WTFW: Tales That Witness Madness

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

WTFW: Tales That Witness Madness

Tales That Witness Madness is a 1973 British horror film produced by Norman Priggen, directed by veteran horror director Freddie Francis, and written by actress Jennifer Jayne.

It was one of several in a series of anthology films made during the 1960s and 1970s which included Dr. Terror's House of Horrors(1965), Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1970), Asylum (1972), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973), From Beyond the Grave (1973) and The Monster Club (1980).  These portmanteau horror films were all produced by Amicus Productions.  Tales That Witness Madness is sometimes mistaken for an Amicus production, however it was actually produced by World Film Services.

The Encyclopedia of Horror says the film "avoids farce and develops a nicely deadpan style of humor which is ably sustained by the excellent cast in which only Novak appears unable to hit the right note."


Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

  • Genre: Comedy – Horror – Mystery
  • Directed: Freddie Francis
  • Produced: Norman Priggen
  • Written: Jennifer Jayne
  • Starring: Kim Novak, Georgia Brown, Joan Collins, Jack Hawkins, Donald Houston, Michael Jayston, Suzy Kendall, Peter McEnery, Michael Petrovitch, Donald Pleasence
  • Music: Bernard Ebbinghouse
  • Cinematography: Norman Warwick
  • Editing: Bernard Gribble
  • Studio: World Film Services
  • Distributed:
    • Paramount Pictures  
    • Cinema International Corp.
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 31 October 1973
  • Running Time: 90 minutes
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Language: English

A creepy, cheesy horror anthology from the U.K.,  Its four segments all concern people who have been driven mad by various wild circumstances.  Altogether, the stories are told with simple characters, by-the-numbers shocks, and "twists" that most viewers will spot from a mile away.  As long as you dial your expectations way down, there's some kitschy thrills to be had amongst these tawdry tales of psyches that collectively took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

The bridging segments in Tales That Witness Madness take place during one dark night at a maximum security insane asylum.  Hearing of the unusual patients under observation at the facility, Dr. Nicholas visits with his colleague, the enigmatic professor Tremayne, to learn more about how these strange, special cases came to be. Under the spell of home-made cocktails mixed in the facility's chemical lab, Tremayne takes Nicholas through the asylum's gleaming white hallway of rooms where each patient is sequestered, regaling us with their spine-chilling back stories:

In Mr. Tiger, the attachment that an inquisitive little boy forms for his imaginary friend causes concern with his parents.  The child-rearing disagreements between the boy's workaholic father and his boozy, materialistic wife drives young Paul to retreat further into his fantasy world caring for his buddy, a man-eating tiger.  Which would be fine, except this tiger has a special appetite for argumentative parents.

Penny Farthing concerns a young antiques merchant named Timothy who acquires an old penny farthing bicycle and framed portrait from the same estate.  The portrait, a photograph of a scowling man named Uncle Albert has a strange pull on Timothy, compelling him to pedal the bicycle against his will.  Riding the bike transports Timothy to a circa 1900 park setting in which he interacts with a beautiful widow, all of which is observed by Uncle Albert in crusty disguise as a statue.  The time travel hijinks eventually spill over into current times, placing Timothy and his wife in peril.

The silly, bizarre Mel follows a guy named Brian, who arrives home from one of his morning jogs with a new piece of living room decor - a huge, dead tree that he lovingly bestows with the name "Mel."  This doesn't sit well with Brian's wife, Bella, but she reluctantly agrees to try it out.  As the days go by, Bella becomes frustrated as Brian develops a strange, quasi-erotic fixation on the tree, leaving her fuming and alone in the bedroom.  Before she can get rid of the giant hunk of wood, however, Mel decides that there's room for one person in the house - and it's not the sniveling wife!

The terror-filled flashbacks conclude with Luau.  Auriol, a vivacious literary agent, is excited to throw a party for her latest client, a swarthy looking author named Kimo who hails from an unspecified island region.  Staying at Auriol's estate with his associate, Keoki, Kimo becomes entranced by Auriol's ripe young daughter, Ginny.  As the date for the gala party approaches, lusty Auriol is oblivious to the fact that Kimo and Keoki are actually carrying out the dying wishes of Kimo's mother, a ceremony that involves elaborate ritual sacrifice and cannibalism.

In the Epilogue, Nicholas has Tremayne himself declared insane, apparently for believing the patients' bizarre accounts, but manifestations of the patients' histories materialize, and "Mr. Tiger" kills Nicholas.

This was the last film of Frank Forsyth who appears as Uncle Albert. Jack Hawkins died shortly after his scenes were filmed.  Hawkins had had his larynx removed in an operation in 1966 and here his voice was dubbed by Charles Gray in post-production.  This was Hawkins' final film appearance.  Kim Novak broke a four year hiatus from films with her appearance in this film.  She replaced Rita Hayworth shortly after production started.

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