Dementia - Dementia- DVD & Blu Ray [BFI - 2020]1950ís film Dementia is a darkly heady & grimly tripped-out noir, which blends themes of madness, cruelty, self-doubt & mistrust. The film sits somewhere between horror, grim fantasy, unsettling psychodrama, and unhinged crime caper. From the BFI here is a recent dual format DVD & Blu Ray release, of this very ahead of its time picture, with the new release taking in a new scan of the film, commentary track, and other extras.
Dementia was made in 1953, but seemingly didnít get released in the US until 1955. It was directed by John Parker, who was the son Hazel H. Parker, head of the J. J. Parker theatre chain in Oregon- this was his one & only feature credit, and seemingly little else is known about him- which adds an extra edge of mystery/ intrigue to the film. Dementia is dialogue-less, with itís unfold edged by a shifting soundtrack & sound effects.
The film focuses in on troubled young women, who is called The Gamin(Adrienne Barrett) in the credits. It starts with her trying to get to sleep in a darting neon lit room- after seemingly dreaming of been knocked over by waves on a beach, she gets up & stalks around the room in a decidedly unsettling manner- staring at her self in the mirror, pulling out a flick knife & chucking about it. From here she makes her way out into a shadowy & grimy skid row. The film unfolds with her having one encounter after another- each is flecked with paranoia, unease & each gets stranger & stranger- as one tries to figure out what is a dream & what is paranoid tinged reality.
Barrett is great in the lead role, managing to be both subtly expressive & unsettling as the trouble young women. The small supporting cast is largely good-to-great too- enhancing the feeling of unease, the burring of the line between real & what is not. The films setting moves from murky, sudden searchlight darted alleyways. Onto neon edged largely deserted streets, though to shadowy car interiors, crowded & sweaty clubs, & graveyards. Along the way, we get some effective & memroble images like a group of faceless figures, severed hands in flowers, and living room set domestic abuse in a mist-shrouded graveyard. There are also moments of sudden brutal beatings & stabbings- carried out by gleeful perpetrators & chuckling on-lookers. At it's original time of release the film caused a fair bit of controversy, with it initial been banned in New York state. And even today sixty-seven years after itís making, itís a wonderful sinister & disorientating ride of a film- it slides in just under the hour mark, which by silent movie standards is long- yet it constantly keeps you under itís unsettling & unbalancing spell.
Moving onto this new release of the film- we were sent the DVD screener for review- so I can only comment on this. The scan looks very good for a film from the 1950ís- with the black & white looking crisp, balanced & even- the darker points have had some lightning up- but this never looks too digitized or processed. Also, the soundtrack is nicely defined in its clarity, with both the score & the sound effects always evenly balanced. Moving onto the extras side of things we get a commentary track from the always great Kat Ellinger- here she goes from talking about the film's origins- a ten minute short based on Parker's secretary dreams, moving onto discuss itís production history. She talks about why the films is so transgressive, & the Freudian symbolism dotted through-out the film. She discusses the film characters, itís settings and a few of the cast. Moving onto talk about how it got re-titled a few years later as Daughter Of Horror, which featured a dramatic male voice over. As usual, a very well researched & thoughtful track from Ms Ellinger. Other extra wise we get the said Daughter Of Horror cut of the film- this hasnít been given a re-scan, so remains decidedly gritty & pockmarked- but itís interesting to see how the voice-over affects the overall film. We get Alone with the Monsters- a 1958 short film regarding a lonely women, her treatment by others, and her suicide- this runs for sixteen minutes. We get an episode of the Trailers from Hell about the film featuring Joe Dante talking about the trailer for the Daughter Of Horror. A three-minute featurette regarding the 2015 restoration/ remastering of the film, and trailers for both versions of the film.
Itís great to the BFI giving this distinctive & still surprisingly unsettling 1950ís film classy dual format reissue- and Iíd say it will appeal to both horror & noir film fans, with the excellent scan & great commentary track really sealing the deal.