Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

Yup, it's another anthology, famous for one segment in particular and packed to the gunnels with a variety of semi-famous 70s character actors.

As usual with these affairs, the anthology itself hinges on a fairly shaky premise. But even by the standards of Amicus classics like Asylum (a mental hospital), From Beyond The Grave (a shop) or The House That Dripped Blood (erm… a house) this one's pretty poor, and almost non-existent. Quite what Donald Pleasance's character is hoping to achieve with his bizarre experiments is completely unfathomable (although this in itself is "sort of" explained at the end of the film).

Basically, Pleasance is Dr Tremayne, a man on a mission (aren't they always?). He's brought together a disparate group of nutters who he is keeping in his white walled hospital. Each of their stories is vital to his research… but why? That's what his latest visitor (a particularly wooden Jack Hawkins) is endeavouring to find out. "I can't tell you how pleased I am." He stiltedly tells the doctor. "All… four… cases resolved."

But are they? Resolved, I mean. After all, each of his patients still seems completely mental.

Story one revolves around a young boy called Paul whose "imaginary" friend is Mr Tiger. But Mr Tiger appears to be still around - after all, the boy greets his visitors with the question: "Is it feeding time already? Have you got any bones?"

Paul's story begins by showing that his family life was pretty much the same as Ian Bannen's in From Beyond The Grave - ie. Lots of shouting and slamming of doors. His mum's a starey-eyed waste of space and his dad looks like one of those bearded Action Men from the early 70s.

Understandably, neither of his angry parents are particularly happy about the idea of Mr Tiger, especially when Paul starts hiding food in his room to feed his invisible friend.

As she shuts Paul's bedroom window for what feels like the hundredth time, mum tells him: "If Mr Tiger wants to come in here, he'll use the front door like everyone else."

Of course, at this point the front door opens slowly. And it's not long before everyone's drenched in blood, in a nasty gory scene completely ruined (or improved, if you're of that kind of a mind) by young Paul plinky-plonking away on his toy piano…

Story two starts with patient Tim telling his visitors: "I killed Uncle Albert… but he made me do it!"

Tim used to run an antiques shop, apparently, and it's here that we start the second flashback, as he takes delivery of a stack of old tat from a recently deceased aunt - including a penny farthing and a portrait of his old Uncle Albert, a stern looking Victorian gentleman.

It's not long before Tim begins to realise that the antique bike and the portrait are connected in some way - he finds himself drawn towards the bike and the wheels spin of their own accord - and unknown to him, Uncle Albert's picture keeps changing depending on his mood (quizzical, angry or annoyed, by the look of him). This effect is done literally by just changing the photo in the frame - and is actually chilling the first time it happens. Unfortunately, it also reminded me fatally of the title sequence to children's favourite Bagpuss, hence rendering it uselessly hilarious for the remainder of the segment.

As past and present start to merge (Tim finds himself in a beautifully filmed Victorian world), our hero gets drawn into a web of murder, zombies and antique bicycles.

"Does anyone here love me?" asks Brian (Michael Jayston) at the start of the film's most famous segment. Yup, it's the one with Joan Collins and the tree.

Only in the 1970s could someone go out jogging with the express intent of picking up a newspaper, cigarettes and chocolate (very healthy), but that appears to be what old Brian does as his health routine. It's on one of these trips that he returns with a six foot tree and proceeds to install it in on the cream shag pile, much to the consternation of his missus (Collins).

Joan reckons it's "about as attractive as a petrified forest" (eh?), but she's right to be worried. It's not long before "Mel" (her name for the tree after discovering some graffiti carved onto its trunk) is soiling the carpet, spiking her hand, moving about a bit and even breathing.

As Joan gets more and more angry and jealous of her wooden love rival (oh, the irony), she pours cognac over it and then tries to win Brian back by putting on a baby doll nightie and telling him there's a Western on the telly in the bedroom. After dreaming she's been attacked by trees (which rip her top off, Evil Dead - style), Joan goes to fetch a machete - but who ends up getting the chop?

After a brief sojourn back in the hospital where Pleasance and Hawkins spout more bizarre gibberish about being discredited, we come to story four, a tale of voodoo, dinner parties and Mary Tamm's arse.

Tremaine's fourth patient (Kim Novak) is the agent for Kemo, a vaguely Hawaiian (ie he has a tan) cove who starts the segment promising his dying mother that he'll do "something" to help save their mortal souls. Quite why he needs an agent (or what he actually does) is anyone's guess, but Novak seems determined to keep him on her books - so much so that she plans a big Hawaiian party for him. The shockingly young Tamm is Virginia, Novak's (underage) daughter, but, as she explains to the drooling Kemo, "Come the holidays, and out they blossom" (well, we can but hope…)

Virgin blood appears to be what's required for whatever it was Kemo promised his mother at the beginning, and it's not long before the unfortunate Virginia is stripped, stabbed, chopped up (quite a nasty scene, in an implied way) and lobbed into the barbecue pit. I think you can probably work out what happens next. "Mama-lu!"

The film finishes with Hawkins exclaiming: "This is the most preposterous thing I have ever heard!" (he's not far from the truth - especially the tree segment, anyway) before the thing is resolved in a typically unsatisfactory way.

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.

Luckily, as with most anthologies, nothing lasts too long. Apart from Hawkins' sentences.

Last updated: February 27, 2010

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Tales That Witness Madness 1973

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