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The Terror / Dementia 13


Horror films get the good scrub-over they’ve always deserved

Rod Lott April 25th, 2011

Two Roger Corman classics from 1963, his own “The Terror” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dementia 13,” make their Blu-ray debut in — wait, hold up: What business does a pair of public-domain staples have in the high-def format of Blu-ray?

theterror

Well, for one thing, the movies may reside at the B level, but they’re not trash. For another, Cultra has given ’em a good scrub-over that they’ve always deserved but have never had. If you’ve bought these before on budget DVD sets, dig them out and ditch. These new versions are spiffy, inexpensive and contain both a DVD and a Blu-ray. I hope many more follow, because Cultra has made the packages quite collectible.

The Terror” is one of Corman’s legendarily rushed pictures, and while it could be better, its simple pleasures are nonetheless plentiful. With no French accent present or attempted, Jack Nicholson plays Lt. Andre Duvalier, a self-described “weary, disillusioned soldier” who finds himself separated from Napoleon’s army. On the bright side, he meets a porcelain-skinned busty beauty on the beach (Sandra Knight) ... who quickly disappears.

Seeking shelter nearby, Andre knocks on the castle door of Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff) and learns that the girl is not only the Baron’s wife, but dead for 20 years. Hey, for a ghost, she’s quite the dish, so good thing she keeps turning up, as does unexplained violin music. With an ugly witch, bloody bird attacks and the great Dick Miller, “The Terror” aims for Corman’s Poe-picture greatness, only to fall short, but its minimal cast succeeds in mining the story’s Gothic roots for all they’re worth.  



Dementia 13” is better. It may have been born in response to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” but unlike other rip-offs, it stands well on its own. Luana Anders (“Easy Rider”) is its Janet Leigh, only inherently evil as a selfish, money-hungry woman out to dig for the metaphoric gold of her late hubby’s in-laws who reside in Castle Haloran.

Coppola’s teeth-cutting duties aside, it’s most known for the scene 33 minutes in, when Anders strips to her skivvies and goes for a midnight swim. She rigs a contraption to drive the Haloran clan mad when ... well, ax me about it later. Suffice to say, the black-and-white imagery works to Coppola’s advantage, creating a creepy mood that permeates a number of sequences, from the opening boat ride and the wind-up toys to the chilling end. Geez, even its animated opening credits, bubbling ominously with Ronald Stein’s swirling score, elicit shivers.

“The Terror” also has a nifty animated credits sequence that recalls Karloff’s “Tales of Mystery” comic book series of the era, but that’s not the only thing the two films share. As Cultra’s brief restoration demos show, an admirable job of de-graining and de-scratching was done to both; they’re imperfect, but the best I’ve ever seen them, and I’ve seen numerous editions of “Dementia” since I first bought it on the cheap in 1986, in a Goodtimes Home Video VHS from the late Venture department store. The audio remains a tad scratchy in “Terror” and too subdued in “Dementia,” but neither to the point of interference or annoyance.

Besides, it’s the visuals that matter. The cleanup is harder to see in “Dementia”’s color-drained images, but after years of seeing “Terror” in transfers so cheap and muddy that they could be classified as monochromatic, it’s a joy to see it in — gasp! — primary colors.

Cultra’s two-disc sets for each carry the original theatrical trailer, also in great shape, plus a quality-stock, full-color postcard featuring the poster art. I don’t dare mail it. —Rod Lott


 
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