Tales that Witness Madness – UK, 1973

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‘An orgy of the damned!’

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

The film is sometimes mistaken for an Amicus production, however it was actually produced by World Film Services.

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 (The LegacyThe Rocky Horror Picture Show; The Devil Rides Out) in post-production.

Kim Novak broke a four-year hiatus from films with her appearance in Tales. She replaced Rita Hayworth shortly after production started.

Main cast:

Donald Pleasence, Joan Collins (Dark PlacesTales from the Crypt; Fear in the Night), Kim Novak (Bell, Book and Candle), Jack Hawkins (Theatre of Blood), Donald Houston (A Study in Terror), Georgia Brown (Nothing But the Night; A Study in Terror), Peter McEnery (Witchcraft TV series; Hammer House of Horror; The Cat and the Canary), Suzy Kendall (Torso; Spasmo; Assault), Michael Jayston (Dominique; Craze), Michael Petrovich (Turkey Shoot; Neither the Sea, Nor the Sand), Mary Tamm (Doghouse; Twisted Tales), Leon Lissek (Bloodmoon; Journey to the Unknown), Frank Forsyth (Craze; The Vault of Horror; Asylum), Zohra Sehgal.

Plot:

In the ‘Clinic’ link episodes, Dr. Tremayne (Donald Pleasence), a psychiatrist in a modern mental asylum, reveals to colleague Dr. Nicholas (Jack Hawkins) that he has solved four special cases. Tremayne explains the case histories of patients Paul, Timothy, Brian, and Auriol, presenting each in turn to Nicholas:

In ‘Mr. Tiger’, Paul (Russell Lewis) is the sensitive and introverted young son of constantly bickering parents Sam (Donald Houston) and Fay Patterson (Georgia Brown). Amid the unhappy domestic situation he befriends an “imaginary” tiger.

In ‘Penny Farthing’, antique store owner Timothy (Peter McEnery) stocks a strange portrait of “Uncle Albert” (Frank Forsyth) and a penny farthing bicycle he has inherited from his aunt. In a series of episodes, Uncle Albert compels Timothy to mount the bicycle, and he is transported to an earlier era where he courts Beatrice (Suzy Kendall), who was young Albert’s love interest. These travels place Timothy’s girlfriend Ann (also Suzy Kendall) in peril.

In ‘Mel’, Brian Thompson (Michael Jayston) brings home an old dead tree, which he lovingly calls Mel, mounting it in his modern home as a bizarre piece of found object art. He increasingly shows unusual attention to Mel, angering his jealous wife Bella (Joan Collins).

In ‘Luau’, an ambitious literary agent, Auriol Pageant (Kim Novak), lasciviously courts new client Kimo (Michael Petrovich); he shows more interest in her beautiful young daughter Ginny (Mary Tamm). Auriol plans a sumptuous luau for him; when the plans fall through, Kimo’s associate Keoki (Leon Lissek) takes over. The luau, as organised by Keoki, is actually a ceremony to assure Kimo’s dying mother Malia (Zohra Sehgal) passage to “heaven” by appeasing a Hawaiian god, and a requirement is that he consume the flesh of a virgin: Ginny.

In the ‘Epilogue’, Tremayne watches as manifestations of the patients’ histories materialise. Nicholas cannot see the manifestations and has Tremayne declared insane, apparently for believing the patients’ bizarre accounts. Nicholas enters the patient holding area, and is killed by “Mr. Tiger”.

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Reviews:

Tales… is actually not as bad as you might remember it – the tree segment is bloody awful (although strangely entertaining), but despite the ridiculous notion of a haunted bicycle, Uncle Albert’s story is quite well done, and Mr Tiger has a gory enough ending to make it worthwhile sitting through. The major problem is the voodoo story – it’s painfully obvious what’s going to happen, but it takes so long getting there that any shocks ar rendered pretty useless.” British Horror Films

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Tales that Witness Madness almost finds a thematic and tonal unity in its off-kilter, black humored look at the subtle viciousness of the modern milieu, but the “Penny Farthing” episode disrupts this a bit. The film ends up being one of those anthologies that never has a real, sustained breakthrough due to its peaks and valleys of quality.” Oh, the Horror!

“avoids farce and develops a nicely deadpan style of humour which is ably sustained by the excellent cast in which only Novak appears unable to hit the right note.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

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“The third story is also a charming bit of WTF-ery, involving a man who finds a peculiar tree and decides to put it up in his living room, much to the chagrin of his wife (a smoking hot – and hopefully not related – Joan Collins). As time goes on he becomes fixated on the tree, at one point opting to brush it instead of joining Collins in bed despite her advances.” Horror Movie a Day

Tales that Witness Madness offers rather straightforward direction from Freddie Francis, who really only lets his creative side show during a dream sequence in “Mel” where Joan Collins is whipped by a tree’s slithering limbs, while multicoloured lights accentuate the nightmare (Collins’ breasts, or possibly her stand-in’s breasts, are also exposed here, further ensuring the R rating).” George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In

“Though it comes up short from time to time, even the weakest entry in Tales that Witness Madness boasts an interesting premise, and while the film certainly won’t set your world on fire, it will, undoubtedly, keep you entertained.” DVD Infatuation

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“Even with a maestro such as Francis behind the camera, this is an extremely mixed bag of strange little b-movies. However, it is not entirely without merit. It is camp, and consistently funny (whether intentional or not) and this makes it very watchable.” John Parker, Entertainment Focus

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“The slow crawl towards the predictable finale, and the lack of any real twist in any of the tales, highligts just how threadbare Jayne’s script actually was, a predicament not helped by some lackadaisaical direction which stubbornly refuses to inject any energy into the film.” John Hamilton, X-Cert 2: The British Independent Horror Film: 1971 – 1983

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Image courtesy of  The Joan Collins Archive

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Filming locations:

Shepperton Studios

Wikipedia | IMDb

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