Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tales that Witness Madness (1973): or, Try the Veal

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 5!
In a high-security, hi-tech asylum in the British countryside, Professor R. C. Tremayne (Donald "Fucking" Pleasence) is doing psychological research on a ragtag group of inmates, each of whom is a "special case." Imaginative little moppet Paul (Russell Lewis) arrived after his neglectful and constantly scream-fighting parents got a first-hand introduction to his imaginary friend "Mr. Tiger." Fire-scarred junk dealer Timothy (Peter McEnery "the-Eigth-I-Am") went koo-koo upon receipt of "The Penny-Farthing," a time-traveling antique bicycle somehow linked to the constantly-changing picture of sinister Uncle Albert. (We're so sorry.) In another room, Brian (Michael Jayston) reflects on the demise of his hot, bitchy wife Bella (a never hotter nor bitchier Joan Collins), apparently at the, branches...of a jealous hunk of wood he cals "Mel." And the final patient, Auriol (screen legend Kim Novak) is still overcoming indigestion thanks to a cannibalistic "Luau" that may or may not (but almost definitely DID) include her daughter Ginny (Mary Tamm) as a main course. Dr. Tremayne claims he has "absolute proof" in these cases--but of what? And to what purpose?

Tales that Witness Madness is an old school British anthology film of the kind I absolutely ate up as a kid on Saturday afternoon TV matinees.  Director Freddie Francis is no stranger to the format (having helmed the classic Amicus anthology Tales from the Crypt just a couple years earlier), nor to the horror genre generally, as one of Britain's more prolific terror tale directors of the era (The Evil of Frankenstein, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave The Creeping Flesh, and many more). Here he's got a star-studded cast who all seem game enough, but sadly the quality of the stories is not up to the same creepy level of Crypt. The stories are serviceable enough in a second-tier Twilight Zone-y kinda way, with my favorite being the opener "Mr. Tiger." The little boy's creepy Schroeder-esque piano playing, the riotously over-the-top performance by blustery Welshman Donald Houston as the boy's dad, and some nicely filmed blood-spatter imagery near the end make it a stand-out. (Another creeptastic image is the "paper faced" Uncle Albert in the time-travel segments of "Penny-Farthing." Also, the strangely sensuous half-woman/half-tree thing in "Mel" is more than a little pleasingly perverse.) Still, the lack of explanation for any of the goings on--which wouldn't have bothered me at all as a kid, it bears noting--left adult me wanting more.

Not the best example of the British horror anthology, but not terrible either. If you're looking for something a little fun that doesn't require too much mental engagement, this one could fit the bill. 1.5 thumbs.

"Show me your pecker, big boy!"

1 comment:

Crow Jane said...

Don't know about the movie, but the poster would make a good t-shirt.

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