Dementia 13 (Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: When a wealthy family reunites at an isolated castle estate to mourn the death of a child, each member must also reckon with a vengeful ghost, an axe-murderer and a trove of long-buried secrets.

REVIEW: Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen Francis Ford Coppola’s 1963 “debut” film DEMENTIA 13? Now hoist your hand even higher if you were clamoring for, at all needing or remotely wanting a remake of said Roger Corman produced throwaway B-movie? Well, one person who thought it a worthy tale to revisit is director Richard LeMay, opting to retell Coppola’s hour-long starter as his own first foray into the horror realm following three indie dramas. No real problem there, as I’ll always contend it’s far better to remake a mediocre movie that needs it rather than a reheating an indubitable classic. However, at a mere 80 minutes (15 more than the original), nothing terribly substantial is added in this unnecessary retcon of a story that Coppola conjured as a wee and wide-eyed 24 year old. Aside from a handsomely shot, autumnally decaying location, the only germane aspect of DEMENTIA 13 is that, sadly, it comes off as little more than a mentally impaired, unbecomingly guileless muddle. If its aim was to make you lose your mind, it just may succeed.

The Holarans are an opulent family whose lavish castle-estate lies in isolation deep in the countryside. Gathering to mourn the death, and to lay rest the body of, young daughter Kathleen (Leila Grace), we meet a palpably unlikeable lot. The coldblooded harridan of a mother Gloria (Julia Campanelli), entitled stuck-up daughter Rose (Channing Pickett), her mildly bearable hubby Dale (Steve Polites), another daughter Billy (Marianne Noscheze), her dopily hipster boyfriend Kane (Ben van Berkum) and a few others arrive at the estate to ceremonially grieve. An elder son, John (Christian Ryan) is said to be missing, although his girlfriend Louise (Ana Isabelle), present at the estate before anyone else, claims he’s safely nearby. His whereabouts are immaterial until the third act, as the family has other issues to contend with. Namely: a ghostly spirit in the form of young Kathleen, a pair of home-invading looters, and perhaps most disconcerting, a seemingly random axe-wielding slasher.

Admirably attempting to fuse the apparitional with the material – the spiritual with the slasher – first time screenwriters Dan DeFilippo and Justin Smith can’t quite reconcile the two in a truly frightening manner. At least, not in 80 pages. There are not only too many characters we’re tasked with tracking, deplorable ones at that, but there isn’t enough time to get to know them, care about their plight, sympathize with their situation, at all. Worse, the curious killer combo of a ghastly little girl with a masked-up axe-man never quite computes with the storyline of a wealthy family’s greedily motivated inheritance. It almost does, anyone who’s seen Coppola’s version will know exactly what that amounts to, but here, by the time the supposedly chilling convergence comes to fruition, the emotional investment, or lack thereof, is too paltry to make a truly compelling impact. To wit, there are too many moving sub-generic parts and clashing courses of action to keep it all from feeling like a confused, incongruous jumble.

This is unfortunate, because the movie is effectively set and shot. Longtime DP/Grip Paul Niccolls, who has far more credits than the two writers and director combined, has lighted and lensed the film with the crisp frostiness and ambient eeriness needed in a movie like this, which is so dependent on the mood of its Gothic setting. The castle-like manor most of the movie takes place in is an inspired choice, with shadowy corridors and dimly lit interiors playing effectively against the homespun cemetery and dead foliage of fall on the exterior. Also worth mentioning is the screen presence of Julia Campanelli as the meddling matriarch. She’s done small cameo work for John Huston, Woody Allen and Robert De Niro back in the day, and here lends the right amount of strikingly sinister stoicism to her character to make a memorable mark. If only her script and support system were on par.

Whether or not DEMENTIA 13 is a well-meaning and authentically inspired attempt, or a cheaply flagrant means of capitalizing on the work of Francis Ford Coppola – the result is the same. This is neither a very scary, nor much needed endeavor. Even if it were called HOLORAN MANOR, as its alternative title suggests, not much outside of its skeletal bone structure resembles what Coppola put forth in 1963. The biggest turn off for me, though admirable, is the decision and ultimate failure of melding competing sub-generic tenets that pay off so poorly in the end. With too many characters whose fates we simply cannot care about any less, with too many head-scratching subplots and loose ends, the only thing to be afraid of in DEMENTIA 13 is its implied title. This movie is bound to fade from your memory shortly after seeing it.

Source: AITH

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie.