Monday, August 15, 2016


The legend behind DEMENTIA 13 is well known among movie and horror film fans. Roger Corman tells Francis Ford Coppola, who was working for him at the time, that if he can make a movie in a week’s time with funds left from his latest film and the location where another of his films was shooting (the week due to the contract with that location ending) he would give him a shot. Coppola jumps at the chance, makes this movie and the two have an argument of it being not quite what Corman wanted. Corman brings in Jack Hill for a few additional sequences and the end result is the movie, Coppola’s first credited “legitimate” movie.

The movie went on to play the drive-in circuit under several titles and later become a staple of horror host shows across the country, even more so when it became a public domain title. With their hold on most of their titles it’s odd that AIP (American International Pictures) didn’t hold on to this title as well. Because of this it has turned into another of those movies found in countless horror DVD packages using an almost always low quality print. That all changes with the release from The Film Detective of the movie on blu-ray. As with several titles I’ve now watched from the company they’ve done a great job of finding the optimal print and transferring it with loving care to offer perhaps the best edition of the film available.

If you’ve never seen the film it begins with a gold digging wife named Louise whose husband John dies while rowing a boat near the family estate in Ireland. Rather than reveal his death and losing out on any chance of the family inheritance she dumps the body and rows ashore. She joins the family and tells them her husband had to go back to New York on business and thus begins a weekend that is unusual to say the least.

Mother, Lady Haloran, is a patriarch who rules the roost. Each year she gathers together the other family members in a remembrance of the loss of her only daughter some years ago. Still grieving Kathleen her three sons all return and they repeat the funeral process always ending in her collapsing at graveside. This year things are a bit different though.

To being with there is Louise, the wife with the intent of doing all she can to get in her mother-in-law’s good graces and lay claim to her share of the inheritance to come. There is the youngest brother Billy, tormented by something that happened in the past that we aren’t made privy to at first. Richard (William Campbell) is the oldest of the brothers, an artist with a fiery temper. And there is Kane, the young American fiancĂ© of Richard who loves him with all her heart and is adapting to the ways of this less than normal family.

As Louise sets about a plot to convince Lady Haloran that Kathleen is trying to contact her from the grave the rest of the family just tries to get through the weekend. When Lady Haloran collapses after thinking she’s seen proof of Kathleen local doctor Justin Caleb (Patrick Magee) is called in to care for her. Justin has his suspicions that something is amiss but he’s not quite sure what and stays the weekend as well. The film takes a Hitchcockian twist when our main protagonist is murdered by an axe wielding maniac, something Corman was going for when he handed Coppola the reigns on the picture. We’re left to discover just who the killer is as another victim falls to the axe. Is it a brother, the fiancĂ©, the doctor or the mother?

For the budget being as low as it was this is a great horror flick with a ton of atmosphere. The use of black and white photography actually adds to the feeling here rather than damage it. The use of the pond where many of the strange occurrences take place is also well done with select images that will stick with you long after the film ends. I know some of these have remained with me from the time I was a child and saw the film one late night as shown by my local horror host of the time. While it may seem quaint to younger viewers today it was quite chilling at the time.

As I stated earlier The Film Detective has done a great job with this release. Keeping in mind the vast number of prints of this film in circulation it is great to see a comprehensive edition made of the best quality prints possible and on blu-ray. Once more the company is less about extras and more about the actual film itself and for me that works fine. The best part is that we now have access to a decent edition of the film to be watched over and over again, preferably with the lights out.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016


Yet another movie that has fallen prey to poor copies released by numerous companies since it fell into public domain titles is saved by The Film Detective. While perhaps not the greatest film ever made it does offer an evening’s worth of entertainment that all ages can watch leaving children with a bit of dread and adults with a chuckle or two.

Agnes Moorehead, just before her stint as Endora in the popular TV series BEWITCHED, stars as mystery writer Cornelia van Gorder who has just rented a country home known as The Oaks in a small town where her celebrity status is well known. Her constant companion Lizzie tells her that the house is supposed to be filled with mystery, enough so that the servants eventually all leave save two. At the same time a local killer has returned to wreak havoc on the town, a killer who leaves no trace and is known only as The Bat.

While this is going on the local bank president has gone on a hunting trip with his trusted friend Dr. Malcolm Wells (Vincent Price). There he reveals that he is responsible for embezzling $1 million dollars from the bank and is willing to split it with Wells if he will simply help him with killing a local guide and passing the body off as his own. Apparently Wells isn’t as good a friend as he thinks since he kills him first but not before finding out with certainty where the money is hidden in his home, The Oaks.

