Written by: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Mary Mitchell
If you go by movie standards, the pursuit of money never occurs with the greatest of intentions, especially when it comes to inheritances. Manipulation, deceit, and mind games come as part of the menu as seen through the eerie Dementia 13. A film examining the familial dynamics of this rich family, while also flipping the script on more than one occasion.
After witnessing her husband’s death and losing the opportunity to receive part of his inheritance, Louise (Luana Anders) figures she’ll find a way to spend time with her mother-in-law in order to get into the will. When she arrives, she sees the weird atmosphere in place and the overall sadness bothering her mother-in-law. With this being a proper opportunity to strike, she devises a plan to use this to her advantage.
Stepping into ultra-wealthy family homes tend to show some skeletons in those closets. The family Louise tries to game has one in Kathleen, the youngest sister who died at a very young age. Louise cannot be described as someone with large amounts of affection for her in-laws, seeing as she barely cared for her recently-deceased husband. It’s made explicitly clear just how impactful the loss of Kathleen has been to the mother-in-law, which makes exploiting this an easy tactic for Louise. Finding her way into this home, she ensures to convince them her husband went away on business and invites herself over to schmooze and find the right opportunity to pounce.
The mood-setting of the film adds a layer of mystery to it because Kathleen’s memory lingers with each of the characters. The mother certainly feels the loss and holds the memory close but the behavior of the two sons carry the most intrigue. Richard (William Campbell) comes with an attitude of wanting to marry his fiancee despite the wishes of his mother and Billy (Bart Patton), on the other hand, presents himself in a more mild-mannered demeanor. While not as boisterous as his older brother, Billy has something lingering in his mind, which begins to manifest in his behavior and actions towards others.
Continually building with its suspense, the turns this film gives off B-movie vibes and it makes it difficult to speak on the film. The switch in the narrative makes a shift in the type of story this turns into. Instead of it focusing on the mind games of Louis, it takes a slightly different turn and it ends up working fairly well. The unexpected nature of this switch works so well for the story because it truly enters the narrative in an unanticipated manner and the impact makes a large difference in the way the rest of the story concludes.
Roger Corman’s impact can never be understated with the directors he gave rise to and to see what they create after him giving them their start. With Dementia 13, he kickstarted Francis Ford Coppola’s career. Much like Martin Scorsese with Boxcar Bertha, this feature does not truly represent the type of work either director will do in the future, but they still displayed the early signs of their greatness. Coppola creates a high level of tension with his directorial work here as the story does not come together in a straightforward manner, as one would expect. He took what he was given and completely ran with the opportunity to take these intriguing characters and help expand the bizarre things continuing to occur. The black and white aesthetic also contributes to the glib mood occurring at this household as some characters attempt to have some happiness even when it appears impossible with the heavy weight of sorrow draped over everyone.
More than what appears on the surface, Dementia 13 brings together a bunch of characters with their own motives and switches the narrative flow on more than one occasion. The pure fun the story has tends to conflict with the constant dour mood these characters have for the entire movie. It might not be too much of a surprise seeing as it’s a Roger Corman-produced feature film. It fits perfectly into the type of movies he makes and it demonstrates his influence on several of the most impactful filmmakers in all of cinema in the way he gave them their starts and a platform to show off their skills early on.