Which is harder to believe, that someone would remake 1963’s Dementia 13, or that if they did remake it, it would be any good? If your answer is the former, then the discussion is over; someone remade 1963’s Dementia 13. If your answer is the latter, then the discussion is just beginning. The 2017 version of the movie is good… very good… when compared to the original. However, the verdict is a little less clear about whether it’s good on its own terms, removed from the shadow of the original.
Based on the original script and movie by Francis Ford Coppola (yes, that Francis Ford Coppola), Dementia 13 (2017) is written by Dan DeFilippo and Justin Smith and directed by Richard LeMay (read our exclusive interview with LeMay here.) It may seem like a strange choice of projects 54 years later; however, since the biggest problem of the original is a rushed production with a hastily-written script, it’s also a perfect choice to update during an era where technology allows more to be accomplished in less time and with less money.
With just a tiny, yet significant, addition to their backstory, Dementia 13 (2017) begins exactly as the original did with two characters. Louise Haloran (Ana Isabelle) joins her husband, John (Christian Ryan) on a ride in a rowboat that ends fatefully for him. Raising the stakes for the movie, John is more deserving of his fate here while, at the same time, Louise is more villainous in her actions. Here, John is a wife-beater and Louise has been beaten by him one too many times…
Two weeks later, John’s sister, Rose (Channing Pickett) arrives with her husband, Dale (Steve Polites), and their mother, Gloria (Julia Campanelli). It’s time for the annual ceremony where family members mourn the death of little sister, Kathleen (Leila Grace), who drowned when she was a child. Later, the final sister, Billy (Marianne Noscheze), arrives with her boyfriend, Kane (Ben van Berkum). There are some gender reversals in the remake. In the original, Rose is “Richard” and “Billy” is male. Also, “Kane” is Richard’s female fiancée.
At first thought, the character of Dale is added (in place of the original’s Kane, who now becomes Billy’s boyfriend) to increase the body count. It doesn’t necessarily work out that way; however, a carload of thugs who are in league with Louise to rob the family definitely exists to provide more people for the masked, cloaked axe murderer to kill. It also adds a complication to the frenzied climax that the original movie did not have, as well as an element of home invasion to a story that mixes subgenres to varying effect.Dementia 13 (2017) makes a commitment to subplots either underdeveloped or dropped entirely by the original. First, Gloria’s will is a consistent concern for the characters from the first scene to the last. Next, Kathleen’s drowning is downplayed a bit; it may not contribute as heavily to the killer’s motivations. Also, the ghost story is clarified and plays a bigger part in the events that occur. Finally, “Castle Haloran” actually takes physical advantage of the secret passageways that the caretaker, Arthur (Roland Sands), describes.
The pivotal axe murder scene that Coppola used to sell producer Roger Corman on the original movie occurs earlier in the remake. As you would expect, it’s a bloodier depiction. However, it provides less of a surprise. This is both good and bad. It’s good, because the killer chasing Louise and pinning her against the barn door provides suspense that is sorely lacking in the 1963 version. It’s bad because there’s no shock of a sudden scare when Louise surfaces from the pond to find herself at the feet of the killer. The remake is a more relentless movie than the original.
Some of the new dialogue struck me as funny and/or clever:
When the kids are bickering about Gloria’s will at lunch, she loses her patience. “Do you know how this family made its fortune? Greed and blood money!”
Further demonstrating their lack of concern over that fact, Kane tells Billy, “We don’t need material things; we have each other.” She replies, “Fuck that!”
Later, during the home invasion part of the movie, one of the thugs gets nervous and tells their leader, “Let’s ride off into the sunset like Butch and Sundance.” He replies by informing him, “They died.” He quietly responds, “I never actually saw it.”
Dementia 13 (2017) is beautifully filmed in lush, colorful locations by cinematographer Paul Niccolls and the score is effectively composed by Adonis Tsilimparis. Overall, it’s an aggressive approach to updating a movie that simultaneously needed, yet never needed, to be remade. With new twists and turns, it’s an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half or so. You don’t need to be familiar with Dementia 13 (1963) to enjoy it. However, it’s a good example of how a remake can enhance and improve the original.