Art as a whole is a largely experimental endeavor. Artists of all stripes and media MUST experiment to perfect their craft: writers write, painters drill on technique, photographers shoot, and filmmakers make films. Production (and learning from the act of producing a piece of art) is the key to growth as an artist.

This has some pretty profound implications, especially in cinema – namely in “the remake” or “reboot” of an older film. Yes, many times cinematic remakes are, quite frankly, unmitigated crap that might as well have never been made – a great example there, in my book, is the 1998 color remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho: brilliant idea, right? Not in any universe.

Yet, this also is often an unjustified reaction to a remake. Did you know the prototypical film noir, John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, is itself the THIRD remake of that story, after the 1931 film of the same name, and 1936's Satan Met a Lady? The 1941 Falcon was hands down the best executed, most enjoyable, of the three big-screen iterations of Dashiell Hammett's story.

The 2017 remake of Francis Coppola's (the “Ford” was not yet added to his name) first feature film, 1963’s Dementia 13, falls squarely in this category of “superior remake.” It is not, however, because Coppola's original was “bad”, it was just “experimental.” Watching the original again, I was struck by an impression of a fledgling, but innately talented director (it is Coppola after all), who was doing his damnedest to try to make an effective horror movie, but just wasn't yet succeeding – why? He was experimenting to find his voice: the way all artists must.

Dementia 13 tells the story of the Haloran family: old money, burdened by family secrets, and collective guilt over how exactly they became so wealthy, but guiltier, arguably, over the untimely (and mysterious) death of daughter and sister Kathleen Haloran when she was seven.

The Halorans have met every year since for a bizarre memento mori ritual of remembrance. Yet, this year is frightfully different when a masked maniac wielding an axe disrupts the psychotic stasis of this most twisted family dynamic.

Image from the thriller horror film “DEMENTIA 13” a Chiller Films release. Photo courtesy of Chiller Films.

This murderous story arc interweaves artfully with old karmic trajectories coming home to roost on the Haloran women – writers Dan DeFillippo and Justin Smith replaced much of the Haloran men in Coppola's original with a female dynamic, which is an interesting touch – and driven by the rather angry specter of Kathleen, and also with the avarice and greed inherent in most cinematic stories of great wealth.

It is the part of the narrative arc about Kathleen that gets into what was, for me, the most exceptional part of the film: Julia Campanelli as the Haloran matriarch Gloria, who is seemingly on the verge of sanity – doing things like talking to the air, and generally warning her children about the perils of their wealth (and wanting to give it all away). Julia absolutely owns her part: very much reminding me of a female Roderick Usher in Edgar Allan Poe's “Fall of the House of Usher”, as she is both tormented by Kathleen's ghost, and paradoxically protected by her. Of course, towards the film’s climactic ending, Gloria's children realize that may be their mother isn't so off her rocker.

(L-R) Julia Campanelli as Gloria Haloran and Marianne Noscheze as Billy Haloran in the thriller horror film “DEMENTIA 13” a Chiller Films release. Photo courtesy of Chiller Films

At its core, this remake of Coppola's flawed classic, is a new, improved, tale of the perils of wealth, and how the past (when not dealt with) always comes back. It is all at once, intellectual horror, psychological horror, and pure jump scare horror – executed brilliantly by its stars, writers DeFillippo and Smith, and director Richard LeMay, who took the excellent story in Coppola's original, and reimagined it for the current age, working out executional kinks that were present in Coppola's first experiment in feature-length cinema. I highly recommend seeing it in theaters October 6 or on Video on Demand October 10.

My interview with Julia Campanelli can be read here. See the trailers for both the 1963 and 2017 incarnations of Dementia 13 below.