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Tales That Witness Madness

Thursday April 30, 2009 in 70s cinema | horror

In 1973 the horror anthology was all the rage. This was mainly thanks to the efforts of Amicus, the main rival to Hammer Films in the 60s and 70s, who churned out their series of portmanteau horrors. With titles like Dr Terrors House of Horrors, From Beyond the Grave and Vault of Horror, the films would each typically contain four of five different chilling tales and feature a host of familiar faces including horror stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The stories would usually be linked together with an often very loose framing device.

In Dr Terrors House of Horrors a fortune teller (Cushing) reveals the fate of fellow travellers on a train (who include, in a bizarre casting experiment, the late disc jockey Alan Freeman). Torture Garden does something similar in a funfair, while Vault of Horror has its subjects recount their disturbing dreams. There’s a great sequence with Terry-Thomas as an over fastidious husband who gets a rather nasty comeuppance. The creepy Asylum visits the tortured worlds of inmates in an institution, while The House That Dripped Blood suitably haunts all of its occupants. All deserve articles in their own right. And I promise that they will come.

Tales That Witness Madness is often mistakenly credited as an Amicus film, although it was actually made by the Rank Organisation. It’s an easy mistake to make. The director is Freddie Francis, who made many films for both Hammer and Amicus, and the cast includes Donald Pleasence, Jack Hawkins and Joan Collins, who were no strangers to this sort of thing. Like Asylum, it uses the framing device of the secure hospital, where a white-coated, bearded and manic eyed Pleasence is running the show. Jack Hawkins, rather foolishly, turns up for a tour of the cells.

Much of Tales That Witness Madness is poor quality. Hawkins, very ill at the time, has his voice dubbed awkwardly by another actor, Charles Gray. The final story is far too long, but there is a moody and memorable opening title sequence and Pleasence is as excellent as you would expect. And, like every British film made in the early 70s, there’s something that makes this essential viewing. Two of the stories, for different reasons, are very good indeed. Mr Tiger concerns a small boy, isolated from the world by his parents who choose to have him educated at home by a private tutor. He invents a furry imaginary friend – or does he? There’s no points for guessing how wrong things go here, and it helps that Rank stretches the budget to employ a real tiger.

The other memorable sequence features Michael Jayston and Joan Collins. Beginning with the eerily memorable line “does anyone here love me?”, this is the most bizarre thing Collins has ever appeared in. This in itself is an achievement from the actress who starred in the insane I Don’t Want to be Born and featured in the Tales From the Crypt segment as a murderous housewife pursued by a maniacal Santa Claus.

Michael Jayston and a tree in Tales that Witness Madness

Jayston plays a man who, and I can find no better words for this, falls in love with a tree. He names it Mel and moves it into the house, much to – and you can’t forgive her for this – the chagrin of his wife Ms Collins. This being a horror film in the Amicus tradition, things eventually work out better for Mel than they do for Joan. And you can kind of justify why Jayston has ended up in a padded cell, although it’s unfortunate that he only has Donald Pleasence to look after him. From my point of view, the softly spoken voice and intense glare would only make me madder…

And don’t forget the slightly silly homage to all of this stuff Doctor Terrible’s House of Horrible with Steve Coogan…

JackP    Thursday April 30, 2009   

Did he have a bald head in it? I vaguely recall his framing story being people stuck in a lift.

The Book Tower    Thursday April 30, 2009   

The cannibal story was kind of boring, don’t you agree? I thought Joan Collins did a pretty good job in the tree part, though.

chartroose    Monday May 11, 2009   

You’ve seen it then – I’m impressed. Yes the cannibal thing did spoil it. The scary uncle on the bike was okay. But the tree made it.

Look out for Joan Collins and the crazy Santa!

The Book Tower    Monday May 11, 2009   

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