John Parker (director)
58 min (length)
19 October 2020 (released)
20 October 2020
Ed Wood meets Roger Corman meets David Lynch in this ‘re-discovered’ experimental silent horror from the 1950’s - though due the film’s decidedly stark b/w photography DEMENTIA gives the feeling of a Film-Noir.
To say ‘Dementia’ had a somewhat troubled release is an understatement: shot in 1953 it was banned (after a brief release) by the New York Film Board on the grounds of apparently being “inhuman, indecent and downright gruesome”! Watching it nowadays in the age of films like ‘Saw’ or ‘Hostel’ we can only scratch our collective heads at the NY Film Boards’ decision! Anyway, it was re-released in 1955 with four edits and paired as a double feature with another film. Also, clips from ‘Dementia’ are featured in the 1958 Sci-Fi schlocker ‘The Blob’ during the scene which takes place in the Colonial Theatre cinema. In 1957 ‘Dementia’ was honoured (if you can call it that) with yet another re-lease, only this time it was shown under the title ‘Daughter of Horror’ with an additional pulp fiction-style narration by Ed McMahoon.
But on to DEMENTIA – a project with originally was conceived as a short film. However, director, writer and co-producer John Parker decided to extend it into a 1-hour affair after his then secretary Adrienne Barrett told him about a strange dream she had. The secretary in question was promptly cast in the role of the female protagonist, referred to as ‘Gamine’. Waking up from a nightmare in a ramshackle hotel she leaves the room and wanders off into the night (in this case LA’s Skid Row area) where she encounters an array of weird characters including a dwarf (Angelo Rossitto, who had previously featured in Tod Browning’s 1932 horror ‘Freaks’). Handing out a newspaper to her, Gamine reads the headline “Mysterious stabbing”. As she wanders on through the dark and eerie allays she encounters more strange characters including a drunkard before being rescued by a policeman (Ben Roseman). Eventually she is approached by a dapper pimp merely referred to as the ‘Evil One’ (Richard Barron). He buys her a flower from a young street seller before he coaxes her into climbing into a chauffeured limo. Inside the limousine sits a wealthy, cigar-smoking and overweight man (Corman staple Bruno Ve Sota, who also co-produced). His entire demeanour and physical appearance remind one of Orson Welles in ‘Citizen Kane’. During the cruise, Gamine’s thoughts drift off and we witness a flashback to her tragic youth in the film’s most surreal scene, during which she wanders around a cemetery and stops by two gravestones on which the words Father and Mother are engraved. The ghost of the father appears (also played by Ben Roseman who played the policeman in the earlier scene) and is obviously very drunk. On a settee placed next to her gravestone sits her mother (Lucille Howland) – from the way she is dressed we assume that Gamine’s mother was a woman of easy virtue… As the mother looks into a mirror attached to a tree, the father approaches from behind and shoots her. Gamine then appears behind her father and stabs him to death.
Snapping out of her flashback dream, the rich man invites Gamine to various bars and clubs before taking her to his luxury apartment in an equally luxurious high-rise building – could this be a subtle reference to Rosebud? Inside his apartment the man seems much more interested in devouring his late-night meal (heaps of chlorinated fried chicken by the looks of it). After she eventually succeeds in grabbing his attention, the man then tries to grab her – in a panic (or perhaps in ice-cold calculation) she stabs him with a knife she had hidden in her pocket. While toppling backward he clutches her prominent pendant from around her neck, then he plummets through the window and lands on the concrete below. Running down endless fliers of stairs Gamine arrives at the spot where the dead man lies, still clutching her pendant and surround by totally static passers-by who all seem to hide their faces via means of stockings. Gamine cuts off the dead man’s hand (as one does) and keeps on running, all the while pursued by the policeman before the Evil One grabs her again and drags her into a nightclub (cue for an extended frenzied sequence). The ending shall not be revealed here, besides it’s down to the viewers’ own interpretations.
Considering its low-budget and a mainly unknown cast (apart from Bruno Ve Sota, Angelo Rossitto and Shelley Berman in the part of a stoned Beatnik), DEMENTIA is a truly impressive little gem further enhanced thanks to the talents of cinematographer William C. Thompson (who had already worked on other low-budget horrors and also on some of Ed Wood’s ‘classics’ like ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’). The film also has a fantastically haunting sounds-effect score to boast – courtesy of Avantgarde-composer George Antheil (with additional vocals by soprano Marni Nixon), while West Coast jazzer Shorty Rogers appears as himself in one of the film’s jazz club scenes.
DEMENTIA is presented newly restored in Dual Format edition with the following Special Features:
Presented in Standard Definition and High Definition / Newly recorded audio commentary / DAUGHTER OF HORROR (1957, 55 mins): Whilst also featuring music without dialogue this version has an added narration by actor Ed McMahon / ALONE WITH THE MONSTERS (1958, 16 mins): a bold experimental film directed by Nazli Nour with cinematography by the great Walter Lassally / Trailers From Hell: Joe Dante on Daughter of Horror (1957/2013, 2 mins) / Before & After: Restoring Dementia (2020, 3 mins): a series of short clips from Dementia that illustrate the work done by the Cohen Film Collection for their 2015 restoration / DEMENTIA trailer (2015) / DAUGHTER OF HORROR trailer (1957) / Stills and publicity gallery / *FIRST PRESSING ONLY* illustrated booklet with new essays.