Wednesday, October 9, 2013
B-Movie Appraisal: Dementia 13 (The Haunted and the Hunted) (1963)
Anyway, Dementia 13 was written and directed by Francis Coppola, his third movie directed and first real "actual" movie. I guess his first two "movies" were skin flicks or nudie flicks or whatever, but I've never seen them nor heard of them before I read about them existing for this review. It goes to show how far somebody can go to become one of the best known directors of all time. It also goes to show that he had some talent directing even in his early days. Because yes, this movie had definite talent behind it, even if it isn't the best flick there ever was.
I guess I should start out saying that this is an early 1960s movie, and, as such, is largely not very scary at all. Mostly it comes off as a rip-off (of a sort) of Psycho, which was made just a few short years before. Since Roger Corman produced this flick, I would have to say that it was definitely meant to cash in on this new-found and, at the time, newly popular genre of movie. That being said, as a cash-in, it still is a fairly solid slasher-lite B-movie with a bunch of hiccups that work against the feel of the movie but serve the obviously limited budget and production costs... and most notably the censorship that this movie also very obviously had to work around. Let it be known that while it was on its way out the Hayes Code was still strictly in effect. And yet the movie works around those codes very decently, creating a disjointed movie, sure, but an enjoyably disjointed movie. One of the biggest hiccups is the actual flow of the story and plot. The editing is odd, barely showing a coherent plot throughout, with a greater focus on jumping around in the narrative and showing more psychological elements of the characters. At least I think that was what was going on. The film's stiff attitude towards progression in the story is the biggest issue that holds it back from being either memorable or "good" in any modern sense of that word.
I know that this movie probably very mixed in both thoughts and feelings about it. To me it was a highly mediocre film with some good moments, especially considering when it was made. The fact that characters, fleshed-out and interesting characters, die both early and often is enough to convey that the movie is interesting and also a Psycho rip-off. I have to point that out because it is so obvious. (Also because it is historical record.) I don't have all that much to say about this film either. While it is well-directed, with every shot looking nice and leading up to something, the disjointed nature of the jumps of scenes and the character movements left me feeling very confused at times and, honestly, a little bored as well. That's never a good thing with a horror film. And it's especially bad for a film that seems to have a great deal of somewhat ridiculous filler already.
The plot of the film is simple: three brothers come back to their ancestral castle-home to reenact the funeral of their little sister who died years ago. Their mother insists upon it and refuses to let anybody else but herself and her three sons come to the ceremony. Things go awry early when one of the brothers (John) decides to go boating with his wife Louise. They are having a heated conversation about his mother's will, mocks his wife, then promptly has a heart-attack and dies. Louise disposes of the body and acts like nothing happened but John being called back home on business. As the movie progresses, Louise is intent on gaining the mother's fortune, trying to trick her into believing her daughter's spirit still roams the halls of the castle. She is found out and killed. Then a grubby little man-hunter finds her body and is killed as well. Louise was at the center of most of the first half of the movie, but her death, reminiscent of Janet Leigh's death is Psycho begins the disjointed narrative issues.
Having no central character left the narrative begins to follow four different characters: the two remaining brothers, Richard and Billy, the family doctor, Dr. Caleb, and Kane, the engaged of Richard. Watching them all try to figure it all out is a confusing mess. The focus is on Richard being the killer for most of the second half of the movie, even though Billy seems to be having flashbacks of the day his sister died, which psychologically implicate him. There are subplots with a grave at the bottom of a pond and a wax dummy of Kathleen that both serve as clues or weird pieces of evidence, but neither really is all that important.
Dr. Caleb figures it out, places Kathleen's dummy out in the open, lures Billy who attempts to kill Kane who wants to touch the dummy really badly for some reason. Billy is then shot dead by Dr. Caleb the hero of the story, and that's that. I mean, simple enough, I guess... or really odd, confusing, and overly complex at times.
I did like how the killer could have been either of the two brothers even if it was fairly obvious who it was from fairly early on. Of course it would be the troubled brother, without anybody in his life, who obvious has some psychological issues who would be the one to be the murderer. Obviously. Still, there were moments when I thought it would all be a huge misdirection, and the silhouetted killer was obviously in shadow to show that it maybe could have been either of them. I liked how that worked even with the obvious nature of how it all turned out. There was tension there, maybe not the greatest tension, but tension nonetheless.
I had issues with the idea that there really isn't a main character, just a collection of side ones. While Dr. Caleb kind of comes off as the main character towards the end of the film, he doesn't even appear in the first half at all. It was difficult to connect with the characters as well. None of them were people. They all very much came off as characters in a play, which was disheartening.
It's not a bad movie, not a good one either though. And yet, I'm not certain whose product I'm seeing on screen. Did Corman cut the production to his specifications? Or did Coppola have basically full control? The movie, while a mess, is both well shot, and very odd in the way it cuts to different (and sometimes inexplicable) scenes at the drop of a hat. The focus on characters and their faces is interesting, but also clearly ripped off of Psycho. I think the movie is ultimately an interesting mess of a movie.
But still I have a few questions. Why is it called Dementia 13? Does the title mean something I don't understand? I don't think I see dementia at all in the film. Nor the number 13. So... yeah, the title is incredibly flawed. Okay, and here's the biggest and most important question at all: why do the brothers not have Irish accents? It takes place in Ireland. They were supposedly raised there unless I missed something important. So, why did they all talk like Americans? It was incredibly distracting. They had the castle and had lived there as young children, it seems, but no accent. Man, that was a problem for me. I just couldn't look past it, specifically because other character have very strong accents. Wow.
So, I have a middling opinion about this movie. Check it out if you like old horror movies. If you don't just forget about it and try something else. I can't really recommend it as anything more than an interesting look at an early slasher movie, and not a particularly good or interesting one at that.