Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Dementia 13 (1963)

This is Francis Ford Coppola's first film as a director.  Well, if one ignores the two softcore skin flicks he'd done the year before.  And if one doesn't mind that this was a hack job written in three days and financed on the leftover budget of another production.

The rushed nature of the script is painfully obvious from the beginning of the film.  I suspect some members of the cast would sound stilted even with the most finely crafted dialogue, but the lines they have to deliver here are rough-hewn at best.  The plot too is rather less than elegantly constructed.

And what is that plot?  Well, first a warning: I'm going to reveal the movie's one genuine surprise, so if you're some kind of mad Coppola fan who now needs to see this flick, you might want to stop reading here if you don't want to be spoiled.

Still with me?  Okay then.

The movie begins with an unhappily married couple going rowing on a lake.  The wife (Louise) complains to the husband about his mother's Will, which amuses him.  "Ha ha!" says he. "You are just worried that if I die before mother, you will get nothing!".  And then he promptly has a heart attack and dies.

Actually, that's not quite true.  He promptly has a heart attack, but he doesn't die for a few minutes: giving him just enough time to mock his wife again while expiring on the bottom of the boat.

Louise isn't so easily put off her pursuit of an inheritance, though.  She dumps her husband's body in the lake and invents an urgent business trip that's called him away.  Then she goes to visit with her mother-in-law, in the hope of ingratiating herself into the Will.  And it seems Louise might actually have a shot at this: the older woman is clearly very superstitious, and some cunningly fabricated 'ghostly happenings' might just sway her.

That certainly doesn't seem like it would be beyond Louise's abilities, and she sets out to engineer just such phenomena ... and is promptly axe-murdered by a shadowy figure.

Yep, surprise!  The character we've been following for over half an hour is not the protagonist.  That would actually be the new character who shows up in the next scene (and no, he isn't the axe murderer).

Now of course the problem with this sort of bait and switch is that, however much it might work as a shock, it's a pretty cheap means of doing so, and it makes the first 30 minutes of the film almost completely pointless (they do establish some important background information about the family, so they're not 100% wasted).

The rest of the movie is basically about the other characters (a) realising there's a killer out there and (b) working out who it is.  It's not terribly interesting, in all honesty, especially since the cast is small enough that there are only two real suspects.

Safely skippable unless you are a Coppola completist.

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