Tales That Witness Madness – UK, 1973 – overview and reviews

 
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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. Although it is sometimes mistaken for an Amicus production, 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 [spoilers]:

In the ‘Clinic’ link episodes, Doctor Tremayne (Donald Pleasence), a psychiatrist in a modern mental asylum, reveals to colleague Doctor 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”.

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“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

” …there’s a degree of campy fun running through this piece which exonerates it from some of its built in weaknesses. Any film that has Alexis Carrington Colby duking it out with a tree certainly has something very special to offer a certain class of discriminating viewer.” Jeffrey Kauffman, Blu-ray.com

“…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…” British Horror Films

“Completists will probably get more out of Tales that Witness Madness than the casual viewer, but even with its modern advances like occasional splatter and a couple bits of nudity, it’s pretty C-list material at best, and Francis made much better films than this one…” Mark Tinta, Good Efficient Butchery

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!

“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…” 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

“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

“Despite fine premises, the stories often suffer from the flat-minded literalness that beset many of the lesser Amicus entries. This is particularly so with the last two segments, which fail to hold up to their initial conceptual inventiveness and taboo-daring.” Richard Scheib, Moria

” …the movie is less interested in theories than in grotesque effects, some of which are comic without being especially funny.” Vincent Canby, The New York Times, November 1, 1973

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

X-Cert-2-British-Independent-Horror-Film-1971-1983-john-Hamilton-Hemlock-Books

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“[Jennifer Jayne’s] ideas ranged from the fair enough, nothing spectacular to the downright bizarre, but with a female perspective on what was up to that point largely a male preserve, so there were strong feminine characters concerns here, not that it made her oddest premises any the less outré.” Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

“The enjoyable vignettes benefit from some solid performances: the Luau segment is probably the most fun with Novak’s broad turn midst the cannibal workings.” The Terror Trap

“More like “Tales That Witness Yawning”. Generally uninspired and poor anthology horror has a set-up similar to the previous years Asylum that has doctor Donald Pleasence (who’s completely wasted here) telling the four tales within.” The Video Graveyard

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Image courtesy of  The Joan Collins Archive

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tales that witness madness beasts feasts australian poster

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Cast and characters:

  • Jack Hawkins … Nicholas (segment “Clinic Link Episodes”
  • Donald Pleasence … Tremayne (segment “Clinic Link Episodes”)
  • Georgia Brown … Fay (segment “Mr. Tiger”)
  • Donald Houston … Sam (segment “Mr. Tiger”)
  • Russell Lewis … Paul (segment “Mr. Tiger”)
  • David Wood … Tutor (segment “Mr. Tiger”)
  • Suzy Kendall … Ann Beatrice (segment “Penny Farthing”)
  • Peter McEnery … Timothy (segment “Penny Farthing”)
  • Neil Kennedy … 1st Removal Man (segment “Penny Farthing”)
  • Richard Connaught … 2nd Removal Man (segment “Penny Farthing”)
  • Beth Morris … Polly (segment “Penny Farthing”)
  • Frank Forsyth … Uncle Albert (segment “Penny Farthing”)
  • Joan Collins … Bella (segment “Mel”)
  • Michael Jayston … Brian (segment “Mel”)
  • Kim Novak … Auriol (segment “Luau”)
  • Michael Petrovitch … Kimo (segment “Luau”)
  • Mary Tamm … Ginny (segment “Luau”)
  • Lesley Nunnerley … Vera (segment “Luau”)
  • Leon Lissek … Keoki (segment “Luau”)
  • Zohra Sehgal … Malia (segment “Luau”) (as Zohra Segal)

Filming locations:

Binfield Manor, Forest Road, Binfield, Bracknell, Berkshire, England
(house exterior and interiors in ‘Luau’ segment)
Shepperton Studios, Surrey, England

Technical details:

  • 90 minutes
  • mono
  • Eastmancolor
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85: 1

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