Anthology horrors were all the rage in the 1960s and ‘70s, and films such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and Tales From the Crypt continue to spook audiences to this day, but Tales That Witness Madness is less well remembered. Now it has its first Blu-ray and DVD release, courtesy of Fabulous Films, is it worth revisiting?
Tales That Witness Madness begins like all anthology films – with its framing story. Dr. Tremayne (Pleasence), who runs a mental asylum with oddly futuristic corridors, tells his colleague Dr. Nicholas (Hawkins) of four special cases he has ‘solved’, and thus begins the flashbacks revealing what made these four patients so mad.
The first story, Mr. Tiger, introduces us to a child who insists he’s visited by an invisible tiger. His parents assume it’s just his imagination, but things escalate, with brutal consequences. It’s a nicely simple concept, drawing tension and terror from the common occurrence of children’s imaginary friends.
Then there’s Penny Farthing, about an antiques storeowner who inherits a Victorian bicycle and a photograph of his ancestor ‘Uncle Albert’. The photo telekinetically lifts him onto the bike, which sends him back in time. It all gets a little too weird for its own good. The poor guy’s girlfriend, understandably, doesn’t believe him about this. There are brutal consequences.
Third comes Mel, which has an entertainingly lurid concept – a man (Michal Jayston) brings a tree into his living room and falls in love with it. Don’t judge him, it does have sexy tree nipples. His wife (Collins) doesn’t approve, and there are violent consequences.
Finally, there’s Luau, in which literary agent Auriol Pageant (Novak) courts client Kimo (Michael Petrovich), unaware that he’s a member of a Hawaiian cult and intends to sacrifice a virgin – Pageant’s daughter Ginny (Mary Tamm). Enjoyment of this one will depend on your tolerance for its dodgy racial politics, particularly considering white actors play the native Hawaiian characters.
Overall, the way the stories play out is very predictable – the first three have almost exactly the same ending. Luau is the one that breaks the mould, and not particularly satisfyingly – it ends abruptly, and leaves you wondering at what point Pageant turned mad. The framing story also doesn’t hit the right notes, with Tremayne’s reasons for showing Nicholas these four cases being somewhat forced.
The film’s main strength is its cast, with big stars like Collins, Novak, and Pleasence appearing and doing the best they can with material that’s, frankly, far from their best.
Tales That Witness Madness, then, is no classic, with predictable writing letting it down, but the interesting ideas and strong performances make this new release worthy of a place on a completist’s shelf.
TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: FREDDIE FRANCIS / SCREENPLAY: JENNIFER JAYNE / STARRING: DONALD PLEASENCE, JOAN COLLINS, KIM NOVAK, JACK HAWKINS / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 29TH