Dementia 13

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‘Little fishy in the brook, papa’s hanged you on a hook.’

1963  Dir: Francis Ford Coppola  With: William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Patrick Magee.

 An editor working on Roger Corman’s The Young Racer, asked the director for the opportunity to direct his own film. His name was Francis Coppola, who would later go on to direct The Godfather films, Apocalypse Now, and a whole host of classic movies. Dementia 13, filmed in three days, was the result.

The film begins with a couple take a rowing boat out onto a lake, John (Peter Read) and his wife, Louise (Luana Anders). She tries to get him to talk to his mother about changing her will that will be favourable to John. He makes a remark that if he dies before his mother, that Louise will get nothing. Then he has a heart attack and his box of pills that he takes for his heart condition is empty (damn!)

He dies.

Louise is not best pleased. She decides to cover up his death by dumping him in the lake.

She writes a letter from him, explaining that he has business and cannot visit his mother for a ceremony that is to take place there, then she goes to Ireland to the family’s castle to try to get the mother to change the will.

The next day, Louise arrives at Castle Halloran and she meets the family, John’s brothers Richard (William Campbell) a sculptor, and Billy (Bart Patton). The mother Lady Halloran (Ethne Dunne), who every year holds a funeral ceremony for her young daughter Kathleen. The little girl drowned in the pond, in the grounds of the castle seven years ago. Also staying there is Richard’s fiancÚ, Kane (Mary Mitchel).

After mother faints at the funeral ceremony, Louise tells the superstitious old woman that Kathleen will give them a sign.

Later Louise goes snooping around the castle and gets some of Kathleen’s old dolls. Undercover of night she slips out of the house and makes her way to the pond.

At the pond she strips down to her underwear. She dives into the water with the dolls, to which she has attached lengths of string. She rigs the dolls to the bottom of the pond so that they’ll rise. While down there she sees Kathleen’s gravestone, and Kathleen‘s body, perfectly preserved, lying down at the front of it. Shocked, she panics and makes her way to the surface. When she breaks the surface there is a shadowy figure standing over her with an axe. He starts swing it at her. Then he gets hold of her hair and pulls her out of the pond, and drags her away across the lawn.

This stripping down to her underwear reminds you that in modern day slasher flicks, if a woman gets naked, you can guess she’s gonna get it! All right you wouldn’t dive into a pond fully clothed (er … that’s if you’d dive into the pond in the middle of the night anyway!) but it’s obviously semi-nudity for titillation.

Next day the mother asks to see Louise, but no one can find her, and nobody has seen her. Then at breakfast, on the lawn, mother sees the dolls surfacing one by one in the pond.

Sometime later, a poacher trespassing, hear noises near the pond. He finds a small tunnel and decides to investigate. After crawling inside he is shocked at what he sees - what looks like to be the body of Kathleen. But our poacher friend isn’t going to get the chance to tell anyone about his grim discovery, as the shadowy figure with the axe is waiting for him as he exits and hacks off his head.

Mother goes into the summerhouse and sees her daughter Kathleen. The axe man is outside and starts to break the door in. She escapes and is found by her family, unconscious on the lawn.

They decide to drain the pond, and are puzzled and shocked at what they find - the gravestone. They ponder who could have put it there.

The family doctor, Dr. Justin Caleb (Patrick Magee), a family friend who is tending to the mother, goes into town with Billy to look for Louise. They stop off at a bar to ask if anyone has seen her. While there, the doctor probes an inebriated Billy about his dreams that he used to have about someone who tried to shove him in the pond, Billy says that it was Richard.

At Richard’s wedding, the doctor slips out and sits by the pond and begins to utter an odd nursery rhyme: ‘Little fishy in the brook, papa’s hanged you on a hook.’ At which point he gets up and goes into one of the outbuildings - and low and behold if Louise isn’t there hanging from a hook, covered in blood!

I’ll leave it to you to ponder who is responsible for the killings. Who is that mysterious shadowy figure with the axe? Why is he bumping everyone off?

The film has a spooky atmosphere, and some nice touches.