Release Date: October 9. 2017
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 83 Minutes
It is neat to look back at veteran directors’ early work, made long before they were “a name” and see what served as the veritable stepping stone before they ascended to where they are now. Francis Ford Coppola, whose later work would permanently redefine American cinema for generations to come, cut his teeth under the exploitative wing of Roger Corman like so many other of his contemporaries (Jonathon Demme, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdonovich), cranking out trendy genre pictures and blockbuster ripoffs for what pennies Corman could spare.
It was in this environment of “do whatever so long as it’s cheap” that Coppola produced Dementia 13, a quaint, micro-budget Psycho ripoff that’s set in a Gothic castle and is as admirable and competent as it is nonsensical and uninspired. While certainly it cannot be said Dementia 13 holds up or is worthy once juxtaposed among the titans of the director’s later filmography, a revisit grants one the opportunity to see the roots of Coppola’s style and future talent.
It is an entirely separate reaction to revisit an early work from a veteran director and think it could use some retooling and an update for today’s audience, as director Richard LeMay did with his Dementia 13, which I will now refer to as Dementia ’17 because it feels right. Carrying none of what made the original a standout in the deluge of Corman-funded B-pictures, LeMay’s take feels particularly soulless in how it operates, with none of the do-it-yourself charm, overt gory schlock or make-it-up-as-you-go nonsense storytelling.
LeMay’s Dementia ’17 comes across as rigid and bland in a way that, seemingly in the effort to differ itself from the original, it had to sacrifice any traceable sliver of a personality. With no particular affinity for the original, I was impressed in how LeMay’s surface filmmaking and lack of detectable intent for the remake somehow improved my thoughts on the horrendously flawed 1963 version.
With no attempt at establishing mood (as the setting is no longer a Gothic castle but instead a modern estate), the plot seemed more or less intact, if a little more pointed and purposeful, from the onset.
Dementia ’17 casts Louise (Ana Isabelle) as a black widow who marries John Haloran (Christian Ryan) only to enter into the family, murder him and corner the rest of his family at their estate with her partners to torture them into signing over their fortune, rather than taking advantage of her husband’s sudden heart attack to weasel her way into his well-off family’s will. While written with more motivation than Coppola’s admittedly sloppy, almost-episodic story structure, LeMay’s feels no less arbitrary as a plodding place, and repeatedly confusing subplots rear their ugly heads to dismantle any sense of momentum.
Confused as it is, Dementia ’17 introduces the inexplicable axe murderer of the original but parlays this threat with Louise’s gun-toting partners and a very clear spirit of John’s sister haunting the estate and possessing their elderly mother (Julia Campanelli) in a clear case of too many chefs in the kitchen.
Without a semblance of the original’s sense of atmosphere, Dementia ’17’s ability to scare is in fact ineffable even with so many supposed factors working toward this goal. While spinning its wheels with ghostly red herrings and glimpses of a masked man, the bulk of the film is occupied with bitter arguments among family members who, under the mentally unfit watch of the matriarch, become catty at the thought of who gets the much-hyped inheritance. The intention is to have this backdrop act as the motives for the one-dimensional characters, but the effect is that the plotline becomes repeated ad nauseum while we wonder what happened to the horror.
Dementia ’17 is not scary in the slightest, nor does it have a detectable flavour beyond the scraps of credibility it can siphon off the original’s name like a parasite. As if to correct the original’s harsh edges that come with a $42,000 budget, Dementia ’17 looks sterile and rigid with its bland digital photography and boring set design. Every scene looks anemic and inactive; no scare or kill is given a sense of gravitas; and the woodenness of the cast leaves an audience with very little to sink their teeth into for enjoyment.
Lemay’s Dementia has the honour of retroactively making the original sub-par film seem great by comparison, and as it is free on YouTube, I suggest you spend your time with the original instead.