Monday, July 29, 2013

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

          UK-based Amicus Productions, a second-tier competitor to Hammer Films, earned a niche in the horror marketplace by making a series of anthology movies, nasty little numbers featuring terse vignettes grouped by framing stories. Examples include Tales from the Crypt (1972) and The Vault of Horror (1973). The success of these pictures inevitably led other companies to ape the Amicus formula, hence this silly project from World Film Services. Although Tales That Witness Madness is a respectable endeavor thanks to decent production values and the presence of familiar actors, the script by Jennifer Jayne (writing as Jay Fairbank) is an uninspired pastiche of hoary shock-fiction tropes. There’s not a genuine scare in Tales That Witness Madness, and most of the humor is of the unintentional sort. Plus, the longest story is almost interminably boring.
          The picture begins with a shrink, Dr. Tremayne (Donald Pleasence), showing a colleague around a psychiatric facility where four odd patients are housed. As each patient is presented, his or her tale appears in flashback. The first bit, “Mr. Tiger,” features a little boy whose bickering parents discover the lad’s imaginary friend may not be imaginary. Next comes “Penny Farthing,” a drab yarn about an antique dealer getting possessed by the figure in an old painting. In “Mel,” the best vignette of the batch, an artist (Michael Jayston) brings home an old tree and then decides he likes the tree better than his wife (Joan Collins). The final sequence, “Luau,” is a tedious tale about people caught up in a ritual-sacrifice scheme. Except for “Mel,” which has a pithy, Twilight Zone-esque tone, the stories drone on lifelessly. (“Mr. Tiger” is fine, but the “twist” ending is so obvious from the first frame that there’s no tension.)
          The actors all deliver serviceable work, with young Russell Lewis (as the boy in “Mr. Tiger”) and Jayston (the artist in “Mel”) providing the most vivid performances. As for the leading ladies, Collins, who inexplicably spent much of the ’70s appearing in bad horror movies, does her usual shrewish-sexpot routine, while Hollywood actress Kim Novak—playing the lead in “Luau”—drains all vitality from the movie with her colorless non-acting. Director Freddie Francis, the former cinematographer who directed numerous frightfests for Hammer and Amicus (including the aforementioned Tales from the Crypt, among other horror anthology movies), handles this project with his characteristic aplomb, but even his smooth style can only compensate so much for the enervated nature of the stories.

Tales That Witness Madness: FUNKY

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