more bodies to make certain no one finds out the horrible secret.

Dementia 13 Review

Dementia 13 is a surprisingly effective bargain basement production that incorporates slasher and mystery elements. Along with Psycho (1960), Dementia 13 is an early slasher horror film. Much like Psycho, Dementia 13 has a similar style and content. The mystery and suspense elements are heavily used in Dementia 13 like they were in Psycho. Both are in black and white and have similar cinematography. The murder scenes in this movie have great anticipatory leading up to the person’s death.

Dementia 13 has a lot of scenes shot at night and there isn’t much detail to it. The camera angles used for Dementia 13 are similar to Psycho. Dementia 13 avoids being campy, which is great since it fits the movie’s serious nature as a brave slasher film. It was done at the time when not many movies were extreme. It is a very dark picture that adds a creepy atmosphere making it effective for the murder scenes. The plot is simple, although somewhat not believable. The best elements of Dementia 13 are the mystery, suspense, and psychological aspects. The addition of Kathleen’s dolls was also good for the creepy atmosphere.

The film does a great job of masking whom the ax murderer is. When watching the different characters throughout Dementia 13 such as Billy, Richard, and the family doctor Justin Caleb (Patrick Magee), you might flip flop on who you think the killer is. This style of concealing who the killer is would later be used in the slasher horror great, the first Friday the 13th (1980) Several of the characters have a suspicious nature to them that would give you the impression that they could be responsible for the killings. The killings are done in the dark as well so the ax wielders face is completely darkened out.

The acting in Dementia 13 is decent. Underrated actor, Patrick Magee does a good job as always with his distinctive voice, playing a character that borders on insanity. You may recognize him from Clockwork Orange as the wheelchair writer who both he and his wife were attacked by Alex and his “Droogs”. He is younger in Dementia 13 and his hair isn’t gray. Patrick Magee also played John Steed in the Avengers television series.

Luana Anders, who plays Louise does an alright job playing a sleazy and greedy woman that you will not like. She is not bad looking as well and strips down to her bra and panties in one scene for the underwater swimming sequence. That underwater scene is perfectly shot much like the swimming scenes in The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

The blood/gore in Dementia 13 is really tame in comparison to today’s slasher horror films. There is very little to see in blood detail. The most graphic murder scene has one of the characters getting their head chopped off. You can see the really fake looking head rolling down into the lake. Another great thing about Dementia 13 is the menacing music. The musical score is almost as good as Psycho and Cape Fear’s theme songs. It provides atmosphere and complements the tension filled murder scenes well.

At the beginning of the movie while Louise and her husband John Haloran (Peter Read) are in a rowboat a really cool rockabilly song can be heard playing. The singer of the song sounds just like Elvis. From what I read it isn’t Elvis singing. The person responsible for the vocals does one hell of a job emulating his voice. At 75 minutes long, Dementia 13 is an interesting and engaging first movie for Francis Ford Coppola.

It’s a good low-budget Roger Corman production with mystery and suspense being its main strengths. It is evenly paced and not too slow. The movie could have used more murder scenes. To see the roots of the Slasher Horror movie genre, Dementia 13 is a good film to check out. I just reviewed Dementia 13, the public domain version that is featured on my 50 horror classic box set by Mill Creek Entertainment. A Blu-ray of the film is now available.

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