Amicus Productions had so much success with their horror anthology films in the 60s and early 70s that it was probably inevitable that eventually the formula would be copied by other companies. One such copycat movie is World Film Service’s Tales That Witness Madness, which was released in 1973.
It copies the formula quite faithfully, with four stories plus a framing story. The framing story involves a mad scientist, or at least a somewhat eccentric psychiatric researcher, played by Donald Pleasence. He has some crackpot theory about ideas in people’s minds becoming real. He has accumulated four case studies to convince his boss (played by Jack Hawkins) that his theory has some validity.
The first case is a boy who has an imaginary friend, Mr Tiger. Mr Tiger is, as his name suggests, a tiger. Mr Tiger likes the boy but he hates Mummy and Daddy. It’s not hard to guess what happens next.
The second case is an antiques dealer who is left a houseful of furniture and bric-a-brac by an aunt. This collection includes a portrait of Uncle Albert and Uncle Albert’s penny farthing bicycle. The portrait forces the dealer to ride the bicycle and it transports him back in time to Uncle Albert’s youth.
The third segment is the age-old romantic triangle - a man, a woman and a tree trunk. The man has to choose between the tree trunk and his wife. With a wife like Joan Collins you’d think the tree trunk would be doomed to disappointment but you never can tell with men.
The fourth segment involves a literary agent who is handling a client who, unbeknownst to her, part of a Polynesian cannibal cult. She throws a party for him, with a Hawaiian theme. She wanted a whole roasting pig for this feast, but she got something rather different.
As you might gather from these brief synopses the main problem with his movie is the extreme silliness of the stories. Had they been played for black comedy they might have worked but writer Jennifer Jayne lacked the experience necessary and doesn’t seem to know what it is that she’s aiming for.
Director Freddie Francis doesn’t know either. As always he’s quite strong with the visuals but having helmed several of the Amicus horror anthology movies he simply takes the same approach here, but the stories are too weak and too silly to support such an approach (although he had demonstrated several years earlier in Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly that he could handle black comedy quite well). Perhaps he just took one look at the script and decided not to worry about anything besides his pay cheque. I can’t say that I blame him.
The strong cast is the one thing in this movie’s favour. Jack Hawkins was unfortunately so ill by this time that his voice had to be dubbed by Charles Gray. Donald Pleasence gives a trademark creepy performance. His scientist is not evil - he’s just crazy.
Donald Houston contributes some fine scenery chewing to the first segment while child actor Russell Lewis is subtly scary. Joan Collins as always does her best in the third segment (which she could be relied upon to do even when the material was very weak). Kim Novak is surprisingly good as the literary agent in the fourth segment.
Ultimately though this movie just doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work because nobody cared to step in and order a drastic rethink. Either the screenplay should have been rewritten or it should have been played overtly as black comedy.
The DVD release from Olive Films can’t really be faulted. The movie gets better treatment here than it deserves.
This is one that you can well afford to miss.