Watch ‘Dementia 13’, Francis Ford Coppola’s first ever film
“In a sense, I think a movie is really a little like a question and when you make it, that’s when you get the answer.”—Francis Ford Coppola.
Even for some of the greats of Hollywood, even for somebody with the career pedigree of Francis Ford Coppola, it all had the start somewhere.
Coppola, a director who is now considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, became a figure who played a major role in the New Hollywood movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Coppola has directed twenty-six feature films to date, a selection of which are considered to be some of the most influential pictures in cinematic history.
His work on The Godfather,The Godfather II, and Apocalypse Now is permanently etched into the history of cinematic perfection; perched atop a mantel of remarkable classic films. But even for Coppola, a man with five Academy Award victories to his name, a life in cinema needed to be earned. In 1963, after releasing two short nude films the year before, Coppola made is move into feature films and didn’t look back.
Dementia 13, the independent black-and-white horror-thriller, arrived as Coppola’s big moment. Teaming up with producer Roger Corman, Dementia 13 was rushed through the door as Corman looked to use up the $22,000 he had leftover from a previous project and, in quick time, Coppola delivered a script. “Roger wanted to make Dementia 13 cheaply,” Coppola later recalled. “He wanted it to be homicidal, sort of a copy of Psycho. You know, gothic and psychological, with some kind of terrible knife-killing scene thrown in. So I wrote the script to order.”
“After John Haloran dies, his wife, Louise, fears that she will be denied his inheritance,” the official film synopsis reads. “Fabricating a story about John travelling to the United States, she joins the rest of the Haloran family at their Irish estate as they hold a memorial for John’s sister, who died in a lake eight years ago. Louise schemes to convince Lady Haloran that she can speak with the dead child. However, this plan is interrupted by an axe murderer loose on the estate.”
The film would go on to star the likes of William Campbell, Patrick Magee, and Luana Anders and endure a somewhat bumpy road. Coppola, who was left to his own devices to create the film, didn’t show Corman the finished product until the official screening. However, Corman was left seemingly furious by the final outcome and demanded changes. According to Coppola, Corman “insisted on dubbing the picture the way he wanted it, adding voiceovers to simplify some of the scenes. Worse, he wanted extra violence added, another axe murder at least…” Coppola, who didn’t agree with the changes, refused. Corman then hired Jack Hill to shoot some extra scenes and pad the film out with five extra minutes of footage.