This week, I decided to give myself a treat. Yes, if I look at four of the last seven weeks, I’ve had a pretty good run of movies that were at least pretty enjoyable and worthy of saying I liked. However, I’m in charge of this damn blog so when I want to treat myself to a better movie, then goddammit, that’s my prerogative.
So let’s talk about Francis Ford Coppola. He’s a maker of fine films like Jack, Captain EO, and Godfather III: The Revenge. He also makes either wine or grape jelly – or BOTH…? He also made Sofia Coppola who made a fine movie that no one knows what the fucking last line of is but I bet it’s juuuuust right.
Some say he is a master filmmaker. Some think of him as kinda lucky with a couple HUGE flicks and some others that he lost his fucking mind making. Some even say he’s a friend of George Lucas.
Anyway, I like some of his “smaller” movies – Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, The Terror (yeah, he’s the uncredited director of that). Or this one, Dementia 13. This just stinks of young filmmaker making Roger Corman-esque mind twisters in the early 60s. Which it should, because it was exactly that. Hell, this thing was even produced by Roger Corman.
According to my 50-pack “Horror Classics”, the synopsis of Dementia 13 is: “Louise Haloran is faced with a dilemma since her husband John has died of a heart attack and she is not included in his mother’s will. Traveling to his family’s ancestral home in Ireland, Louise hopes to ingrain herself into the family while telling them that John is away on business. Unfortunately, John’s family is very dysfunctional due to the drowning death of his little sister years ago so Louise must deal with some very bizarre behavior and strange happenings.”
Got that? Good. Now, let’s jump into the movie!
The movie begins with a husband and wife (Louise and John) rowing out onto a lake late at night. Louise is not so sure about John’s mother’s will which seems to not be in the best interest of the family. She has a legitimate concern about someone from outside the family being left a huge portion of the inheritance. John, being the stand up guy he is, just believes Louise is greedy. When she shows concern about him rowing the boat and putting too much strain on an already weak heart, he begins to state that she’s only part of the family as long as they are married. If he dies before his mother, she’s shit out of luck. Just when you think this guy couldn’t be any better, he has a heart attack and croaks. With his dying breath, John begs Louise to row faster back to the dock because if he dies, there’s nothing in it for her. Not sure exactly what to do, and like any dutiful wife who is worried about her dead husband’s inheritance, she dumps him over the side into the lake.
It’s a good thing, Louise, played by Luana Anders, is kinda hot or I would not be able to stand for this shit! No sir!
Louise comes up with the idea that John had to attend to some important business in New York so he will not be present at the family home when Louise shows up. Louise goes so far as to write a note, forge his signature, and gets rid of some of his clothes. She plans to convince his mother to change the will and do away with the old, crazy bat. She mentions she will need to keep an eye on his brothers, but otherwise, she plans to make nice and get some cash.
She dines with the younger of John’s two brothers, Billy, who tells her about the mysterious “Kathleen” who is supposedly a sister who “haunts” Castle Haloran – and who has all the inheritance coming to her. Turns out Kathleen, though, drowned in the lake that John’s in as a little girl. Later, Billy picks up the fiance of John’s older brother, Richard, and when Richard and the lady, Kane, embrace, seemingly Billy is kinda bothered. It’s kinda clear he likes Kane (which is an odd name for a woman, isn’t it?), so this is apparently jealousy when he sees his brother in a loving embrace with her.
That night, the family has dinner and the supposed crazy, “old” Lady Haloran looks about the same age as Richard (William Campbell), her oldest son. So, I’d have to say that Louise may have the right idea to try to off the old broad because she looks like she can stick around another, oh, 50 years or so. Lady Haloran talks about how a little ceremony she is holding for Kathleen is going to happen. Louise states she was looking forward to being a part of this, but Lady Haloran shuts that idea down by saying she feels only the immediate family (in other words, “real” family) should be in attendance. Richard, stares Louise down pretty hard as if to telegraph that he’s already aware that she’s up to no good.
Richard storms off and Lady Haloran follows. Richard states he doesn’t care what tragedy hangs over the family, he wants to get married to Kane. The mother says she will include Kane in the family, but only to tell her she doesn’t like her. Richard issues a warning that if she does that, and runs her off, he will never forget.
The next day, Richard and Kane spend some time together. Louise comes to talk to Richard. Her plan is to butter him up about his mother’s stupid will and how she treats people. Richard mentions how Louise acted during the reading of the will that took place prior to the start of the movie and jokes that she gave enough dirty looks to give John a heart attack – something Louise does not take lightly. Richard compliments her on knowing when people are happy, or not, but then tells her to keep those microscopic eyes of hers off him.
Louise continues to dig into the family history. She talks to the groundskeeper who states that it’s very unlikely Lady Haloran will allow for Richard to marry Kane. Speaking of Kane, she speaks to Billy who talks about how they have had the same ceremony each year for Kathleen in the exact same way.
Between Louise trying to score some money out of her in-laws, Richard being kind of kept by his mother, the mother being an utter weirdo, Billy being kind of an odd, young man, and a weird groundskeeper guy who spends most of his day hiding in the thicket with a rifle, there’s a lot of weird shit going on around here. When Lady Haloran faints from seeing one of the flowers dying when it touched Kathleen’s grave, Louise seizes the opportunity to make nice with Lady Haloran by taking care of her and comforting her.
