Tales That Witness Madness (1973)
WRITER: Original screenplay by Jay Fairbank
DIRECTOR: Freddie Francis
STARRING: Kim Novak as Auriol
Georgia Brown as Fay
Joan Collins as Bella
Jack Hawkins as Nicholas
Donald Houston as Sam
Michael Jayston as Brian
Suzy Kendall as Ann/Beatrice
Peter McEnery as Timothy
Michael Petrovitch as Kimo
Donald Pleasence as Tremayne
Russell Lewis as Paul
Leon Lissek as Keoki
Mary Tamm as Ginny
Zohra Segal as Malia
Frank Forsyth as Uncle Albert
QUICK CUT: A doctor shows off his patients to a colleague in a series of vignettes, all tying back together in hopes of not seeming too crazy himself.
Tremayne - A doctor at a psychiatric hospital, working on several patients whom he thinks he has cured. Cured by way of completely believing their crazy stories. Yeah, I don't think that's helpful.
Nicholas - Tremayne's friend and colleague, coming by to check in on his friend's progress and descent into madness. He's trying to help Tremayne, assess his sanity, but instead gets drawn into the crazy world himself.
Paul - A young kid that nobody listens to, with terrible parents, and an invisible tiger. Yeah, I'll be they'll listen to him now!!
Timothy - The owner of an antique shop who inherits a bunch of things from his aunt, including a haunted portrait, and time traveling penny farthing bicycle. I hate when that happens!
Brian - I guess he's supposed to be an artist, because he likes finding crap in the woods, dragging it home, and cleaning it up to call it art. And he really loves his art.
Bella - Brian's long-suffering wife who is about as fed up as anyone can be at him dragging dirt and leaf-covered junk into their living room.
Auriol - A literary agent who is courting a new client, in more than one sense of the word. She will sacrifice anything to get her clients to sign on.
Kimo - The writer Auriol is trying to sign on, and he has many dark secrets and designs
THE GUTS: Kicking off Trisk's fourth year, with uh, another anthology story! Oops. I didn't mean to do two anthology movies back to back! I mean, uh, since we ended our first 100 reviews with an anthology, I thought it would be appropriate to start off our NEXT 100 reviews with an anthology! Yes, that's it.
Ahem. Man, if x-rays of skulls as your opening credits isn't a good way to get my attention! Anyways, after the parade of skulls, our 101st movie opens up with Dr. Nicholas driving up to a psychiatric hospital where he meets Doctor Donald Pleasance. I guess he escaped the wrath of the Fourth Doctor after all.
Doctor Tremayne is busy doing SCIENCE! with beakers and fire and such, while talking about solving several cases with Nicholas. And just as I'm about to crack a joke about how he's probably making a bloody mary...he goes and pours the two of them a drink from his chemistry set. Damnit, it's no fun if you beat me to the jokes, movie.
The framing sequence visits Paul, a young child tinking away on a toy piano, and they fade into the first of our vignettes. Which starts with poor Paul trying to sleep and hearing a typical night of his parents yelling outside his room. He has a little chat with the toys in his room and falls back to sleep.
In the morning, his mom meets with Paul's tutor, as the kid conitnues to have more meaningful conversations with nothing. I fear this being the best relationship in the movie.
The plot thickens as Paul tells his mother that their cook won't give him food for his imaginary friend. She assumes he just wants a bowl of cereal, but Pual says he needs things like meat and bones. Oh great, before Paranormal Activity, Toby hung out in London with this kid and said he was a tiger.
Paul's mother gets quite exasperated by his behaviour, as most mothers would, as he leaves food around that Tob...er, Mr. Tiger just won't like, tries to leave the window open so the tiger can come back in after walkies, and just general childhood naughtiness. Or so it seems.
Slowly, every conversation becomes about Toby the Tiger, with the invisible friend being used as a wedge between Paul's parents about how the boy is a wuss, and his teacher asks about him all the time.
