Combustible Celluloid
Get the Poster
Stream it:
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Jack Hawkins, Donald Pleasence, Kim Novak, Joan Collins, Mary Tamm
Written by: Jennifer Jayne
Directed by: Freddie Francis
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 90
Date: 10/31/1973

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Temporary 'Madness'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Freddie Francis is best known as a cinematographer, having won two Oscars (for Sons and Lovers and Glory), as well as having shot movies like The Innocents and The Elephant Man. But he was also a director who worked almost exclusively in the horror genre, and judging from his list of credits, I'd hesitate to call him one of the major practitioners of the genre.

Tales That Witness Madness is one of the most minor in a list of minor films, but it has an interesting cast (Kim Novak, Donald Pleasence, Joan Collins, etc.), and Olive Films has given it a new Blu-ray release, so I checked it out.

It's a horror anthology movie, with four stories plus a framing story. Pleasence plays a psychologist who is experimenting with four disturbed patients, each with his or her own story. The first one is about a boy Paul (Russell Lewis), who has an imaginary tiger friend, which turns out to be not so imaginary, much to the shock of his miserable parents.

In the second, Timothy (Peter McEnery) works at an antique store. He accumulates an old bicycle and a portrait of "Uncle Albert." When he gets on the bicycle, he travels back in time and "becomes" Uncle Albert. In the third one, Brian (Michael Jayston) brings home an ugly old tree and sets it up in the living room, angering his pretty wife Bella (Joan Collins).

Finally, a literary agent, Auriol Pageant (Kim Novak) tries to seduce a new client Kimo (Michael Petrovich), both for work and for personal reasons, but Kimo seems to like Auriol's gorgeous daughter Ginny (Mary Tamm) much better. However, his intentions may not be entirely romantic.

None of these stories is especially horrific or surprising. They essentially move two ways: either things could be exactly as they seem, which we know they're not, or they have a sinister connotation, which is never hard to figure out. Then, Francis directs almost fleetingly, casually, without ever seeming too excited or interested in anything. Shots of the portrait of "Uncle Albert" changing his expression -- "reacting" to things -- are especially annoying. The director has very little sense of suspense, drawing scenes out too long or throwing in too many extra shots (like the flashes of evil in the tree).

It's all very unsatisfying, and baffling to think that this was a big enough project to attract Ms. Novak (who apparently replaced Rita Hayworth of all people). Olive Films' Blu-ray has no extras.
Movies Unlimtied