Movie Review & Interview: Where Coppola’s “Dementia 13” Flopped, This Film Soars

“It succeeds because it is more than just a homage to Coppola. It’s a borrowed structure that injects life into the film with some truly surprising moments.”


 

A vengeful ghost, a mysterious killer, and a family where everyone has a secret converge in one night of terror in this remake of Francis Ford Coppola’s first feature film.

Writer’s Note: I saw “Dementia 13” last weekend. In this middle of this week, I was lucky enough to talk to the film’s director, Richard LeMay. While I was impressed with the movie on the first watch, I walked away from it, even more, a fan of LeMay and his skills as a director. I don’t mean for this review to bypass praise of the other cast and crew members attached to the project, but I feel that I should take this opportunity to talk about how great a director LeMay is.

Over 50 years have passed since Francis Ford Coppola released his version of “Dementia 13.” While it is not a film that I have been pining for a reboot of, it’s a much more interesting choice than many other recent remakes. The review and script to “Dementia 13” (the 1973 version) are not the strongest because the film was the product of a rushed shoot for the producer, Roger Corman. The movie was also the first mainstream legitimate picture directed by Corman. These things considered and when the score is tallied, I might just like this reboot better than the original. While the new film might have had as small a budget as the original, it’s a remarkably pretty film with cinematography by Paul Niccolls. He is a remarkable talent at getting beautiful shots and angles from what would otherwise be mundane shots.

The story takes place at a secluded castle-like estate. By the end of its running time, it manages to be a mixture of both a slasher and Gothic horror film. This might sound depressingly like the setup for a somewhat forgettable movie, but “Dementia 13” is intriguing and creates some genuine horror. For what it is, “Dementia 13” is a remarkably good film with skilled direction by Richard LeMay and a tight screenplay structure (that emphasizes a payoff of many small elements) by Dan DeFilippo and Justin Smith. LeMay told me that he started off in film by learning all aspects of how to make a movie and it shows because he’s a remarkably efficient director who flourishes in blocking and movement.

In a guided effort to not tell you anything about the film’s plot for fear of giving away secrets, I can say that it has some remarkably surprising twists. I can tell you that a group of descendants all want to inherit the same property and take deadly efforts to prevent the other from doing so. If all of this sounds contrived, that’s because it is. “Dementia 13” manages to take a stock plot and characters then twist the story to somewhere that is exciting and surprising to watch. The reason these characters are richer than the people we normally encounter in these types of films is that LeMay focuses on making sure that the complicated family dynamic is done right. Because this film has characters to which we can relate, we become drawn into the world of horror. The ending is particularly gruesome and a surprising effect that brings the entire movie together. LeMay plays this effect in a conservative tone that works well, whereas if he had leaned on the scare element attached to this effect, the entire film would have fallen apart.

LeMay told me that it was a compliment “To be mentioned in the same breath as Coppola.” But he’s being modest, this film is better than Coppola’s original. It succeeds because it is more than just a homage to Coppola. It’s a borrowed structure that injects life into the film with some truly surprising moments. This is more than a shock movie, though, because each moment of horror is also transpiring towards the ending. This is the kind of film that makes me very curious about what LeMay will make next. He shot a film shortly before this, titled “Blood Bound” (formerly “Dark Rites”) and I’m going to make sure to watch it.

I concluded my interview with LeMay by asking what his advice is to rising and independent filmmakers. It’s good and time-worn advice that’s worth sharing: “Shoot. Shoot a film wherever and whenever. The limitations are in our head.” That’s great advice by a skilled director. Whatever you do as a passion, do it until you become very good at it.

In theaters October 6th


 

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