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Dementia 13 (1963) 
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There are some movies that really are not organically whole. Instead, they are more like messes of discordant elements thrown together into a feature length film that is not a real movie. Invariably, these so-called movies are horrible productions. One such alleged movie is 1963's Dementia 13.

Before going on into the review, its is necessary to lay down the background behind the genesis of this particular flick. Back in the 1960's, there were basically 2 different circuits for movie distribution. The first and most glamorous was the A Theater circuit on which the big budget Hollywood studio productions were circulated. The other, more obscure circuit, was that of the drive-ins and the B Theaters that exhibited low budget productions and flicks of genres (particularly horror and so-called "ilm noir") that the big studios rarely, if ever, touched. The origins of this dual circuitry date back to the early days of the film industry. With the decline and fall of the drive-ins and, to a great extent, the B Theaters, the only ways that low budget fimmakers can get their movies shown are made for TV movies whether they are for cable TV or direct to the public either on DVD or videotape. Some of these flicks are also shown at film festivals such
as Sundance, but that is only a small source of revenue at the moment.

Now, back in 1963 the largest studio catering to the B circuit was American International Pictures (AIP) that employed an ambitious producer named Roger Corman. One of Corman's proteges at the time was a dude by name of Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola was both an aspiring screenwriter and also the assistant director on a flick called The Young Racers. Bored by the work, Coppola quickly wrote up a screenplay and persuaded both Corman and the AIP honchos to put up $22,000 to make Dementia 13 simultaneously with The Young Racers using the same sets and cast of the other movie. Thus it was that 2 movies were produced at the same time, which is something that Hollywood rarely does and for good reason as the results are generally poor. The shooting time for Dementia 13 was only 2 weeks which helped to further lessen the film's quality.

This movie has one of the stupidest openings of all time. A man and his wife (Luana Anders) are in a row boat talking about his elderly mother and how the family fortune will be divvied up once mom dies. For some strange reason, he tells his wife that if he dies of heart attack, she will be cut out of the will. In one of those concidences that occur only in movies, in less than a minute he has a heart attack and dies in the boat. His wife then dumps him overboard and goes to the family reunion, which conveniently started the very next day, telling everyone that her husband is on a business trip.

As it turns out, this is a rather strange family. All of the family members are supposed to be Irish and live in Ireland, however no one has even the slightest Irish accent. In fact, none of the other "Irish" characters in the movie have Irish accents either. Everybody in this flick talks like Midwesterners. This raises the question of why have the movie placed in Ireland with allegedly Irish people when nobody speaks like real Irish folk. Why not set the movie in America?

There are some interesting characters in Dementia 13. There is a poacher who the family shelters for some strange reason from the game wardens. The old lady is quite strange and obsessed with the death of her 7-year old daughter many years ago. The scheming, conniving wife of the dead man is also interesting in her own way. There is also an axe murderer.

However, both the setup and these characters are completely wasted on a bad script, poor acting and an awful production. Continuity is totally lacking in this movie. Although the movie supposedly takes place over a weekend family reunion, the hair color/length of the character played by Luana Anders changes repeatedly. In one memorable scene, Anders is sitting at a table talking with other family members. She is first shown in a long sleeved sweater with long platinum blond hair. After the camera pans to one of her in-laws, it pans back to Anders whose hair has suddenly turned browner and is now wearing a sleeveless blouse. Less than a minute later, Anders is back with both super white hair and long sleeves.

One reason why Dementia 13 is such a bad flick is that Coppola's screenplay was only a rough draft when it got the green light. Another is the fact that Corman made heavy use of outtakes from previous films that the actors were in, as well as surplus film from The Young Racers, which accounts for most of the continuity problems. The whole show reeks of both hasty production work and a poorly thought out script.

Obviously, there is no way that anyone at AIP could possibly have thought that Dementia 13 could have been anything other than a piece of dreck. The fact that they made it under those conditions and, even worse, actually released it, speaks volumes about the level of arrogance that existed in AIP circa 1963 due to the fact that it was top dog in the B-film world. They literally thought that they could make and release any piece of garbage and it would sell. The fact that Dementia 13 turned out to be a profitable endeavor only furthered their increasing lack of commitment to quality.

This development was ruinous in the long run for both AIP and the world of low budget films in general. As time went on and dreck increasingly filled up the drive ins and B-theaters, movie fans abandoned those places. The great majority of these theaters either went out of business or switched over to showing big budget Hollywood productions. One such theater was the drive in at Platteville, Wisconsin where this writer grew up that shut its doors circa 1980.

Thus, the true significance of Dementia 13 is not as a movie, but as an event. The financial success of this pathetic production encouraged B-film producers to make and release movies with increasing lack of regard for their level of quality. In the long run, this tendency brought about the near death of what was once a strong and vibrant part of the movie making scene. Today, there is only a small remnant that desperately clings for its very survival in a world where the vast majority of movie reviewers completely ignore their productions and the general public is oblivious to their work.

As for young screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola, he has moved on to bigger and better things. He has also developed quite a reputation for being an egomaniac. However, one movie that he never ever even so much as mentions in his interviews is Dementia 13. Under the circumstances, one can hardly blame him.


Mon Jan 30, 2017 9:08 am
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Burning Godzilla
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Thanks for the detailed background and review.

I have to admit that I have been rather fond of Dementia 13 ever since I saw it on TV many decades ago. I'm a sucker for all those black-and-white ripoffs of Psycho that are all mood and plot twists and zero logic. Despite financial limitations, I think this film has some striking visuals and a good cast.

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Mon Jan 30, 2017 6:15 pm
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I had heard people talking it up as a cool underappreciated little zircon in the rough, but I wasn't impressed at all.

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Tue Jan 31, 2017 12:28 am
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I've always felt that it was a handful of wonderful moments held together by long stretches of "meh." A little too much like real life, frankly.

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Tue Jan 31, 2017 12:32 am
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