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This is one of those (exceptionally) rare very low budget films where
you can see clearly that, if the director had had more time and more
money, we would be discussing a classic "film".
Better known to buffs of the odd, the obscure, and the strange as "Daughter of Horror", in the tale as told we are witness to the unraveling of a mind. Like "Eraserhead", the best of this sub-genre, it is difficult to tell where the madness starts and where reality ends- or, indeed, if any of what we see on screen is real at all. It is hard to get any sense of what is occurring from the Gamine's point of view. Are the events happening to her? Is she dreaming? Hallucinating? The viewer (or, at least this viewer) is always a little off balance while watching this movie, and I think that that is what the director was aiming at.
I would go so far as to say that, within the budgetary constraints imposed, this movie is a masterpiece. As stated in the synopsis, this is a dark movie with no sympathetic characters, no attractive locales, no hope. Were it just a Film Noire murder story, it would still be a very good movie. As a descent into madness, it excels.
I saw this great movie in error in 1972. Dementia 13 by Coppola was ordered
and Dementia (Daughter of Horror) showed up. I was particularly impressed
by the brilliant score by Antheil and sung by Marnie Nixon, later the voice
of Maria in the movie West Side Story.
Interesting note - In the original movie, The Blob, it is the movie being shown in the movie theater when the kids run in to find their friends.
The style of Dementia was captivating and created a surreal mood. For those interested in obscure horror films, well worth seeing.
After originally seeing it it took almost 10 years to even find a reference to it (partially because of the two names). I finally got a copy of Dementia around 10 years ago and can now appreciate it whenever I choose.
This movie (originally 1953, I believe) is approachable on so many levels,
it is difficult to say where to begin. We could start with the acting -
Adrienne Barrett (whoever she is) is perfectly cast as the troubled,
sinister, smirking, sexy anti-heroine. We could then examine the style -
the mix of surrealism, expressionism, and film noir. We could then comment
on the atmosphere - conjured through bleak-looking streets and unnerving
music. Then there are the simple images - shadows growing and shrinking,
gaunt faces, sharp contrasts between lights and darks. We might take a
Freudian approach - the dysfunctional parents, the father imagery, the
sexual symbols (cigars, no less!). There is also the Beat culture interest
in the excellent jazz-band scene. There are also the intriguing comparisons
one could make between the "silent" version and the narrated
As a horror movie in-itself, it may appear somewhat cheesy and overstated, but it clearly does not take itself too seriously, and you shouldn't either. Compared to other horror films I give it an 8, but due to its uncommon critical and historical appeal, I rate it overall a 9. Truly a unique achievement.
This is one of the best and most intelligent films ever--although I don't
think I'll be seeing it again anytime soon. I have never been so assaulted
emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually by a movie. If you are
looking for a fun and scary horror movie--this is NOT what you are looking
for. This film is very disturbing. It is not gory, or overly graphic, just
disturbing. The aesthetics of the film stretch back to early German
Expressionism to 70s psychedelia. It is a bizarre mix of many things, most
of which work perfectly. As you watch it, it's very easy to start judging
the movie and go "Oh God, it's doing this or that". There are definately
times when the movie borders on badness. But it is always one step ahead of
itself, and one step ahead of you, and one step ahead of any other movie I
have ever seen. The things the director does are amazing--he does things
that were so ahead of his time.
The portrait of the main character is amazing. I've never felt so close to a character who completely freaked me out, as I did to her. She is SCARY--and so human in a wierd way. And that's why this movie was so good. It is not a black and white horror movie. It's not a slasher flick. It is definately trying to tell you something. Whether the final message is feminist or sexist is up for debate. This film is so well done that it's hard to tell whether it's being purposeful or exploitative. It's pointless to write more. You just have to see it.
Even at under an hour, this film drags a bit in the middle but has so much going for it that it has to be called a "must-see." Definitely see the dialog-free version (DEMENTIA) before you see the narrated version (DAUGHTER OF HORROR) but do see both of them because the narration by future Tonight Show co-host Ed McMahon is priceless! The jazzy score and accompanying vocal renderings accent the weird mood perfectly. The last 15 minutes in the jazz club are especially striking as music, image and pace increase to a fever pitch until the movie starts as it began. It's amazing that a film as avant garde as this actually played mainstream theaters in the 50s.
Finally after a long wait we can see the original version of "Dementia" which was re released two years later as "Daughter of Horror" , cut by two minutes and featured the notoriously bad voice over by the unknown (outside america) Ed McMahon , which was added as the re releasers thought that the public would not understand what was going on , it did the opposite and has unfairly given the film a bad reputation. Since the re release was shown , the film itself has pretty much disappeared and only terrible prints on the 1957 version have been available , giving a brief glimpse of what this film could have been. But now the full version has been released by Kino Films on DVD. The print is stunning (compared to the previously available anything would be preferable), and the restoration of the nightmarish "jazzey" score is fault less. "Dementia" and "Daughter of Horror" (it was given a more salatious title to get audiences in) are both on the disc...with some great extras its worth a look. The story itself is a living/dreaming nightmare , the boundaries are jarred from the first scene as we pan in from the empty street into the apartment window and track up to the bed. The Gammin wakes and looks as if she has just had a bad nightmare , she gets up and walks over to a drawer , opens it and pulls out a switchblade , she looks down and sneers , pockets the knife and goes out into the night. From here on we either know that she it totally insane or that she is out to protect herself or both. We follow her journey into bars and meetings with pimps and flower sellers. I wont tell you anymore about it , otherwise it will spoil the fun of finding out for yourself but this film is a must and belongs on any serious collectors shelf.
