Wednesday, July 28, 2004

dementia 13: coppola for corman

vidcap from Mondo Digital

Before Coppola became (in)famous as the maker of such important films as the Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation, he was one of several later-to-be-famous people who worked for B-movie baadashaa Roger Corman. FFC (credited as "Francis Coppola") wrote and directed this shocker about an Irish castle, the family that inhabits it, the grief and gloom and depression that haunts them (rooted in the death of the only daughter Kathleen), and a shadowy figure wielding a mean axe. It would be clichéd to note that the film offers several portents of FFC's talent and promise. What can be said is that FFC manages to pump this great B-shocker with lots of chiaroscuro, and camera angles and twists. Add to that Ronald Stein's creepy motif-rich score.

The film opens with a high angle shot and we are introduced to John Haloran and his wife Louise. A late-night boat ride ends in tragedy as John succumbs to a weak heart. The problem is: with John dead, Louise stands to gain nothing from his inheritance. So Louise dumps John's body, and pays her sasuraal a visit, in time for an eerie memorial service for the young drowned Kathleen. The surviving members of the family include a mother (whom Louise has to win over), and two brothers (William "the squire of gothos" Campbell and Bart Patton). As Louise prepares to exploit the spiritual baggage associated with Kathleen's unfortunate death to win over the mother, she goes almost-skinny-dipping in the pond, sees a corpse, surfaces, and gets bumped off by a faceless suit swinging an axe. After this Psycho-esque twist, the film moves to more familiar ground as the axe murderer claims more victims, and the family doctor tries to get to the bottom of this gruesome affair. The other cool thing is the sense of closure: the opening credits hover over outlines of a body and other images that add to the eerieness of the moment. The final shot of the film explains the source of that opening outline. FFC has no need to hide his association with this film. Yes, it's a cheapie, but it still has class.

Gaffe alert: When Louise strips down to take a dip in the pond, she is wearing light-coloured panties, which miraculously become black as soon as she's underwater!

Mondo Digital's review of the DVD release

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