Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

Here's something I just figured out that's kind of blowing my mind: The reason I love horror anthology movies can be almost entirely traced back to The Simpsons' annual "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween specials. Anthologies offer an excellent return on investment in the 90 minutes or so they take to watch; instead of following just one storyline, you get 3 or more. If all of the stories are creepy and engaging, it's like hitting the horror jackpot, and if a few of them suck, the production can still redeem itself with one killer segment. (Example: Creepshow 2 isn't exactly a great movie, but I sure love that menacing lake sludge in "The Raft.")

Tales That Witness Madness, a British anthology from 1973 that is currently available via Netflix streaming, is a keeper through and through. First, the title...the poster...the tagline that promises a veritable orgy of the damned! Made in 1973, this is a movie that is very much of its time visually, especially in terms of costume and set design. If, like me, you love how intensely ugly the 1970s could be, this is a must see.

The four stories contained within the movie are framed by a rather clever device: Each one is a tale that has been told by a madman (or madwoman, or madchild) to his or her psychiatrist, who relates the macabre missives to a colleague while guiding him from room to room through the retina-searingly white halls of an ultra-sterile Clockwork Orange-ish mental hospital. The shrink is played by a pre-Halloween Donald Pleasence, doing that doctor-profoundly-haunted-by-the-presence-of-unspeakable-evil thing he does so well.

In the first room, we meet a little boy with a very dangerous imaginary friend. While there were creepy moments, this segment turned out to be the weakest of the bunch. But hang on to your trousers, because next up is a segment about a sinister penny-farthing and the antiques dealer it terrorizes.

Yes, friends. A possessed penny-farthing.

Just when you're beginning to think, "Dude, this is one of my new favorite movies!" it gets better. Because out comes Joan Collins. Early '70s Joan Collins, wearing filmy negligees and floppy bows in her hair and bitchily throwing her drink in the face of a rather feminine-shaped tree that her husband brings home.

Finally, the movie reaches its climax with a segment about a satanic luau, which sounds kind of like the plot to a Scooby Doo episode, which it kind of it is, except no kids meddle so no one's evil plans are foiled, nawmean?

The movie wraps up with a nice little twist - sort of predictable, but fun nonetheless. The morals of this movie seem to be: Don't bring home every crazy thing that you find in the street, or the forest, or your uncle's estate sale or wherever. Handsome men who murmur lasciviously into the ear of your teenage daughter every time you turn your back might have some sort of diabolical ulterior motive. If your child tells you that his imaginary friend hates you, you're probably going to get murdered. And don't fuck with Joan Collins. Hesitate to ax a bitch, she will not.

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