Earlier this year, the folks at Film Chest and Virgil Films & Entertainment unleashed a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack of Al Adamson’s nearly-lost “kiddie” flick, Carnival Magic, upon the world — prompting many a High-Definition aficionado to wonder if the men and women behind the release were, in fact, just a bunch of escaped mental patients. Well, now those diligent lunatics have gone the extra mile, and released three more exploitation classicks as Blu-ray and DVD combinations under the HD Cinema Classics and CULTRA labels.
The journey into drive-in curiosities begins with Dementia 13 (1963), which was produced by the legendary “King of the Bs” himself, Roger Corman. It also marked the first time Francis Ford Coppola was able to strut his stuff in the cinematic sense. Coppola had previously worked (usually uncredited) on a number of imported films that Corman had picked up for next to nothing; writing new dialogue to match the lip movements of the foreign actors and writing/directing new scenes with American actors to give the projects that “No, it’s not a foreign flick!” feel.
Essentially, Dementia 13 is Coppola’s b-movie answer to Hitchcock’s Psycho, but I’ve always felt that it stood quite well on its own. We begin with an introduction to a very cunning and conniving femme fatale named Louise (the wonderful Luana Anders). Louise is married to one of the three male heirs to the Haloran estate, and it’s clear that she’s only in it for the money. A tense midnight row out on the lake one night, however, ends with her husband keeling over from a heart attack — and the clever moneygrubber promptly dumps her beloved into the water and informs his family he’s gone away on business.
As soon we start to accept that Louise is our main character, she meets an untimely (but just) demise at the hands of an unknown axe-wielding maniac. From there on in, the movie brings in and subsequently focuses more on Kane (Mary Mitchel), the younger and naïve bride-to-be of the elder (surviving) Haloran brother, Richard (William Campbell, who passed away earlier this year). Sensing something isn’t quite right amongst the whole Irish clan of Halorans, Kane develops a friendly relationship with the tortured younger sibling, Billy (the epically-named Bart Patton), who reveals many of the family’s dark secrets to her.
Coppola tosses in a few more murders to whet our appetites for blood, and also chucks the one and only Patrick Magee (a few years away from achieving immortality in A Clockwork Orange) into the story as the local nosy doctor who tries to piece together the ever-unraveling puzzle of why some people are disappearing — and who’s behind the whole ordeal. Several creepy compositions by Les Baxter add to the eerie black-and-white photography by Charles Hannawalt; Spider Baby and Switchblade Sisters auteur Jack Hill worked as Second Unit writer/director.