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Tales That Witness Madness

by Joe Dante Aug 12, 2014

Here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!

Fairish collection of mini‑chillers has Kim Novak and class cast for marquee plus routine horror angles. Title may prove a hindrance, otherwise a passable ballyhoo entry. Rating: R.

tales-that-witness-madness-us-poster-everettMultiple‑story horror films have met with some commercial success recently but few, if any, have amounted to much as movies. The plots usually rely entirely on gimmicky “kickers” at the end, and by now, the supply of possible twist endings seems to be depleted. As a result the stories often seem maddeningly predictable. Such is the problem with TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS, a four‑story British effort that appears headed for just fair boxoffice response in saturation ballyhoo markets, despite a classy cast toplining the long‑absent Kim Novak. The Paramount release also suffers from an obfuscating title. Freddie Francis’ direction is occasionally helpful but more often flat and the tales scripted by Jay Fairbank are simply varying degrees of trite.

The framing story is a senseless variation on the one in ASYLUM. Doctor Donald Pleasance shows Jack Hawkins four patients in his looney bin and tells their case histories. Moppet Russell Lewis invented an imaginary tiger which ate up his nasty parents Georgia Brown and Donald Houston. Peter McEnery was transported to the turn of the century by the baleful powers of an old portrait which then killed his girlfriend Suzy Kendall. McEnery burned the picture, thereby scarring his own face. Annoyed by wife Joan Coliins’ self‑absorption, Michael Jayston transferred his affections to a sensuous‑looking tree. When Miss Collins tried to hack it into kindling, Jayston chopped her up instead and took the tree to bed.

Horny literary agent Kim Novak wined and dined Polynesian author Michael Petrovitch, unaware he was planning to make a virgin sacrifice of her daughter Mary Tamm. Petrovitch carved up the sweet young thing and she ended up on Kim’s dinner plate at a gala luau. Hawkins surmises from all this that Pleasance is bonkers and men in white coats take him away. But Hawkins is soon pounced on by the kid’s “imaginary” tiger, so it was all too real, don’t you see?

Miss Novak, in a middle‑aged matron role originally intended for Rita Hayworth, is starting to look like Shelley Winters. Hawkins is sadly marred by a poorly‑dubbed voice, but the other performers provide moderate amusement in roles that hardly taxed their talents. There is some very brief nudity and the gore is more often implied than shown. 

1973. Paramount (World Film Services) Movielab Color. 89 minutes. Kim Novak, Georgia Brown, Joan Collins, Jack Hawkins, Donald Houston, Michael Jayston, Suzy Kendall, Peter McEnery, Donald Pleasance. Produced by Norman Priggen. Directed by Freddie Francis.

Though attributed to World Film Services, TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS was reportedly an unofficial Amicus production, co-produced by Milton Subotsky. Its screenwriter, Jay Fairbank, was a nom de plume for former actress Jennifer Jayne, who had played Donald Sutherland’s French vampire wife in Amicus’ first horror anthology, DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965). 

TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS is currently available on Amazon Instant Video.

About Joe Dante

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