We've seen doors open and close invisibly thanks to Toby the Tiger up to this point, but finally things start to get a little weird when Fay notices paw prints on a blanket, and claw marks in Paul's door. I wonder how she'll explain those away?
It's the claw marks that really start to push things over the edge though, as Faye flips out over actual destruction of property, his dad is baffled, and hey! They fight about who should deal with it! Surprise!
As they go to scold the child, the movie does this great bit of cinemtography. They head down the hall, and we hear the yelling, but the camera follows, oh so slowly. Almost painfully so, down the hall. The slow push in, then turn around the corner, really gives it the feeling that we're on the tiger's back as it stalks the prey, yelling at its friend.
Just as it teeters on becoming tedious, you hear the tiger growl and the parents scream as they discover just how imaginary their son's friend isn't. A perfectly timed moment.
The carnage is handled pretty well, even though its done with closeups and the tiger is obviously kept far away from any living being, but they sell it well with blood splatters and a few bits of meat tearing, with the creepiest part being Paul plinking away on his toy piano the entire time.
We fade back to Doctor Nolter and friend, and they congratulate each other some more on a job well done, although I'm not exactly sure WHAT job has been done. They kinda left that part out if the narrative, yes?
But anyways, they move on to the doctor's next case, Timothy, a scarred man sitting alone, who just handily blurts out that he killed Uncle Albert. Well, that's an open and shut case right there.
Just as we find out that Uncle Albert isn't what anyone cared about, ooooh mysterious, we fade into our second story, starting off with Timothy inheriting a bunch of junk from his dead aunt, including a portrait of Uncle Albert. Whomever that may be.
Timothy putters around his antique shop, trying to decide if there's anything of his aunt's he wants to keep as a memento, and cataloguing the rest to sell later. And oh. OH that's good!
We keep cutting back and forth to the portrait like he's watching over the scene, and it is SO very subtle, but in the closeups, the expression changes. It's mostly just the eyes, like he's taking everything in, and it is super creepy. Brilliant.
Timothy keeps hearing strange things while he works late into the night, and he eventually sees its the giant wheel on the penny farthing bicycle left to him by his aunt spinning on its own.
He tries to pay it no heed, but as he walks away, he keeps getting pulled back in by the force of the portrait. I mean that quite literally. He grabs onto things, and keeps getting pulled closer and closer to the small alcove where the picture and bike are situated, until he is lifted high into the air and placed atop the bike, and forced to pedal.
This moment is an almost Stephen King level moment of equal parts terror and silliness. You get how scary this could be if it really happened, being moved and forced to do things by unseen forces, but um...
He pedals faster and faster thanks to the wackiest poultergeist ever, and he must've hit 88 MPH because he's suddenly transported back in time, or witnessing Albert's past, since he doesn't seem to be freaking out about being dressed like Sherlock Holmes.
Albert/Timothy meets a young woman in the park, and we see them being followed by a man with a disfigured face and dressed just like past-Timothy. They also show us Albert's portrait is now missing its head, for the extra level of what? So, the picture of Uncle Albert is missing. Timothy IS Uncle Albert, and being WATCHED by Uncle Albert. Got that? No? Me neither.
So just like that, the little foray into the past is over, with Timothy hoping off the bike. Yeah, that was weird and sudden and pointless.
The next day, Tim tries to explain what happened to his girlfiend (Who looks just like the woman in the park!), and she reacts much like you would expect her to, and brushes it off as her boyfriend just being tired. Which sure seems reasonable to everyone.
So as Tim waits to take her to the theatre, the penny farthing grows restless and starts spinning again. Tim tries to escape upstairs, and there's some decent acting as he fights being pulled back to the bike. But unfortunately for him, he apparently doesn't need to be on the bike anymore to be drawn back into the past. Welcome back to Triskaidekafiles, where the rules are made up, and plot points don't matter.
I almost start to think they're replaying the same scene again, but before I can break out Adrian Veidt, we see it's actually a different meeting between Albert and Beatrice, and she tells him about a terrible dream she had of him doing terrible things.