After returning home Wells is contacted when Lizzie is bitten by an actual bat inside of the house and fearful she might get “the rabies”. This gives Wells an excuse to visit the house and perhaps a chance to find the hidden stolen loot. But his plans go wrong when The Bat himself, the person responsible for releasing the actual bat into the house, continues to visit the home as well.

Local police chief Lt. Any Anderson is called out and sets up an officer to keep an eye on the house. The Bat eluded him once before and he doesn’t intend to let him slip through his fingers again. The suspects are plentiful from Wells to the house’s chauffer turned butler Warner. The clues are there but never certain enough to identify just who The Bat is and why he’s returned. All comes to a finale when Cornelia invites over several friends to help her piece the puzzle together. But can they survive another night of The Bat?

Based on the novel THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE by mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, this was the fourth time the book had been adapted for the screen. The film itself is definitely of the low budget variety and every scene is definitely shot on soundstages, including outdoor sequences. There is little doubt in my mind that many of the sets used in this film weren’t made just for this movie but probably reused in countless other films as well.

Perhaps what makes this movie stand out is the caliber of the actors involved here. Price had played as a leading man in many films prior to his stint as horror film icon. This was made just after his turns in THE FLY, THE TINGLER and THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL but before his memorable performances in the Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe films. Moorhead had begun as an actress in the Orson Welles films like CITIZEN KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSON before a long career in series television. Both add to the production here.

While a bit over the top in some ways the film does offer a solid mystery to be solved and one that isn’t quite so obvious in its conclusion. To my knowledge it is also the first time the film has been offered on blu-ray. The Film Detective has once more brought forth the best quality print possible of the film and offered it without extras to get in the way. Instead you find yourself with a fun movie that will entertain while seeming silly in other ways. But if you put that aside and take the movie in on its own terms you’re bound to have a good time.

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I remember the first time I ever saw THE TERROR. It was an English class about mystery writers. Why the teacher ever chose this movie as a great example of that I’ll never know, unless of course it was the only thing available in his budget. That being said the truth is that I is a fun movie and a great example of the Roger Corman school of film making. If you have access to a star, sets and some film stock left, make a complete feature fast!

With Boris Karloff still available having just shot THE RAVEN for Corman as well as sets still standing from his film THE HAUNTD PALACE, Corman paid Leo Gordon $1,600 to write a script and the main portions of the film that contained Karloff were shot in 3 days. Additional footage was shot by Corman and a young man he employed at the time named Francis Ford Coppola as well as footage shot by Monte Hellman, Jack Hill and Jack Nicholson who also starred in the film. The end result is considered by most to be one of Corman’s worst efforts but the truth is it’s not all that bad.

Nicholson stars as Lt. Andre Duvalier, a soldier in the Napoleonic wars who has lost his way and stumbles upon a young woman named Helen (Shirley Knight) on the beach. She disappears and when he wakes he finds himself in a cabin in the woods where an old woman and her servant live. They help him and send him to the castle on the hill owned by Baron Von Leppe (Karloff). Duvalier arrives at the castle and forces his way in demanding shelter from the Baron. The Baron agrees and has his manservant Stefan (Dick Miller) help the Lt.

While talking to the Baron, Duvalier is shown a portrait of the Baron’s late wife Ilsa. She is a duplicate for young Helene who helped him the day before. The Baron informs him that she has been dead for many years now. As the story progresses Duvalier continues to see Helene/Ilsa roaming the castle and nearby tombs. He later finds out that Ilsa had a lover named Eric that the Stefan killed while the Baron killed Ilsa. Now she haunts and torments him from the grave and the only relief will be in his demise.

Ghosts, Barons, hauntings and lost love meld together to make a film that while not the best thing Corman ever made doesn’t truly qualify as his worst. His use of already standing sets and actors to put together a film is something that few is any directors these days would attempt. Nicholson holds his own in one of his earliest performances, perhaps not displaying the prowess that would garner him an Oscar later in life but showing he was at least making the attempt to work at his craft. Karloff does an excellent job, even more so when you consider his age at the time.

As with several other titles I’ve received from them recently, this is another public domain title that The Film Detective has determined deserved the blu-ray treatment. That being the case you’ll find that this is one of the best prints around of this film. Many offer it but few in this degree of quality, keeping in mind it was not the most well preserved film to begin with. It’s nice to see a company want to keep films like these from disappearing even if they aren’t the cream of the crop for some viewers. Kudos to The Film Detective for keeping this movie alive.

Here’s a suggestion. Plan movie parties for Friday nights where you screen two features like this film, movies that were created with the sole purpose of playing the drive in circuit. Some popcorn, hot dogs and a soda or two while you sit and enjoy or laugh at what’s on screen make for a fun night. Who knows, maybe drive-in parties will take hold. This movie is a good start to those sort of nights.

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