Tales That Witness Madness (1973) [31 Days of British Horror Review]

Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January and the “31 Days of British Horror” in March , Jules is at it again in May, treating us to the continuation of his chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.

Starring: Donald Pleasence, Joan Collins, Kim Novak, Jack Hawkins, Mary Tamm
Director: Freddie Francis

It’s easy to see why Tales That Witness Madness is often mistakenly remembered as an Amicus film. It certainly ticks all the boxes, from the portmanteau format and the twists in the tales to the peppering of the cast with well-known names pulling a few easy days work in feint of Oscar-winning cinematographer and veteran genre director Freddie Francis.

Watching it though, it doesn’t really feel like an Amicus production. It’s a bit weirder, a bit more unsettling and just a little bit more nasty than you would see from one of their films, but it’s close enough to compare and by no means does it come off unfavourably.

The framing sequence sees Dr. Tremayne (Donald Pleasence), a psychiatrist in a hyper-modern mental asylum, discussing with a colleague, Dr. Nicholas (Jack Hawkins) how he has solved four unique cases, those of patients Paul, Timothy, Brian, and Auriol.

In Mr Tiger, Paul (Russell Lewis) is the quiet young son of Sam (Donald Houston) and Fay Patterson (Georgia Brown), an unhappy couple perennially at each other’s throats. As an escape, Paul has an “imaginary” friend…a tiger with a craving for meat. Like some kind of twisted take on Calvin And Hobbes, Mr Tiger is a marvellous mix of gallows humour and tense horror. Sure the tiger looks a bit like one you’d win at the fairground, but this is a great opening instalment. Neglected children and karmic retribution for their slack parents always makes for an entertaining horror story and this one is no different.

Penny Farthing takes the unusual (in the horror genre anyway) trope of time travel, mixes it up with a Victorian ghost story and turns it into a horrible little tale of Timothy, an antique store owner (Peter McEnery) coming into possession of a creepy, ever-changing portrait of his “Uncle Albert” (Frank Forsyth) and a penny farthing bicycle he has inherited from his aunt.

Albert regularly compels Timothy to mount the bicycle, which transports him to the Victorian era where he falls in love with Beatrice, a dead ringer for his girlfriend Ann (both characters played by Suzy Kendall, from The Bird With the Crystal Plumage no less). The more time he spends in the past though, the stronger Albert gets…

Okay, this one is fairly daft and feels like it belongs more in an early evening armchair chiller-type show than a film line this, but Francis shows his class here, imbuing it with no small amount of creeping dread.

Mel is the one most people recall when they think of Tales That Witness Madness, being the “one with Joan Collins and the tree”.

Brian Thompson (Michael Jayston) brings home an old dead tree, which he immediately seems to bond with. mounting it as a piece of found object art and christening it Mel. He increasingly shows unusual attention to Mel, angering his jealous wife Bella (Collins). Essentially it’s a love triangle with a tree and there can only be one, bark-encrusted winner. This one is as twisted as the branches that so intimately embrace poor Bella, but it’s a huge amount of fun too.

Luau is perhaps the most twisted take of all though. Kim Novak plays Auriol, an ageing but still attractive literary agent who tries to use her feminine wiles to charm new client Kimo (Michael Petrovich), but he is much more interested in her beautiful teenage daughter Ginny (a pre-Doctor Who Mary Tamm). It’s not just her body he has designs on though, well not her living one. Poor Ginny has been chosen as the main ingredient in a ceremony to appease a Hawaiian god. Now this one is marvellous. Bringing Novak out of a four-year retirement after Rita Hayworth left the project, she’s perfectly cast as a woman desperately fighting a losing battle, while future Time Lady Tamm is a radiant screen presence, even in such a shallow role. Her eventual fate though? Yeesh.

The framing sequence ends with a real double whammy surprise too, one that’s not completely telegraphed like most portmanteaux and gives us one last dark laugh at the characters expense.

Tales That Witness Madness might not be an Amicus Production but it’s up there with the best of them.

Rating: 4/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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