Dementia 13/Killer Shrews 2004 Horror Movie Review
Horror movies Review
This is an odd pairing of low-budget horror films, but that is probably all the justification you need (that and their availability in the public domain perhaps). “Dementia 13” was the result of producer Roger Corman’s infamous “apprentice” program at AIP; Corman was shooting his own film and let Francis Ford Coppolla get his first director’s credit by shooting “Dementia 13” on the same location. “Dementia 13” is just a nice little low-budget horror film for which the biggest complaint is that the pace is a tad slow. The story is set in Ireland and if it bears a strong resemblance to Corman’s film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe, well “duh.” When her husband drops dead, Louise Haloran (Luana Anders) know she will be cut out of the Haloran family inheritance so she pretends he is in New York on business and heads off to the ancestral home in Ireland to try and get in good with the family. But at Castle Haloran the family is engaged in a morbid ritual marking the death of John’s sister Kathleen, who drowned in the pond six years earlier. The question of inheritance becomes more interesting once family members start being hacked to death by an ax-murderer.
Despite this development “Dementia 13” is not a gory film, but more of a character study, which alone makes it somewhat atypical for the time and genre. Coppolla manages to creat atmosphere so that the film is more of a psychological exercise than it is a splatter flick, and the submereged scream is certainly a memorable touch. The most recognizable faces in the film are Patrick Magee as Dr. Caleb and William Campbell, soon to go to a small measure of fame in a couple of episodes of the original “Star Trek” and a place in Beatles trivia as the man who supposedly had plastic surgery to replace Paul McCartney in the Beatles after his “death” (he was also married to Judith Exner, and anybody who has links to JFK, the Beatles and Star Trek is a pop culture immortal).
Then we having “The Killer Shrews,” which is such a person favorite of mine in terms of gloriously bad movies that it justifies rounding up when I split the difference on these two films. This 1959 movie takes itself seriously despite having Miss Universe 1957, dogs dressed up in shag carpets, rubber heads with big teeth, and an escape plan that you have to see to believe. Thorne Sherman (James Best) delivers supplies to an island just as a hurricane is coming. He wants to wait out the story, but Dr. Milo Craigis (Baruch Lumet) wants Thorne to leave right away and take his daughter Ann (Ingrid Goude, Miss Sweden 1956 and then Miss Universe 1957), with him. The Doctor sounds German while his daughter has a very interesting Swedish accent, but that is not the biggest mystery on the island.
Dr. Craigis is concerned with over population and apparently his idea is was to shrink people to make food go farther. To this end he experiments with the DNA of shrews who (a) grow to the size of dogs wearing shag carpeting, (b) have all of their worst traits becoming dominant, and (c) develop poison saliva. You would think that any one of those three could cause problems when there are 300 shrews running around on an island, but no, all three happen. The number of humans starts dwindling as the shrews need desert after eating all of the livestock on the island, so everybody starts drinking more (think about it: do you really want DRUNK giant vicious shrews with poison saliva?). Jerry Farrell (Ken Curtis) decides that Ann sparking to Thorne is worse than having giant shrews attacking them, but soon sees the error of his ways and decides that going up on the roof would be a good idea. That is also because he thinks that the idea that Thorne comes up with to escape to the boat is stupid, but I have to say, in terms of 1950s black & white monster movies this plan actually makes sense.
Special mention must be made of Gordon McLendon who plays Dr. Radford Baines, the dedicated assistant to Dr. Craigis and who remains the consummate scientist even once he has been bitten. His death sets up what is probably the funniest line of the movie until we get to the end where the last exchange of dialogue provides a pretty funny punch line to the entire experience of pure terror trying to get away from the giant vicious shrews with poison saliva. There is just too much to enjoy in this movie, from listening to Goude’s accent (you know it has to be Swedish but it does not sound Swedish and trying to figure out what it does sound like will drive you crazy), to watching the dogs covered in carpet frolick around the silly humans rolling on the ground, and waiting for one of the teeth on the rubber shrew heads to get caught on something and break off. “The Killer Shrews” is my kind of bad movie and if you have any affection for such sorry things it has to be on your “Must See” list.