Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

JUNE 21, 2012


Tales That Witness Madness!
A weak anthology as I recall!
Tales that witness madness!
There’s not much to enjoy at all!

If I liked the movie more I would have done the entire review as a parody of “Can I Play With Madness” (my favorite Iron Maiden song, for the record), but if they didn’t put a lot of effort into writing their movie why should I do that for my review, forty years after it was released? Come on. We all have episodes of Breaking Bad to watch*.

To be fair, the anthology offers up two good stories, but the other two are dull as dirt, and the wraparound is so underdeveloped that it’s barely worth noting. The only saving grace in these scenes is Donald Pleasence, playing a seemingly normal psychiatrist (for once!) who is testing out a theory on how people perceive truth. So the movie is about four of his patients and the crazy things that they say happened to them. Are they telling the truth, or do they just THINK they are?

Well, I don’t really care as long as the stories are good, so we’re off to a good start as the first is about a kid who has an imaginary pet tiger. He keeps sneaking giant slabs of meat into his room, which doesn’t help his parents’ fractured marriage as it gives them something else to yell about. Of course, things go badly, but what I thought was actually a killer kid tale turned out to be much more exciting – an actual tiger! The parents go in to yell at him for something and then they are mauled, blood flying all over the place as the kid plays his little toy piano. It’s delightfully random, and kudos to the kid for keeping a straight face as body parts come flying at him.

The third story is also a charming bit of WTF-ery, involving a man who finds a peculiar tree and decides to put it up in his living room, much to the chagrin of his wife (a smoking hot – and hopefully not related – Joan Collins). As time goes on he becomes fixated on the tree, at one point opting to brush it instead of joining Collins in bed despite her advances. Eventually the tree kills her and takes her spot in bed, and he has no hesitation in getting into the sack now. I feel that we don’t see nearly enough dendrophilia in movies, so kudos to the movie’s creators for delivering that much.

Now, what makes these two stories work so well is that they’re short and to the point, and a bit different than what we’ve seen in other anthology movies. And that’s what makes the failure of the other two so apparent, particularly the 2nd entry, which is a haunted portrait tale (zzzz) that inexplicably involves time travel as well. Needlessly confusing and overlong, it feels like something that should have been in Dan Curtis’ Dead Of Night or something. And it doesn’t even NEED to be that long; the time travel element doesn’t feel necessary since the story would have worked fine if it just took place in the present day (with the portrait causing “accidents” and needing to be destroyed). Also, I think 45 close-ups of the portrait would have been sufficient, but apparently Freddie Francis thought it needed at least four times as many, so it seems like a full five minutes of the segment are just shots of the damn thing. Riveting!

The fourth is slightly better, because it has a very attractive female lead (Mary Tamm) and a plot that involves cannibalistic ritual, but it too is drawn out (it takes up a third of the film’s runtime) and not particularly exciting until the final few minutes. It also has Kim Novak (aged 40) in a role written for Rita Hayworth (aged 65), so she seems like an older sister to Tamm’s character than a mother, which is distracting. The editing here is also confusing, with scenes featuring the villain talking to his mother dropped seemingly at random throughout the narrative. Perhaps it was written as a feature and pared down? Whatever the reason, it’s a chore, and kills the goodwill the movie had earned from the tiger and tree stories.

And then the wraparound concludes unsatisfyingly, with Pleasence apparently seeing things that the other doctor cannot and thus deemed insane himself. But then the other doctor is mauled by the tiger, so everything WAS true? If so, why couldn’t he see the “truth” as Pleasence did? It’s a potentially fun idea, but if the point was to make us debate whether or not everything in the movie really happened or if each story was merely a delusion, then they didn’t make it interesting enough to justify the effort. You know why people argue about the spinning top at the end of Inception or whether or not Deckard was a replicant in Blade Runner? Because those movies are interesting throughout! The only reason I’d want to know for sure what happened at the end of this is to save myself some time on the review. This paragraph could have been half as long!

What say you?

*I’m like halfway through Season 3! Trying so hard to finish it and 4 before S5 premieres, so I can stop living in fear of spoilers.


  1. well thank you for teaching me (and probably everyone who reads your blog) a new word. I could have done without some of the google pictures but i guess that's my own fault.

    Did the kid in the first 1 look anything like Calvin?

  2. Am watching this at the moment, have fond meories of it and it is as barmy as I remember.

  3. I actually just watched this on thursday. I planned on doing a review on it soon. Good watch. Could have been better but reminded me very much of The Twilight Zone.


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