What would you call Roger Corman producing a Francis Ford Coppola movie? If you call it “impossible,” you’d be wrong, simply due to the fact that Dementia 13 exists. A lot of Corman productions suffer from his legendary cheapness, and many pennies were pinched on this production. However, the Irish castle it was filmed in gives the whole film a lot of atmosphere.
In fact, the castle has more personality than most of the actors. The actors are sleepwalking through these cardboard roles. Luana Anders as the scheming minx determined to a bigger share of her in-law’s estate. William Campbell is better known as one of original swarthy Klingons from Star Trek, and, he seems to have surliness down to an art, and Patrick Magee has to be an even creepier doctor than David Cronenberg was in Nightbreed.
The plot is straight from the Psycho plagiarism handbook. The gold digger’s husband dies, and she hides the fact and heads to his ancestral home for the annual ceremony commemorating the death of his sister in hopes of worming her way into her mother-in-law’s will. The Lady Halloran is definitely a pint short of a quart, and Luana tries to convince her that she can contact her dead daughter. While this is going on, an axe-murderer is running amuck beheading people.
This movie came out after Corman started making the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that demonstrated he could do something better than Teenage Caveman. Until this point, he was the patron saint of the low budget sci-fi drive-in flicks. Corman started producing movies and gave breaks to Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante and James Cameron among others.
People forget how Psycho was so daring in 1960. And, the copycats tried pushing the envelope as much as they could get away with at the time. For the most part, Dementia 13 is a paint by numbers mystery with a decapitation or two. There are hardly any actors in the movie let alone one that could act as a red herring. The fact that it was released in 1963 made the murder scenes all the more shocking, but the years that have passed since then have turned what was once considered gruesome, into something that’s almost laughable.