Combustible Celluloid
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With: William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Mary Mitchel, Patrick Magee, Eithne Dunne, Peter Read, Karl Schanzer, Ron Perry, Derry O'Donavan, Barbara Dowling
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 69
Date: 09/25/1963

Dementia 13 (1963)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Castle Hassle

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After making a couple of nudies, and doing some patch-up work for Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola made his feature directing debut with this low-budget horror film. With Corman producing, it was intended as kind of ripoff of William Castle's Homicidal (which was itself a ripoff of Psycho), but it has its own merits. When her husband drowns in a lake, Louise (Luana Anders) realizes that she won't get his family's inheritance unless she does something about it, so she forges a note, pretends that he has been called away on business, and tries to set the situation right. Unfortunately, John's sister Kathleen also drowned several years earlier, and it's time for the family's annual ritual, a tribute to her death. This brings up several ghosts for everyone, as well as an axe-wielding maniac. Like his later Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), it's an intriguing example of style over substance, with many early attempts at telling the story visually. Set in an honest-to-goodness Irish castle, Coppola makes the most of the moody grounds and ancient walls, even despite his tiny budget and shooting schedule.

I last reviewed the 2011 HD Cinema Classics Blu-Ray release, which claimed to have been transferred from 35mm elements, and looked pretty good, but was not great. Now Coppola has released his own official director's cut, via Lionsgate and their Vestron Video label, and it's a significant improvement. It actually excises a few minutes (mostly stuff added in after Coppola finished his version), and goes from 75 minutes to 69 minutes. Coppola provides a commentary track that's actually very sweet and kind of humble, as he recalls his days as a beginner. There's a brief video introduction by Coppola, and a weird 6-minute Castle-like "introduction" featuring a "doctor" giving a "test" to show whether the viewer is insane. The disc comes with a digital copy as well. Recommended.

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