Tuesday 29 May 2007

Dementia 13 (1963) Francis Coppola

John Haloran heads out on the lake because he feels like rowing at night and his unloving wife goes with him. Just as he points out that if he dies before his mother, she gets nothing, he promptly drops dead of a heart attack. So Louise tips him overboard and fakes some business trip to Europe to give her time to work some sort of scheme to get his mother's will changed. However his mother is a little strange, in perpetual mourning for her late daughter Kathleen, who drowned in the lake at a young age seven years earlier.

Back in the sixties what seems like every future luminary in Hollywood was making movies for Roger Corman. Francis Ford Coppola was just Francis Coppola at the time and he was assisting Corman on The Young Racers as second unit director. When he asked for permission to direct a movie of his own on the same set and with the same cast, Corman agreed on the single condition that he not impact his own shooting schedule. So, here are William Campbell and Luana Anders and Patrick Magee, making a second movie back to back with the official Corman film.

Coppola directed the film and also co-wrote it with Jack Hill, exploitation maestro of the seventies. It's interesting to see the early talent of a man who only nine years and four films later had become the man behind The Godfather, still currently the greatest film of all time according to IMDb voters. It's slow but has some atmosphere to it, as Louise tries all she can to convince her mother-in-law that she's some sort of kindred spirit, attuned to the ghost of young Kathleen. It also gradually draws us in to a large degree.

As much as Louise is the focus early on, it's Patrick Magee's character that dominates later. He's the family doctor who doesn't hold back from telling anyone whatever he wants to tell them. He's also fascinated by what's been tormenting the family over the last number of years and has a grand old time blurting and suggesting and gently teasing truth out of them. The end doesn't come as a huge surprise but it's an interesting ride to get there, and to be fair the slasher film was not exactly well defined in 1963, making this a very early example of the genre. It certainly highlighted Coppola as someone to watch, but who would have guessed just how far he would climb.

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