Another selection from the Horror Classics budget pack, Dementia 13 is a refreshing brew of mystery and horror. Though not pulse pounding, acid horror, what makes this movie work is the brilliant acting of Luana Anders and the clever use of red herrings to maintain a consistent level of suspense.
Luana Anders, who plays Louise Haloran, delivers a stunning performance. She is conniving, scheming, deadly, all with the innocent face of an angel and an unwavering smile. In fact, the movie opens up with her character dumping her husband's body in a lake and then forging a note to his family, falsely explaining why she will be visiting without him. Her role is executed with such talent that all of the other characters are forced to take a back seat.
Despite the fact that the mystery was given away too early (and too easily in my opinion), the use of red herrings showed a lot of creativity in a young Francis Copolla, who would later bless the screen with the Godfather trilogy. In Dementia 13, we are given a handful of characters who occupy a vast castle in Ireland, all (well, not exactly all) grieving the death of a little girl, while a serial ax murderer lurks in the courtyards. The film does a good job of making it easy to pin the murders on any of its male characters: either of the two brothers, the doctor, the wily Irish poacher. But, again, the film didn't obscure the culprit well enough.
At roughly an hour long, we bid farewell to Louise halfway through as she becomes the victim of the ax murderer while attempting to plant the dead child's toys at the bottom of the lake in which she drowned. The murder is excessively tame, showing blood but no broken flesh whatsoever. Nonetheless, we get some creative shots from underwater as blood splashes down. Then, Louise is dragged, sans cuts, across the lawn. Later, we are shown a decapitation, which delivers shock value in contrast to Louise's death scene.
You have to hand it to Dementia 13. For the time, it was definitely gory/graphic as most synopses will point out.
I was a little sad to lose such a compelling character, but the story rolled on, steadily unraveling the mystery around young Katherine's death. Characters start sneaking around, flashbacks are employed, and for a short time I found myself questioning the true identity of the man behind the murders.
Style Points. Some movies are meant to be in B&W. Dementia 13 is one of them. It is the story of an old, immense Irish castle where many family members of the Haloran's have died. Not only has the young Katherine drowned in the pond behind the castle, one character points out that he hates going to his room because he has to ascend a stairwell in which his grandfather fell and broke his neck. The movie is haunting, ghoulish, stricken with death, all while stalked by a very real killer.
The scene that best sets the somber tone of the movie is the scene where the mother and her two (should be three) sons reenact the day of the funeral. The three stand at the grave, holding umbrellas though it isn't raining, and one by one stand behind the tombstone and toss a flower onto its soil. The mother then faints, shrieking that she saw the flowers die when they hit the ground. We are told that they repeat this same tradition each year on the anniversary of Katherine's death.
Dementia 13 is somber and intelligently written and directed for its time. A must-see for any movie lover.