Things get just a bit weirder as Tim's girlfriend arrives for their date, and the guy is nowhere to be found. That'll happen when you disappear to 1842, I guess.
But not only has he disappeared, but the bicycle as well. She turns away for a second and hears cries, so when she turns back around, the bike and her boyfriend are right back where they should be.
Everyone dutifully freaks out, as one does when people time travel via portraits and penny farthings, and she insists the bike be destroyed. It's always nice to have a voice of reason hidden somewhere in these movies.
Timothy decalres his plans, and the bike begins to spin once more, drawing him in through the vortex its spinning wheels create. But before it can suck him away to the past once more, Tim grabs a lamp and throws it at the portrait, splashing flames and oil everywhere, starting a fire.
He gets inexoribly pulled back to the bike, while Uncle Albert forces the girlfriend away, throwing things at her, and pulling Tim into the flames. She calls out to her boyfriend, and all she gets for it is a sword in the back.
Timothy spills out into whatever time period, bursting into flames, much to everyone's confusion, and my own. Because this is apparently how Albert died, by mysteriously catching fire, and his charred face landing in front of Beatrice. But he only is on fire because of what his spirit does in the future, sending the flames back and...
I honestly don't know if this is a paradox, or just bullshit.
But it's back to Tremayne and Nicholas, and said friend starts to question what's going on. The good doctor promises everything will be explained, but I am growing incredibly dubious of that claim. The Cylons said they had a plan too.
So we move onto his third case, Brian, and fade into his story.
We find ourselves with Brian as he's out on a jog, and his wife is waiting for him to come home and bring more crap back with him. Which he dutifully obliges.
Some people find pets and say they followed them home, Brian drags home trees. He loves finding interesting things on his walks and bringing them home, cluttering the place up. Much to his wife's exact opposite of joy.
While she makes coffee, Brian sets about cleaning up the tree. And messying up the living room, consequently. Brian spies a carving on the tree's surface, and only when his wife points out that it's upside down does he realise that the carving spells MEL, and so the tree now has a name.
I'm not sure if I'm seeing things, or its the parallax of the camera lens, or someone's subtly moving the tree, but every time they do a closeup of the found art, it looks just ever so slightly like its moving, watching the room. If it's deliberate, its a nice touch.
After making a heck of a mess, Brian pops off to the pub, leaving his wife and tree alone together, and the tree is definitely giving off a jealous vibe. It is, quite frankly, amazing that just some subtle shots, and some sounds, conveys less of a wooden performance from an actual block of wood, than many of the actors I've seen reviewing movies here.
The wife tries cleaning up some of the mess while Brian's gone, but Mel decides to make things difficult for her, and keeps shaking loose bark and leaves after she vaccuums up a mess. The tree also handily grows some thorns when she gets a bit too hands on.
Brian gets home and finds the tree has moved itself, and all these weird happenings lead up to a fight with Bella actually being jealous of the tree. There's yelling, accusations...it would almost be strange if guys didn't sometimes get too attached to their things. A nice little play on that by making the tree more than just an inanimate object, but giving it life of its own, and even some agency.
While Bella gets ready for bed, Brian works on Mel, cleaning it up considerably. After he's done, he heads upstairs to make amends, which leads the tree to grope helplessly at the air. And there's this review's sentence I never thought I'd write.
That night, Bella has a nightmare where she's attacked and groped by the tree, and I wonder if Sam Raimi saw this and was inspired for that infamous scene in Evil Dead. But either way, it inspires Bella to grab a machete and go after the tree.
We don't see what happens, and the movie tries to be clever, and on one level, it is. But you see what's coming. You see Brian come downstairs at the commotion caused by his wife and the tree, and react to something, telling someone that you're supposed to presume is Bella, that he'll clean up the mess, then off in the woods getting rid of something you're supposed to presume is the tree
But then he returns home, his problems solved, and heads up to bed and you expect Bella (But you really really don't) and GASP THE TREE IS IN THE BED!
