(director/writer: Francis Ford Coppola; cinematographer: Charles Hannawalt; editors: Stewart O’Brien/Mort Tubor; music: Ronald Stein; cast: William Campbell (Richard Haloran), Luana Anders (Louise Haloran), Bart Patton (Billy Haloran), Mary Mitchel (Kane), Patrick Magee (Dr. Justin Caleb), Ethne Dunne (Lady Haloran), Peter Read (John Haloran), Karl Schanzer (Simon), Ron Perry (Arthur),Derry O’Donavan (Lillian, the Maid), Barbara Dowling (Kathleen Haloran); Runtime: 75; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Roger Corman; American International Pictures; 1963)

“The first 12 cases of dementia are conveniently ignored.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Francis Ford Coppola’s (“The Godfather”) debut as a director is with this AIP low-budget psychological chiller. It was influenced by Roger Corman, noteworthy splatter filmmaker. Coppola reused the set of The Young Racers that Corman just completed in Ireland. The film picks up with dementia 13, as the first 12 cases of dementia are conveniently ignored.

Ireland-born John Haloran, of a noble family, recently married an American gold-digger named Louise (Luana Anders), who is threatened by John with being cut off from receiving any inheritance from his spiteful widowed mother Lady Haloran (Ethne Dunne) if he should die. Wouldn’t you know it—John has a heart attack while rowing and listening to Elvis on the radio. Louise doesn’t report the death and flies from America to visit John’s mom in Ireland at the spooky isolated Castle Haloran to get in the good graces of the matriarch. Louise arrives in time for the annual family reunion observed the last six years to mark the death of John’s only sister Kathleen, the family’s youngest sibling born when mom was 40, who accidentally drowned in the castle pond.

Louise tries also to befriend John’s nice younger brother Billy (Bart Patton) and more aloof middle brother Richard (William Campbell), a sculptor engaged to the American Kane (Mary Mitchel). Dr. Caleb (Patrick Magee) is the family doctor, who is concerned over Lady Haloran’s obsession with her dead daughter. She insists on marking her daughter’s death with the same ceremony as on the day of the funeral seven years ago (all the immediate family members hold umbrellas, put flowers on the gravesite and mom faints).

Louise’s visit sets off a negative reaction toward her by Lady Haloran, and brings out an axe murderer. It leads the viewer to guess which brother has gone into a dementia and is killing off members of the family, and to see if you can figure out why before it’s explained in the final act.

It’s not a great mystery story, but is effectively macabre due to its lively pace, the imaginative Gothic setting and the tingling cameo by Patrick Magee.