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Kino on Video presents
Dementia (1953)

"This is a place where there is no love, no hope; in the pulsing, throbbing world of the insanemind, where only nightmares are real!"
- Narrator, The Daughter of Horror

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: October 06, 2000

Stars: Adrienne Barrett, Bruno Ve Sota, Richard Barron
Other Stars: Ed Hinkle, Lucille Howland, Faith Parker
Director: John Parker

Manufacturer: CMCA
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some violence, disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 00h:56m:30s
Release Date: October 17, 2000
UPC: 738329018528
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B-B+ A-

DVD Review

Perplexed, confused, and baffled. These are but a few of the emotions going through my mind once the end credits for Dementia rolled by. Filmed in 1953, it's easy to see why this film suffered such a long battle with censor boards. For the age, it most likely bewildered most who saw it and even though specific reasons were often given for why it shouldn't be publicly shown, the reasons basically added up to every element of the film. Had the cuts that the censors wanted been applied, the movie would have been about 10 minutes long and not made a whit of sense (not that it really does now). Dementia is either a brilliant artistic statement or one of the most insane exploitation films ever made, and I'm not really sure which.

Other than dubbed in laughs and moans, Dementia is completely without dialogue, featuring only a strange musical soundtrack punctuated by the theremin-like vocals of Marni Nixon. The film begins with Adrienne Barrett (referred to only as 'The Gamin') awakening from a nightmare in her dilapidated apartment. She takes a switchblade from a drawer and sets out into the night. As she wanders around the city, she encounters 'The Evil One,' a sleazy pimp who winds up connecting her with 'Rich Man,' an equally scummy figure. She experiences hallucinations and visions that contribute to her paranoia and, seemingly, a hatred of men. In one vision, she travels through a graveyard, being led by a hooded man who reveals her nasty childhood to her by resurrecting the spirits of her abusive parents. Eventually, she murders Rich Man, and in the process descends deeper into madness, running from imagined fears and the local police. Is this for real, or is she merely hallucinating again?

An intense amount of directorial style has been applied here, and the film has a distinct noir feel. Ironically, most of Dementia was filmed in the same locations as Touch of Evil, and the similarities are impossible to deny. However, everything is extremely surreal since here there is no dialogue. Direction is exaggerated and ridiculous, so as to make the performances seem more sensible. Some moments, however, strike of inspiration and brilliance, using an almost Hitchcockian technique in order to enhance imagery.

Out of the unusual cast of characters, Bruno Ve Sota (Rich Man) is the most recognizable for his years of B-movie appearances, especially in Roger Corman projects like Attack of the Giant Leeches and The Undead. He is also credited with co-producing and co-writing Dementia, though the extent of truth here remains unanswered. In it's totality, Dementia is a staggering experience. Part of you wants to laugh it off as cheap exploitation, but understanding its age, and because its directorial technique is so memorable, it begins to grow on you. The sordid tale of The Gamin's sleaze-ridden night out might have been designed as a cautionary tale, but winds up as something altogether more sick and strange.

Eventually, the winding battle that the makers of Dementia had with censors resulted in not only a limited theatrical run, but also a strange alternate cut of the film produced in 1957 entitled Daughter of Horror (which I'll discuss in the extras section in more detail). By todays standards, it's hard to get very offended, but when one considers the general morés and ethics of the period, it becomes amazing that director John Parker EVER thought this film would get into theatres.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: While the transfer here is superb, some of the source print is damaged. For the most part, the black-and-white cinematography is accurately reproduced with good sharpness and clarity, but many sections have lots of scratches and pinhole marks. The frame also warps slightly and moves around in certain sections. This doesn't have a huge effect on the final result, but it is slightly distracting. Despite many scenes that invite artifacts and pixelization, none are found anywhere in the film.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Though a little beat up, the Pro-Logic Mono soundtrack works very well. Since it's only music (except in the Daughter of Horror version), the weird, atmospheric score is reproduced very well. For the age of the track, the lack of distortion or harsh high-end is suprising.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Daughter of Horror, the 1957, alternate version of Dementia
  2. Case Study Essay
  3. Original Pressbook reproduction
  4. Production photo stills
Extras Review: The central extra feature on the disc is the inclusion of the 1957, alternate version of Dementia, called Daughter of Horror. Essentially, this version omitted most of the controversial footage replacing it with senseless filler, and added a ridiculous, if not hilarious, voiceover track. The narration was performed by none other than Ed McMahon, and the result is a laughable combination of senseless spooky-talk and psychological terms. Until now, this is the only version that's ever been widely available. The video for this version is unfortunately slightly darker than the original cut, bring its video quality down a few notches.

The "case study" section is a lengthy essay about the long battle John Parker has getting the film released. Duplications of official documents are included, and the whole feature is extremely informative and well presented.

"Pressbook" is a reproduction of some of the original press material, as well as posters, advertisements, and review clippings.

On set photo stills and a trailer round out the goods, providing a great package.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Dementia defies easy description. The characterization that it is the "strangest film ever made" might sound exaggerated, but it's actually very hard to refute. Perhaps the best statement about the film is one made by famous 40s/50s columnist Walter Winchell when he said, "Take the kids! (The ones you want you want to get rid of)." Recommended for those who enjoy the unusual.


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