Never heard of it, knew nothing about, watched it on a friend's recommendation and was struck by how daring and experimental it was for the time it was made. I was expecting a real piece of 50's cheese, but the further I got into it the more I realized it could not be so easily dismissed. Some of the nighttime black and white photography of the Gamine being pursued through city streets is right up there with THE THIRD MAN, and many of the images (especially the hacking off of a dead man's hand) are shockingly indelible. I'd place it many rungs above Ed Wood and perhaps only a rung or two below Herk Harvey (director/co-star and primary creative force behind the great ultra low budget masterpiece CARNIVAL OF SOULS, recently reissued on a gorgeous Criterion Collection DVD). Included on the DVD presentation is the re-cut version DAUGHTER OF HORROR, with Ed McMahon (!) providing a hilariously pretentious voice-over that was meant to make the film more accessible to a mainstream audience. It's a real hoot, one to play at parties to give your cinephile guests a laugh.
I orginally saw Dementia in 1972 at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge Mass. It was there in error since Coppola's Dementia 13 was on the bill. What a treat. I requested return engagements after that and could find no reference to Dementia for years. Finally, at the library of arts at Lincoln Center in New York I found the history including the alternate title Daughter of Horror. I finally got a copy of the film about 6 years ago. Still one of my favorites. Particularly because of the music and the fabulous singing of Marnie Nixon (voice of Maria in West Side Story and other films. A brilliant film by John Parker - who may actually be Bruno Vesota. Unknown piece of information. He of course is famous for such classics as The Brain Eaters and Attack of the Giant Leeches. Seriously, Dementia is a great movie and displays a sophistication of production that belies its obvious lack of a substantial budget.
I watched Daughter of Horror, not the original version called Dementia.
Of course the newer version has a voice over by Ed McMahon of Star
search/Johnny Carson fame. Dementia had no voice over.
Neither film had dialog. The only thing you heard was the music of George Antheil. You watched as the faces of the actors gave the story. A woman (Adrienne Barrett) possessed by madness; the daughter of a philandering mother and a drunken father who murdered her, even as she murdered her father.
It was Luis Buñuel and Orson Welles throughout. Even the character of the rich man (Bruno VeSota) was channeling Orson Welles.
It is a bohemian rhapsody wrapped in madness. A strange but compelling film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nearly everyone has seen the classic low budget Fifties science fiction
movie The Blob, with Steve McQueen. The
hero's pals go cruising on a weekend night and head to the local theatre ,to see if they can pick up girls at the midnight spooky show. Not many viewers know the name or content of the scary picture the movie audience is watching, except that the title Daughter of Horror appears on the theatre marquee. This odd little independent chiller has been rediscovered in recent years by movie cultists and Fifties horror movie fans. It exists in two versions; the Daughter of Horror version is better known in its 1957 re-release, with the narration by Ed McMahon added to the original silent 1953 version known as Dementia. The original is more impressive, but the narrated version is still okay if you can't find the original. I won't say much about the plot, because you should see it without pre-formed ideas if possible. The plot almost defies analysis anyway. SPOILERS AHEAD: the movie is a slow, dreamlike depiction of a solitary, morose woman living alone in a cheap hotel, in a rundown part of a large city. She seems to wake from a nightmare, and proceeds to light a cigarette. She takes a large switchblade knife out of a bureau drawer and tests it,snapping it open with an air of familiarity. Her hair is short, and she wears a mannish suit. It is implied that she is a lesbian. She leaves the building and goes out into the night, to encounter a weird series of adventures. She is menaced by drunks ,and ambiguous characters whose true identity is hard to be sure of. Since there is no dialogue, the viewer has to interpret the visuals according to their own ideas. At one point, she reads a newspaper headline about a recent stabbing death, and a creepy smile crosses her face. Has she committed a murder? She apparently is mistaken for a prostitute by a sleazy, pimp-like character, and a rich man, but seemingly agrees to their proposition, though not actually a hooker in reality. You can't be sure about anything in this movie, including whether she is a victim ,or a dangerous, mentally disturbed person who kills casually for fun.The movie veers from bizarrely humorous moments, to a creeping atmosphere of enveloping dread and hopelessness that is more intense than any film noir you've ever seen. The movie ends where it began, and one is unsure just how much of what we've seen was real or a nightmare. The performance by non-professional actress Adrienne Barrett is amazing( she was supposed to have been John Parker's secretary ,and told him of a dream she had had, which then became the basis for the screenplay).The whole movie isn't much more than an hour, and has a sort of Twilight Zone crossed with film noir feeling about it. It raises questions without giving clear answers about family violence, domestic abuse, women as pawns and playthings for men, alienation and isolation, loneliness and despair. It inspires a feeling of pity for the tormented heroine, while keeping us aware of her capacity for violence and cold-blooded murder. The eerie vocal effects of Marni Nixon add immeasurably to the unnerving atmosphere, along with the drab nighttime scenes, most of which were filmed on nearly deserted streets in rundown parts of Los Angeles. This film is a must see for anyone intrigued by psychological horror and independent productions.It is haunting, unique and unforgettable.
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