Louise pulls some weird mind fuck on the old lady by saying she can hear Kathleen beg for her mother to listen to her. She says Kathleen will tell her what she wants her mother to hear. The kooky broad eats this up like a bowl of Crunch Berries. When she has Lady Haloran rest, she decides to snoop about the castle. She finds some of Kathleen’s things and takes them to use in her grand schemes. However, Louise is not very good at this as she keeps knocking shit over and making all sorts of noise. Not to mention this little girl had some fucked up toys. Goddamn kids were creepy back then.
She runs into Richard on the way back to her room and he does that classic “Are you lost?” thing. Once outside, Louise takes the bag of toys she stole from Kathleen’s room and lays them out. She does us all a favor and strips down to her bra and bloomers and hops in the lake with the toys and ties them to a rock. While under the water she sees Kathleen’s body almost perfectly preserved in a bed. When she comes back to the surface, a man with an ax awaits her and hacks into her a few times, killing her!
In the morning, Lady Haloran’s doctor talks to her about how she seems to have some mental issues around this time of the year each year. She sasses him about how he is there to treat her body not her mind, and he in turn just decides to be suspicious about how he talks to the old lady. When the maid comes in, he treats her like a real piece of shit by wishing five years of spinsterhood on her if she doesn’t hop to her orders.
At breakfast, the toys Louise tied underwater before being hacked to pieces float to the surface. This, naturally, causes Lady Haloran to believe Kathleen is speaking to her. The doctor, Caleb, says this is no good for the kids’ mother and tells Billy to fish the rest of the toys out and burn them for her sake.
Richard and Kane talk about how his role has always been to shoulder the burden of his mother’s fragile state and she pledges to stay by his side. Outside, while the groundskeeper does his thing trying to hunt rabbits, he hears noises in the thicket and water. He tracks the sound, gets scared by an owl, and crawls into a nook to see Kathleen’s body. As he crawls out, he is met by the ax killer again and gets decapitated!
The doctor has the gardener drain the pond to uncover what might be at the bottom. Lady Haloran takes a tiara that belonged to Kathleen out to a little playhouse where she sees Kathleen’s body. She gets attacked by the ax killer. She escapes and collapses in the front lawn of the castle. The maid and Kane find her. The sons take her into the house. Inside, Billy tells Kane about this creepy nightmare he had as a kid who crawled up the side of the castle into his room saying he’s insane and someone else in the room is insane too. Seems as though Billy has some serious issues. Initially, he never knew who the shadowy man was in his dream, but as he and Kane head upstairs, he realizes the man in the shadow was Richard. So I guess our two suspects has narrowed to Richard and Billy, huh?
The next day, the gardener comes calling for Doctor Caleb. He tells him that he drained the pond and found something. Richard follows Caleb and the gardener, which then leads Kane, and the rest of the family, after him. When they get outside, they find a shrine that consists of a headstone like object with “Forgive me Kathleen” etched on it. Doctor Caleb questions whether or not Richard was the one who created that shrine. Caleb enlists Billy to go look for Louise who they still think is conniving to steal from the family.
The most confusing part of the movie is cut to at this point with Richard walking through a catacomb like hallway into a room full of stone busts with Kane following him trying, like the rest of us, to figure out what the hell is going on. When she is frightened by a mouse (you know, like a goddamn woman would be), she is discovered by Richard. He claims he came down here to his father’s workshop to see who might have built the shrine found at the bottom of the pond. Kane buys that and says that with his mother ill, they can get married because she won’t be able to stop them. O…kay? As they embrace, the camera pulls back to reveal Kathleen’s body lying there just out in the open.
In town, Caleb and Billy visit the town’s pub. If you ask me, this place seems way too civilized for an Irish pub, but whatever. They find that the bartender has not seen Louise, but some local drunk ass did a few days prior. Caleb begins to press Billy about Kathleen’s death. Caleb says Billy told him he saw Kathleen drown even as he claims he didn’t. Caleb reminds him that he was the one who was able to help him sleep when he had the nightmares. When Caleb asks about what happened to Louise, he’s met with a creepy little nursery rhyme song.
At some point later, it’s Richard and Kane’s wedding. Caleb tells Kane he isn’t sure what Richard is, and is concerned about her safety. He’s not sure Louise has split town. He’s not even sure John is on business. Richard and Kane go outside to the barn where they make out in some hay as Caleb follows and waits. When he enters one of the stables, he finds Louise’s hacked up body and Kathleen’s corpse. He uses Kathleen’s corpse to draw attention. When Kane reaches out to Kathleen, Billy screams to not touch her and attacks with the ax. He is shot dead by Caleb who also explains that Billy made a wax doll of Kathleen to ease his own guilt. He then axes it in the fucking face.
I think it’s easy to say this movie borrows directly from Psycho. It doesn’t take too much to see the similarities – a weird mother, a man wrecked with guilt committing murders, our leading actress killed early, a greed subplot, etc. That’s not to say this isn’t a nice little thriller. It’s not boring and it’s got enough intrigue to keep your interest. There’s no mystery in what the motives are of the characters. It’s well shot. While Psycho is certainly on another level, Francis Coppola and Roger Corman did alright with this. They saw the trend started by Hitchcock’s classic to have a strange family dynamic – particularly between a mother and son – and made something of their own. If you have 75 minutes, you should check it out. It’s definitely well acted and well made for all that it was, a drive-in flick for kids to take their dates to.