Richard LeMay remakes Francis Ford Coppola’s 1963 horror picture.
Produced by Roger Corman in the days when he was giving some of the next generation’s biggest directors their first breaks, Dementia 13 was a cheapo gothic horror film intended to ride the coattails of Psycho. Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed in typical Corman-quickie fashion, though the producer brought in Jack Hill to shoot some additional footage before release. Like some other notable ’60s horror films (Night of the Living Dead, for instance), it fell into the public domain and has been the subject of numerous DVD reissues.
In their remake of the film, director Richard LeMay and screenwriters Dan DeFilippo and Justin Smith ditch some of Coppola’s more attention-getting ingredients, updating the plot while retaining a bit of the picture’s old-fashioned, spooky-family-castle vibe. The result is a fairly mild thriller that, in the crowded horror marketplace, will rely on its pedigree for most of its appeal.
Ana Isabelle plays Louise, who has just married into a fabulously wealthy family when her husband John Haloran (Christian Ryan) dies. As she hopes to have some influence over upcoming discussions about the Haloran family fortune, Louise pretends nothing has happened when John’s sisters and mother arrive at the estate for a planned gathering. But the marriage was a surprise to them, and things are increasingly uncomfortable — even before the ax murderer shows up.
Haloran matriarch Gloria (Julia Campanelli) returns here every year to honor Kathleen, the daughter who drowned as a child in the same lake where Louise dumped John’s body. She has solitary tea parties in Kathleen’s room, talking to the air as if her daughter were present. And given the amount of disembodied whispering the film captures, maybe she is.
As the usual rich-family squabbling heats up, the pic develops both a supernatural threat and some more prosaic ones. Somebody’s plotting to steal the fortune that Gloria intends to give away to charity; somebody else is donning a hood and chopping up family members, for reasons we don’t know. Is Kathleen’s ghost behind any of this? Or is the paranormal stuff all caused by the vengeful ghosts of Japanese laborers who died during the stone mansion’s construction? (That might explain the film’s preoccupation with Noh demon masks.)
In the place of Coppola’s dead-girl-underwater imagery (which reportedly sold Corman on the idea in the first place), DeFilippo and Smith employ some much more familiar creepy tropes — for instance, a notably hideous child’s doll that seemingly comes to life. Why they would reject the novel in favor of the stale is hard to explain. But more problematic is their failure to make any of the pic’s characters (with the arguable exception of old lady Haloran) at all interesting. As we move toward the exposure of old family secrets and devious new plots, Dementia 13 proves to be not nearly demented enough.
Production company: Pipeline Entertainment
Distributor: Chiller Films
Cast: Ana Isabelle, Julia Campanelli, Channing Pickett, Marianne Noscheze, Christian Ryan, Anthony Salvador Lewis, Steve Polites, Ben van Berkum
Director: Richard LeMay
Screenwriters: Dan DeFilippo, Justin Smith
Producer: Dan DeFilippo
Executive producer: Justin Smith
Director of photography: Paul Niccolls
Production designer: John El Manahi
Costume designer: Elizabeth Kirby
Editor: Karim Lopez
Composer: Adonis Tsilimparis
Casting director: Adrienne Stern