Produced by World Films Service in the vein of the Amicus Studios anthology films, and directed by longtime Hammer Horror stalwart Freddie Francis, 1973's Tales That Witness Madness is a lot of fun. While it's not as good as The House That Dripped Blood or Dr. Terror's House Of Horrors there's still a lot to like about it, particularly if you're a fan of the British horror films of the late sixties and seventies.
The story introduces us to a Professor Tremayne (Donald Pleasance), a psychiatrist who runs a large asylum. As he guides us through the halls of this institution accompanied by his friend Nicholas (Jack Hawkins), we learn the stories of four of his more interesting patients and learn more about what made them the way that they are. This segues and bookends the four different stories that make up the bulk of the movie. First up is the story of Paul Patterson (Russell Lewis), the introverted son of some wealthy parents who seemingly do nothing but fight. They don't give their son any of the attention they should and soon enough he develops an imaginary friend in the form of a tiger. The second story introduces us to a man named Timothy Patrick (Peter McEnery), an antique store owner married to a beautiful woman named Ann (Suzy Kendall). They take in an old fashioned penny farthing bicycle. When the bike is peddled, it sends him and his shop back in time and does something sinister to the photograph of Uncle Albert. The third story introduces us to a man named Brian Thompson (Michael Jayston) who comes across an interesting looking but rather old dead tree. Intrigued, he takes it home and puts it on display in his house as an art piece, but soon realizes that there's something very strange about this tree, something that is not lost on his beautiful wife Bella (Joan Collins). The fourth story follows a woman named Auriol (Kim Novak) who works as an agent for a man named Kimo (Michael Petrovich). Having recently promised his mother on her death bed that he'd do whatever he could to save their souls, you'd think he'd turn his life around but when Auriol throws a party for him in hopes of cheering him up, all he can do is leer at her young daughter, Virginia (Mary Tamm). As it turns out, Kimo's keen on getting to know Virginia not just because she's easy on the eyes, but because he has a use for virgin blood.
Of course, in typical Amicus anthology style fashion we get a bit with Tremayne and Nicholas before the end credits hit, but that's the bulk of what happens. Is any of it any good? Yes and no. Each of the four main stories has something going for it. The first one is marginally creepy and features some surprisingly strong gore towards the end, while the second one, the most unusual of the bunch, is actually handled far more seriously than the others. You wouldn't think that a time travelling bicycle story would work in alongside the more traditional horror stories here but Francis pulls it off, and the fact that Suzy Kendall looks absolutely gorgeous here doesn't hurt things at all either. The third story, yes, the one with the weird dead tree, well - it's goofy, but hey, it's got a smoking hot Joan Collins in it and it actually ends on a sufficiently and effectively macabre not. Not the high point in the film but entertaining enough. Our last chapter is also decent, and while it's fairly predictable it has some effective black humor (as do the other three stories, really) and features another surprisingly strong scene of carnage.
Francis keeps the movie going at a pretty good pace, none of the short stories that make up the 'whole' really overstay their welcome and at ninety minutes in length the movie's running time seems just about right. This isn't the best horror anthology of the era that you're ever going to see nor is it all that deep, but it certainly fits the bill for an evening's entertainment, particularly if you're in the mood for a good, and more importantly, fun horror movie with just the right amount of class and crass.
Tales That Witness Madness looks good on Blu-ray from Olive Films, presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. The image is sharp and fairly colorful for an unrestored offering of an early seventies horror picture, and while grain is plentiful, it's never overpowering. Minor print damage does show up now and again in the form of some minor specks but there are very few scratches to complain about. Some scenes are certainly softer than others but overall detail is pretty good as is texture. The end result is a nice film-like image that hasn't been given any sort of massive restoration but which does provide a very nice representation of the movie and which was taken from elements that were obviously in nice shape to begin with.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in the film's original English language, no alternate language or subtitle options or offered. The audio is clean and clear and easy to follow and despite a couple of scenes that were obviously dubbed in post, there aren't any problems to report. The score sounds nice, the dialogue is level and easy to follow and there aren't any issues with anything except for some very minor hiss that you really have to be listening for to even notice in the first place. For an older mono track, given the limitations of the source material, the audio here is just fine.
Olive Films doesn't usually include any extras on their releases aside from a static menu and chapter selection, and unfortunately that is the case with this release, which doesn't even include a trailer.
Tales That Witness Madness is not the best Amicus style horror anthology that has ever been released but it is still quite fun and plenty entertaining. The stories all offer something of interest, the cast is enjoyable and Freddie Francis' direction is solid throughout. Olive Films offers up the movie in nice shape on Blu-ray, and while it's a typically barebones presentation from the company, it comes recommended to fans of seventies British horror.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.