“Castle Haloran is a bit perplexing — a very strange place, really, old and musty; the kind of place you’d expect a ghost to like to wander around in.”
A woman (Luana Anders) whose husband (Peter Read) dies from a sudden heart attack dumps his body in a lake and attends a gathering at the castle-home of his mother (Ethne Dunn), who has been in continuous mourning since the drowning death of her young daughter Kathleen (Barbara Dowling) years earlier. Anders soon learns that Read’s brother Billy (Bart Patton) is equally haunted by Kathleen’s death but his brother Richard (William Campbell) — a temperamental artist — would prefer to bury the incident and simply marry his lovely American fiancee (Mary Mitchel). Meanwhile, the family’s longtime doctor (Patrick Magee) hopes to resolve Dunn’s perpetual angst by getting to the bottom of Kathleen’s tragic death.
Response to Peary’s Review:
This reasonably effective low-budget serial killer flick is primarily notable as the first “mainstream picture” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who “was working as Roger Corman’s soundman in Ireland during filming of The Young Racers when he wrote this horror script in three nights”, “got Corman to match his $20,000 investment, borrowed the stars from Corman’s film”, and used “a Dublin castle and estate as his main setting”. Peary writes that he finds “the story hopelessly confusing”, but I must say I disagree: in typical whodunit fashion, there are plenty of red herrings and mysterious passages throughout the film, but they all clearly build towards a “big reveal” of how and why Dowling died, and which of the many suspicious characters has turned into a vicious axe murderer in an attempt to hide the truth. Peary does acknowledge that “the horror sequences are very exciting”, and that the initial death of a main character “is [an] extremely well done”, “gory, creepy sequence” that is also “erotic and poetically filmed.” He further notes that “the composition on night shots is extremely impressive”. It’s fun to see Coppola’s explicit narrative nod to Psycho (1960) as well as other “Old Dark House” films.
Note: Peary puzzles over the film’s odd title, which has since been clarified: an earlier cult film was already named Dementia (1955), so 13 was added “to get the film played on the 13th of each month” (according to an interview by Coppola with James Lipton).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine direction by Coppola
- Atmospheric cinematography
- Excellent use of authentic locales
- Ronald Stein’s score
Yes, as Coppola’s impressive debut film.