Tales That Witness Madness (1973) | It’s not Amicus, but it’s still a chilly treat
It happens beyond madness – where your mind won’t believe what your eyes see or …Is it just your imagination or your sanity that’s in question?
At London’s Department of Psychiatric Medicine, Dr Tremayne (Donald Pleasance) believes he has unraveled the mystery behind four bizarre incidents of mental ‘aberration’. When a hospital colleague Dr Nicholas (Jack Hawkins) visits, the doctor related their case studies, which involve an invisible tiger, a time-travelling vintage bicycle, a jealous living tree, and ritual cannibalism.
An orgy of the damned? Not quite.
1973’s Tales That Witness Madness has always been regarded as the unwanted poor cousin in the British horror portmanteau genre that began in 1965 with Amicus’ Dr Terror’s House of Horrors and ended in 1980 with The Monster Club.
With director Freddie Francis on board and featuring a host of stars that had cropped up in previous entries, it’s also often mistaken for another Amicus offering. It was, in fact, an independent production by World Film Services, orchestrated by former Ealing Studios producer Norman Priggen, and written by Dr Terror’s actress Jennifer Jayne (under the pseudonym of Jay Fairbank).
Taking her cues from EC Comics’ cautionary tales from the crypt and the black comedy of Robert Bloch, Jayne’s four stories of the macabre are a mixed bag of horror and humour, and just as good as anything Amicus conjured up.
Mr Tiger updates the Aesop fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with elements of Val Lewton’s The Curse of the Cat People, and concerns young Paul who escapes his parent’s squabbling by manifesting an imaginary friend (with claws). While it might be predictable, it does give child actor Russell Lewis a chance to shine. In later life, Russell took up writing himself, and ended up creating the Morse prequel, Endeavour.
Penny Farthing, in which Peter McEnery’s antique store owner Timothy travels back in time to witness his late Uncle Albert’s fatal courtship of a young woman reminded me of Richard Matheson’s 1975 novel Bid Time Return (later filmed as Somewhere in Time). It’s an inventive and engaging mystery tale featuring a creepy turn by Frank Forsyth as Albert, whose changing portrait really gave me the shivers.
Mel is a curious looking tree which Michael Jayston’s art lover Brian installs in the front room of his modernist country bungalow. Joan Collins, attired in baby doll negligee and fluffy mules, is the jealous wife who ends up six feet under when she dares to take an axe to her wooden rival. This is my personal favourite as Collins plays up to her bad girl image in typical superbitch fashion, while the 70s-stylings are confirmation that this really was the decade that taste forgot.
The final story, Luau, echoes Stanley Ellin’s 1948 short story The Speciality of the House, only in place of lamb Amirstan we have a sumptuous suckling pig wrapped in banana leaves being served up to Kim Novak’s obsequious literary agent, who is unaware that she’s eating her own daughter (Mary Tamm, aka Doctor Who’s Romana No1). Novak was a last minute replacement for Rita Hayworth and broke a four-year hiatus to guest star in this film, and she doesn’t disappoint. But if the grisly premise doesn’t make you gag, then those outfits that Novak wears certainly will.
Whether it’s an antique shop, a catacomb, a haunted house or an asylum, what makes an anthology film a hit or miss is the wrap-around story. Unfortunately, it’s a miss here and the film’s weakest link. Noticeable also is the poor dubbing of Jack Hawkins, appearing here in his final feature film. The voice you actually here is Charles Gray as Hawkins had had his larynx removed in an operation for throat cancer in 1966.
Tales That Witness Madness is available on Blu-ray and DVD using a re-mastered print from Fabulous Films in the UK, and if you are as much a fan of British horror portmanteau as I am, then this is a must-have for your collection.
Posted on March 9, 2016, in Hammer-Amicus-Tigon, Horror, Might See, Might-See and tagged 1970s British horror, 1970s horror anthology, Charles Gray, EC Comics, Freddie Francis, Horror, Jack Hawkins, Tales That Witness Madness, World Film Services. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.