Tuesday, June 7, 2011

DEMENTIA 13 (Blu-ray & DVD)

"The Most Terrifying Screen Experience Of Your Life! A Brand New Concept in Motion Picture Shock! A Thrilling New Creation of Terror Thru Sight and Sound, Filmed Entirely in the Shock-Packed Process of Dementia 13!"

Long a staple of public domain budget video labels, the Roger Corman-financed, Francis Ford Coppola-directed thriller, DEMENTIA 13 (1963) has now come to high definition Blu-ray, courtesy of HDCinema Classics/Cultra.

Poor Louise Haloran (Luana Anders, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM) has a sticky problem: her husband John (Peter Read) has died of an ill-timed heart attack, so she cannot legally claim his inheritance when his wealthy mother dies. Desperate to stay in the woman's will, Louise keeps his demise a secret, and upon her arrival at the family's Irish castle for her sister-in-law's memorial service, tells everyone that he's gone to work in New York.  For a while, it appears that her ruse is successful, but, before long, John's elder brother Richard (William Campbell, PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW) begins to get suspicious....

Roger Corman had just completed shooting THE YOUNG RACERS with Coppola as his second unit director. Having come in under-budget, Corman offered Coppola a chance to direct a new picture with the remaining funds - and a few of the same cast members. Quickly written by Coppola and Jack Hill, the resulting film, DEMENTIA 13, is a twisty and effective - if occasionally confusing - blend of Hitchcockian suspense and gothic tropes. Despite the limitations of its impoverished budget and meager resources, the talented director manages to maintain a genuinely morbid and suspenseful atmosphere, aided immensely by the wonderful Irish castle location and a talented cast - not to mention the fine musical score by Ronald Stein (SPIDER BABY).

All things considered, DEMENTIA 13 is a surprisingly effective thriller, that makes up for any weaknesses in its script or limitations of budget through stylish direction by first-time director Coppola and strong performances from the leads. It's not a great movie, but it's a very good one - and particularly fascinating for film buffs interested in Coppola's nascent filmmaking career.

As with most of Corman's Filmgroup productions, DEMENTIA 13 was improperly copyrighted and fell into the public domain, leading to a slew of inferior home video releases derived from battered, beat-up, blurry prints (and the film wasn't shot on particularly good stock in the first place). In 30 years of video collecting, I've never seen a good, clear version of the movie. I had high hopes for the new Blu-ray/DVD Combo release from HDCinema Classics/Cultra, but, ultimately, it is something of a mixed bag.

The B&W film is presented in 1.78:1 1080p HD, with a newly-created  (and unnecessary) 5.1. Surround Sound mix and a slightly better 2.0 track. (The DVD version included is identical - though not in high-def, obviously.) The 35mm source print - as all available prints of this flick appear to be - was in pretty bad shape, so the company performed extensive restoration and  digital noise reduction. While this has resulted in the cleanest version of the movie I've ever seen, the digital scrubbing has also eliminated film grain - and much of the accompanying detail. In some shots, faces are indistinct white blobs. Contrast levels are also overblown - but that may be inherent in the film itself. This is probably the best the movie has ever looked on home video - and it's the only HD version currently available - but it's still far from perfect.

The only extras are a postcard insert, a "recreation" of the the original theatrical trailer, and a restoration comparison.

While it seems unlikely that there will ever be a fully restored, pristine edition of DEMENTIA 13 available, the HD Cinema Classics/Cultra edition is the best I have yet seen on home video. The transfer has its problems - and they may be unavoidable, considering the material - but if you're a fan of this early Coppola shocker, this is definitely the version to get.

BUYDementia 13 Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack