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Friday, October 25, 2019

Tales that Witness Madness (1973)




I’m a huge fan of the Anthologies from Amicus Studios and while this isn’t from them it was directed by the great Freddie Francis and features familiar face Donald Pleasence. Given those illustrious connections I had hoped that it would be of the same quality. I hadn’t seen this one before I picked up the Blu-Ray but was excited to pop it in and see what I got.

The wrap around story has Pleasence’s character, a doctor at a mental hospital, speaking to a colleague and showing him four patients that he has been treating. He is trying to prove that he has figured out something that he needs to share with the investigators, which is to mean those looking into the crimes that his deranged wards are accused of committing. What has he figured out? I guess that his patients are innocent and that the crazy stories that they have to tell are true. That leads to the individual segments of the movie.

First up is the tale of Paul, a sad little boy with an imaginary friend and parents that are constantly fighting. The more they bicker the more the little boy escapes into his pretend world where he feeds and talks to his friend. That friend just happens to be a tiger and eventually his parents think that he has taken it too far when the walls and doors get gouged up. Though they find out that what they thought was an imaginary friend might not be so after all.

This one was fun. The story is paced well, and they do a good job with old school movie tricks to make you think that a tiger might be walking around. There are muddy paw prints, scratched doors, and growling sounds that seem to come from empty rooms. My only complaint is that the payoff isn’t that great, happens off screen and is only heard. Even for an early seventies flick they could have given us more than someone tossing some red paint onto a wall from offscreen.

The second story is goofy as hell, but sort of interesting. Timothy has just inherited a bunch of furniture and other household junk from his aunt. Luckily, he runs an antique shop so has an outlet for them. One of the items is a strange picture of his uncle Albert, whom I don’t think he knew, as well as an old bike that belonged to him. Not even a day goes by before the picture shows itself to be haunted and the bike is pulling him in and taking him to the past. A ghost with a time machine… not seen that before.

Unlike the first story which makes sense I’m not sure what this one is supposed to be. Was the girl in the park his lost love? If so, then why does he seem so angry? Also why does Albert try to kill everyone? Nothing is explained at all which I found annoying. I did think the different pictures that get substituted as Albert watches Timothy are pretty funny, though probably not on purpose. I liked the time travel twist, but it goes nowhere.

Our third story has to do with a man named Brian. While out running errands, he finds a tree in the woods and drags it home. His wife, played by Joan Collins, is unhappy about this as it makes a mess. But they go about their day drinking, laughing, and arguing all while Brian becomes more and more obsessed with it. Eventually it becomes clear that the tree is trying to come between them. This leads to a predictable, but fun ending.

This was another interesting idea that didn’t get executed well. Even though it isn’t’ on screen that much this did tend to drag a bit. How scary is a tree? Evil Dead being the exception to that rule of course. Of the four this is by far the weakest. I don’t have much more to say about it. 

The last is by far the best of the bunch. Kim Novak is Auriol a publisher that is excited to have her latest author come to town to promote his newest book. She decides to throw him a big party with the Luau theme since he is from Hawaii. Kimo, the author, has his own plans as we see early on, he is on a mission to save his and his mother’s eternal souls with some native ritual. This leads to murder and a bit of cannibalism… Now that is a party!

This isn't going to end well!
While you don’t see much of anything on screen as far as gore, they do a good job of implying it. I mean one of the characters gets butchered and fed to her family! Yeah, this one is a bit mean and awesome. Also Doctor Who fans might be interested in seeing Mary Tamm in one of her early roles. Spoilers, you get to see quite of bit of her! The pacing of the segment is solid as you know something bad is coming and they keep teasing you with it. The final frame is a nice payoff and satisfying.

I’m glad that I finally took the time to watch Tales that Witness Madness. While not nearly as good as a movie like Torture Garden (another Francis directed movie) I had some fun with it. I probably won’t be in a hurry to watch it again, but it was worth a look especially if you like this type of movie and enjoy the horror coming out of England in the sixties and seventies. Though if these are new to you, I’d recommend checking out previously mentioned Torture Garden or Tales from the Crypt instead.


© Copyright 2019 John Shatzer

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