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Vestron Double Bill: Dementia 13 and The Wraith

  Vestron, that fan favourite label of the nineteen-eighties, have been rereleasing various titles on Blu-ray and adding relevant extras to the discs to make them a more enticing prospect for aficionados. If you're looking for a double bill of cult movies then you could do a lot worse than picking up one from the sixties, and another from the eighties: Francis Ford Coppola's debut Dementia 13 and the car horror The Wraith, both out on Blu-ray in fully restored editions, packed with relevant special features.

First up, Dementia 13. Many a cult movie fan knows the story behind this one, as Roger Corman had hired Coppola as a sound man on his Irish-set racing flick The Young Racers, and allowed him to use some of the resources available from that film in a B-movie he would produce for Coppola in 1963. The results were... not particularly to Corman's liking, but he thought they were salvageable and enlisted Jack Hill to shoot extra bits and pieces, re-editing the picture somewhat to give it more of a punch. Coppola went along with this, but it evidently rankled that while he would prove himself later, that first effort was tinkered with.

Therefore the edition you see on the Blu-ray is the director's cut, which is in effect the original version, around five minutes shorter than the public domain version that was distributed around the world in a degraded print, and now improved so the pristine photography of Charles Hannawalt can be appreciated for all the rich atmosphere it brought to the table. Was there ever a sixties horror movie in black and white that had quite the inky darkness of Dementia 13? It threatens to envelop the characters at almost every turn, distinguishing the shadows and at night, dominating the frame to be delineated as a tangible menace in itself.

Luana Anders was the Janet Leigh of this Psycho-inspired plot, her first big break though her career never quite took off the way some of her famous friends like Jack Nicholson and Sally Kellerman did. Nicholson was good enough to thank her in his winning speech for As Good as It Gets, when he snared the Oscar, since if it had not been for her, Jack wouldn't have been accepted to acting classes where he met Corman, and the rest was history. Anders proved herself an intriguing presence here thanks to a stormer of an opening scene, out on an Irish lake with her husband, who promptly keels over with a fatal heart attack, leaving her pondering her next move.

After all, she has to be married to the deceased to secure his mother's large fortune when she dies, and to make it look as if he's still alive, she drops him in the lake and keeps up the pretence, all the while scheming to ensure that the old lady (Eithne Dunne) believes she is going mad. Meanwhile, the dead man's brothers, William Campbell (best known for a few key Star Trek episodes) and Bart Patton may have gone crackers without Luana's help. Patrick Magee was there too, for that extra nod to the macabre, and the red herrings abounded until all was revealed in an implausible explanation that was part of the fun. But Anders' midnight swim cemented the cult movie legend.

Next up, The Wraith from 1986. This disc transfers the extras from the DVD from 2010, which go some way to explaining why it was not the hit it was expected to be, leaving it to be discovered on VHS and television broadcasts. One black mark against it was that a cameraman was killed during its making, while filming one of the stunts - funnily enough, the film that was most indebted to it was The Crow, which saw the death of its star Brandon Lee when an accident occurred during filming. According to director Mike Marvin, this made him persona non grata around the Hollywood of the late eighties, only able to get script doctoring work.

This fact does sour the experience of watching the movie somewhat, but if you can set it to one side you would find what was essentially a car-based remake of High Plains Drifter, the seventies Clint Eastwood Western that saw him ride into town and proceed to destroy it for what it did to the sheriff some time before. Here, Charlie Sheen, reportedly filming all his scenes in one day which explains why he isn't in the story a whole lot, was the avenging angel - or possibly demon - who wreaks revenge on the gang of car thieves who lurk in this Arizona town and previously had him murdered because their leader Nick Cassavetes is a controlling psychopath.

He doesn't like it when any male talks to Sherilyn Fenn, who he insists is his girlfriend despite her protestations to the contrary, so with that in mind tends to react very badly when, say, Sheen tries to give her a lift to work on his motorbike. Sheen is back in town in a more unassuming guise than you would anticipate from an eighties action hero, preferring to get violent only when he is in full racing gear, complete with helmet and what looks like metallic surgical support which disappears a bit at a time whenever he does what he is here to do, bumping off the gang one by one, leaving Cassavetes for last. The way he does this is pretty odd as well, staging explosive crashes.

Crashes where his fancy-schmancy souped up car is destroyed at the end of a heated chase along the desert highways, as well as his adversary's vehicle with them in it. There was a lot of quasi-mystical business going on here, which was set against a very basic eighties teen movie backdrop, though the ages of the characters are never really determined. Randy Quaid was there too, as the cop keen to arrest Cassavetes and finding his case a lot stranger than he had realised, which may prompt some to ponder if The Wraith was a cursed production, especially when Griffin O'Neal was in it a few months before he accidentally killed Francis Ford Coppola's son (if you want a Dementia 13 link). For some, that may add intrigue, but in the main it's a none more eighties action horror flick with pretensions.

And if you wish to make this a triple bill, also on Blu-ray from Vestron's Collector's Series is Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, a 1988 flop combining horror, comedy and Westerns that found an audience on home video way back when. With a cast of notables including David Carradine, Bruce Campbell, Deborah Foreman, M. Emmet Walsh, John Ireland and more, it fits the bill for fans seeking something out of the ordinary in the vampire genre.

[The Dementia 13 Blu-ray special features are as follows:

Introduction by Francis Ford Coppola
Audio Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola
Prologue (Dementia 13 Test)

And The Wraith Blu-ray has:

Audio Commentary with writer/director Mike Marvin
Audio Commentary with actors Dave Sherrill and Jamie Bozian
Isolated Score Selections featuring audio interview with co-composer J. Peter
Tales From The Desert - An interview with writer/director Mike Marvin
Rughead Speaks! - An interview with Actor Clint Howard
Ride of the Future - Interviews with stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker and
transportation coordinator Gary Hellerstein
The Ghost Car - Interviews with visual effects producer Peter Kuran and effects animator Kevin Kutchaver
The Wraith Filming Locations: Then and Now
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Alternate Title Sequence
Still Gallery.

Dementia 13, The Wraith and Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat are on Blu-ray 15 November 2021 from Lionsgate UK.]
Author: Graeme Clark.


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