On one level, you see that twist coming five miles away, waving torches and launching fireworks. But the added bonus of putting the tree in the bed is just that little touch that you don't *quite* see, and is either brilliant or madness.
At least on Dallas, Joan Collins WON some of the fights. Here, she loses to a tree.
As we've done before, the movie pauses briefly back at the psych ward so the doctor can try and justify what's going on, and saying its all real, but these sections just aren't very fleshed out here. They really could have paused for a bit longer and given us more story about just what the doc was doing, and I hope that comes later.
But whatever. He goes on to introduce Auriol, and how difficult this case was, because he had to do a lot of the work himself, and convince her of what he discovered. Um, confirmation bias, anyone? Did he just admit that he discovered some insanity and forced it upon a woman who was perfectly normal in her reactions otherwise? Ugh.
We meet Kimo at the deathbed of his mother, a wise woman of some tribe, passing down traditions to him, saying he has one last task to perform to let her spirit ascend, and grant him supernatural powers. But if he fails, both shall suffer eternal torments! So, no pressure, Kimo!
Kimo arrives at a party thrown by his agent, Auriol, and meets her daughter Romana...er, Ginny. I dunno, I preferred her second regeneration. What is it with Doctor Nolter hanging out with the Fourth Doctor AND his companions?
Auriol is clearly interested in Kimo, but he only has eyes for Ginny. A fact which does not go unnoticed by the mother, and she quickly sends the young girl off to get coffee for everyone.
They head home, and Auriol continues to try and ditch her daughter and allows her to go on a trip with her friends so she can spend quality time with the hunky island native.
Which just leads to Kimo and Ginny heading out for the day, while her mother works on the luau to celebrate the new partnership with her writer. All while Keoki gets his and Kimo's own preperations underway, kicked off by opening up a giant suitcase filled with knives.
Ginny's supposed to be flying to Paris that night, but she's having second thoughts now that she's met Kimo. However, he then convinces her to stick to her plans and provide an alibi for her missing body, and he will join her once he's done with her mother.
Keoki supposedly takes Ginny away to the airport, but instead brings her to Kimo, where he roofies her with some wine, causing drug-induced flashbacks. Er, no, just filling out the exposition.
We drift back to the past, at the deathbed of Kimo's mother again, and we learn his great task is to commit a human sacrifice, which is no big surprise, really. Although not as telegraphed as the tree not being dead.
After that brief expository cul-de-sac, its back to Ginny becoming highly suggestable, taking off her dress, and having a talk with Kimo's magic stick. ...No, really, that's not a euphamism.
Ginny presents herself to the stick of Kimo's god, and geeze. These stories sure do love showing closeup reaction shots of inanimate objects. Albert's picture, Mel the tree, now the stick. Toby feels left out because he got to at least crowl.
Oh, right, and Kimo goes through with Ginny's sacrifice. I got distracted by the recurring theme.
With the deed done, Kimo heads back to the main house to talk with his agent, and Keoki prepares the luau. And by that, I mean he hacks up Ginny and cooks her like a roasted pig.
Of course, now that they are almost done with their sacrifice to the gods, Kimo is much more friendly to Auriol, and she is quite receptive to his flirting, suspecting its just because her daughter is off in Paris and she's the only game in town.
So Hannibal Keoki prepares and cooks Ginny in the old-fashioned way, and serves her at the luau to all in attendance, including her mother. Mmm, Virigina baked ham.
I really like that as Kimo performs the necessary sacrificial rites, they have his mother's voice explaining his tasks. It makes for a good way to explain what's going on, even though it's not exactly necessary, but gives it a good air of flavour and importance.
And of course, everyone is just entertained by the 'traditional' ceremonies of a native people. And enjoy a nice tasty slice of Ginny.
