In what can only be called an inauspicious beginning, Francis Ford Coppola made his debut as both writer and director with this cheapo, schlocky, black & white horror film. Coppola, like a lot of directors, got his start in the exploitation horror genre, working as an assistant and then a dialogue director for Roger Corman. In 1963, while in Ireland, Corman brought one of his own films in under budget and asked Coppola if he’d like to direct a movie with the extra funds. Coppola wrote the story treatment for Dementia 13 in one night and turned out the whole movie in nine days for only $40,000. Luckily, the movie made back its budget and a career was born. As for the movie itself, it’s really pretty terrible. There’s a mysterious death in the present, the death of a young girl in the past, a dysfunctional family, a forged will, an old castle and, oh, yes, that fellow with the ax. The most interesting thing about the movie is that it serves as a reminder that great artists aren’t born fully formed. Coppola’s direction is utterly workmanlike; sequences of violence are often chaotic and confusing, the underwater photography is utterly unwatchable and Coppola can’t even find a way to create striking images out of an old castle being filmed in black & white. The performances are serviceable at best. The less said about the awful score the better. If the film is worth watching at all (spoiler: it really isn’t), it’s purely as a curiosity. It’s hard to keep this movie in context as you’re slogging your way through it; Coppola is, as he’s making this movie, less than ten years away from making one of the greatest films of all time. Goes to show you never can tell, I guess. Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them; and some put in the time and craft their greatness out of hard work and experience. What this movie definitely proves is that Coppola wasn’t a natural genius and that kind of makes the greatness he achieved even more impressive. 1 star.
tl;dr – schlocky horror movie is notable only because it’s Coppola’s debut as writer/director; it’s only merit is as a curiosity. 1 star.