Dementia 13: Director's Cut (Blu-ray Review)
DirectorFrancis Ford Coppola
Release Date(s)1963 (September 21, 2021)
Studio(s)American International Pictures (Vestron Video Collector’s Series)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
Dementia 13 was released in 1963 by American International Pictures as a double feature with X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Besides being a Roger Corman production, it’s mostly notable for being one of Francis Ford Coppola’s first films, and has spent the better part of four decades in the public domain with various home video releases of varying qualities. Although it isn’t followed to the letter, the plot of the film involves a wealthy family whose mother has suffered for many years due to the death of her daughter at a young age. With an inheritance at stake, someone begins bumping off friends and family members with no obvious motive.
The bulk of Dementia 13 was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It was made for a little over $40,000, some of which was leftover from Corman’s previous film The Young Racers, on which Coppola served as a sound recordist. He intentionally made a film similar to Psycho with those leftover funds, even borrowing a couple of key actors from Operation: Titian, which was shot around the same time in the same country. He had some freedom as director, but Corman was so unhappy with the initial cut that he brought in director Jack Hill to shoot additional scenes to add in more violence, as well as a prologue.
In truth, Dementia 13 is a little stagnant at times, though it offers plenty of atmosphere. One of its best qualities is its score, which is very effective. It features haunting chords played on a harpsichord, making some of the imagery a little more hard-hitting than it would have been without it. There’s an artfulness to it, but it feels choppy and unfocused, and winds up as more of a curiosity than anything else. For years, Coppola longed to have his original cut made available. Not long ago, The Film Detective gave the film their Blu-ray release of the theatrical version a bit of spit and polish with good, but not great results. Now a few years later, Coppola’s director’s cut is finally made available. It’s not a drastically different film as it’s only a few minutes shorter than its predecessor, but there’s a minor bit of restructuring and one of the murders is no longer present. Despite the alterations, the majority of the film and its outcome haven’t changed much.
Dementia 13 was shot by cinematographer Charles Hannawalt on 35 mm black-and-white film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Vestron Video brings Francis Ford Coppola’s director’s cut of the film to Blu-ray for the first time with a 4K restoration of what one would assume is an interpositive of some kind. In any case, this is the best the film has ever looked on home video. The previous Blu-ray of the theatrical version released by The Film Detective was an improvement, but this release blows that presentation out of the water. The picture is crisp with excellent contrast and detail that can finally be seen in the shadows. Gradations are good and there’s a steady level of medium grain, with only minor speckling and scratches along the way. It’s a mostly stable presentation outside of a small amount of jitter in spots. A healthier encode would get a little more out of it, but it’s light years away from the bargain bin releases of old.
Audio is included in English 5.1 and mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English, English SDH and Spanish. The 5.1 track allows the score a little more breathing room, but does little else for the other elements. The mono track is solid and tight, offering good support for both dialogue and score.
The director’s cut of Dementia 13 sits in a blue amaray case alongside a Digital Code on a paper insert, as well as new artwork, which is also featured on the accompanying slipcover. The following extras are included in HD:
- Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola (1:00)
- Audio Commentary by Francis Ford Coppola
- Prologue (Dementia 13 Test) (6:44)
The brief introduction allows Coppola to express his gratitude for his version of the film being made available finally. In his audio commentary, he details the history of working for Roger Corman and getting the film made, occasionally commenting on events as they happen. He details shooting on location in Ireland, staying up all night all the time to finish the script, having romantic feelings for Luana Landers but never acting on them, originally wanting his father to score the film, memories of Patrick Magee’s drinking habits, learning how to work with actors, how pleased that the locals were to have the production come there, the film’s cost, trouble in acquiring a firearm for the finale, and his comments on the additional scenes with the poacher and his murder that were done without him. He tends to go quiet for long passages, falling into the trap of sitting and watching the film, but the majority of his participation is invaluable. Last is the original prologue that opened the film theatrically, which is now absent in this version. Unfortunately, the original theatrical version of the film isn’t included.
Dementia 13 is not an overly good film, but it has elements that make it worth seeking out. Vestron Video’s presentation of the new restoration of Coppola’s director’s cut gives it a much-needed makeover, and his fans will definitely want to pick it up.
- Tim Salmons
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