You’ve got to figure that anthology movies are somewhat doomed from the beginning. There’s just no way around it, there’s always going to be certain segments that work and others that don’t. So the end result ends up being a bit uneven. Yet, filmmakers keep trying, especially in the horror genre. Today’s film is a 1973 horror anthology from Britain, “Tales that Witness Madness.” The film brings us four stories, tied together by a doctor in an insane asylum (Donald Pleasence) relating the stories of several of his patients with a colleague (Jack Hawkins).
The first story deals with a young boy named Paul (Russell Lewis). His parents (Donald Houston and Georgia Brown) are constantly fighting and, in general, not paying a whole lot of attention to little Paul. So, the boy ends up creating an imaginary friend…who happens to be a Tiger. But when Mom and Dad tell him it’s time he said goodbye to his imaginary tiger…well, then we find out just how imaginary this friend is. Though entertaining, this first story is very very short and feels like the writers had an idea but they weren’t sure what to do with it.
The second story involves Timothy, the owner of an antique store (Peter McEnery) who ends up with several old items from a deceased relative. Among them, a Penny Farthing (that’s what the Brits call those old big wheel bicycles) and a strange portrait of “Uncle Albert.” When he’s alone, the picture changes it’s expression and seems to pull Timothy onto the bicycle, transporting him back in time. What happens from there had me thoroughly confused. There’s a crusty zombie man and something about a fire. The end result is the weakest segment of the film.
Now the film starts to get a bit more interesting. Story number three involves a man named Brian (Michael Jayston) who happens upon an odd piece of a dead tree on his morning jog. This tree is somewhat feminine looking. He brings the thing home and places it prominently in his living room, much to the chagrin of his wife, Bella (Joan Colllins). The tree does seem to have a life of it’s own, moving when the couple is not looking. As Brian begins to pay more attention to the tree, which he has dubbed “Mel,” Bella becomes more and more jealous. This all leads up to a scene of the tree attacking her. This segment is weird, but it had an interesting mix of creepiness and silliness in it’s tone. Collins does a great job pulling of the part of a woman whose husband is infatuated with a tree.
The final segment is the longest and most gruesome. It concerns a literary agent named Auriol (Kim Novak) who is hosting a new client of Hawaiian-ish descent named Kimo (Michael Petrovich). Not only does she desire him as a client, but also as a lover. However, Kimo is more interested in Auriol’s college-aged daughter Ginny (Mary Tamm). Ginny is preparing to leave for an overseas trip, but she’s also starting to fall for Kimo. Meanwhile, Auriol is trying to prepare a luau in Kimo’s honor, with the help of his assistant Keoki (Leon Lissek).
When Ginny leaves for her trip, she actually sneaks off to join Kimo at a hotel. But Kimo has no intention of taking a roll in the sack with her. As a matter of fact, he needs a virgin. You see, Kimo is actually plotting a ritual which he must perform to secure safe passage into the afterlife for his dying mother. This involves the killing of a virgin and roasting her flesh luau style. It all sounds pretty grisly, but the way it’s handled here would barely get a PG-13 today. It’s a sick story, but it does manage to build some suspense. However, once it reaches a certain point, that suspense comes to a screeching halt and the filmmakers seem to focus on simply shocking the audience.
So…just like I said at the top, “Tales that Witness Madness” is a bit uneven. There are some enjoyable performances, mainly from the ladies…Joan Collins, Kim Novak, and future Dr. Who companion Mary Tamm. I could definitely have done without the whole psychiatrist story that links everything together. It’s end is confusing and Donald Pleasence is completely wasted. It’s far from the ideal horror anthology, but is interesting enough to provide a few willies on a creepy night.