So after a healthy dinner, we jump back to our wraparound story, and the doctor tells us how Auriol could not be seperated from a token given to her by Kimo, and she acts like she doesn't know her daughter is missing. Which kinda contradicts what he said before about revealing the truth, but I'll chalk all that up to the crazy.
Nicholas is dubious of the veracity of any of these stories, but Tremayne insists he has proof of his claims for each and every one. And he will do exactly that.
He calls all our subjects into a big white room, without black curtains, and goes into some psychobabbly explanation about truth and what can and cannot be seen, but my eyes kinda glaze over at this point. The movie has not quite earned the right to drop that much exposition and philosophy on the audience at this point.
We see each character exit the room and interact with something from their individual stories, but every time the doctor's friend turns back to the room, they're all just standing there. And you begin to question who is sane and who isn't, and just what is real at this point. If the guy would just keep looking at the room, would he see anything? Auriol's only holding the token when he's not looking and why is everything normal when he does even if they've left the room and...sigh. Whatever.
It certainly seems to be playing like Tremayne is crazy, and his friend is seeing nothing, because there's nothing there. So naturally he calls in other doctors to show Nolter to a padded cell all his own.
As Tremaybe is dragged away, Nick enters the big white room just as Paul is coming back with his invisible friend.
Or, not so invisible as he finds out when the very real and very visible tiger pounces him. Which is one hell of a twist. But a hell of a way to just suddenly end a movie.
Video: This looks really good for a movie from 1973. It's grainy, but that's as it should be. The colours are maybe a bit dull, but that also seems typical of British productions from the time period. I really wasn't expecting much since this disc isn't from a big name production house, but they did a fair job in presentation. It may not be perfect, but it feels right.
Audio: I *think* it's a mono track, and again, sounds appropriate for the time period. I don't mind sub-standard presentations if its close to the way it would have been. Some of the audio gets swallowed and mushy, but it's rare.
Sound Bite: "Each story is simply true," says Tremayne when asked to provide evidence. Saying it does not make it so!
1 and 2 - The Pattersons discover just how imaginary their son's tiger isn't.
3 - Uhh. Unle Arthur, burned by his future nephew's self through his own actions? Or something?
4 - Bella gets mauled by a tree.
4.5 - Kimo's mother dies by old age or natural causes. Not really part of the plot, but she did die.
5 - Kimo sacrifices then cooks and eats Ginny. Regenerate from THAT, Time Lady!
6 - Nicholas dead by visible invisible tiger.
Best Corpse - I would give it to Bella if it was on screen, since it's a nice twist, but not seeing it ruins it, frankly. I really enjoyed the story and seduction of Ginny's demise though, and what a way to go, so she wins.
Blood Type - C: There's not a lot of blood, but there's some decent fun with killing Paul's parents, and Ginny's death, and some okay, if cabbagey effects on Albert.
Sex Appeal: Ginny gets naked for her sacrifice, and some other brief scenes of nuditude.
Movie Review: Anthology movies are always hard to review. Do you take them as a whole, or seperately? As a whole, the movie is kinda bleh. The characters are never really fleshed out, especially in the framing sequence. The Luau story fares the best, and you really do get a good sense for the husband and wife in Mel, but the rest aren't much to write home about. But the stories within the story themselves are actually pretty decent. They're quick, but they get to their twists quickly, and are admittedly unique. Although that uniqueness often ends uo making you say, "Wait, he's being sucked back in time by a penny farthing?!" The strong directing and cinematography though really save it, and it's at least pretty watchable. Three out of five invisible tigers.
Entertainment Value: This may not be the most entertaining viewing experience, based on the acting quality or bad lines, or cheese, but the uniqueness of those stories almost makes you laugh. And the movie has a bit of that dry British wit to it as well, so it's maybe not the most bizarre thing out there, and doesn't make you want to stab your eyes out, but the strength of its own weirdness in narrative actually helps it out there. As a whole, it comes together nicely enough, and is again perfectly entertaining. Three out of five slices of Ginny.