Springing from the golden era of British anthology horrors, Tales That Witness Madness doesn’t match the very best that the craze had to offer, but there’s some fun to be had. It sticks to the template: a group of connected strangers, a motley crew of character actors, and one stand-out story makes the bits that don’t work worthwhile.
Psychiatrist Donald Pleasence invites his colleague (Jack Hawkins) to view lunatics in his asylum. He has evidence of what drove them mad, but the stories need to be heard to be believed.
As with any anthology horror, this is definitely hit and miss. The best comes first, as the lonely son of a wealthy couple constantly at each other’s throats starts talking to, and feeding, an imaginary friend: a tiger. It plays out like Stephen King’s excellent ‘Here There Be Tygers’, and manages to be funny, unpredictable and creepy, building to a pleasantly nasty conclusion.
Fairbank’s screenplay does have a lot of fun dangling the inevitable horrible ending to each story over the viewer, and there’s an endearing weirdness to them all. How often do you see a film with a haunted penny-farthing that’s also a time-travel device? McEnery’s antique shop owner is tricked into mounting it by a painting of his Uncle Albert, with terrible consequences. Despite a clunky script, the idea of Mel is a lot of fun, as Joan Collins competes with a dead tree for her husband’s (Michael Jayston) attentions.
The final story feels the most like a Night Gallery episode, as Kim Novak’s literary agent tries to win over a new client, not suspecting that he plans on using her upcoming luau for an altogether more sinister ritual.
Hammer and Amicus veteran Freddie Francis finds room for a few flourishes amidst the obvious cost-effectiveness. If you’re unfamiliar with the sub-genre, there is some silly fun to be had here.