Tales That Witness Madness is a knock-off version of the Amicus Productions portmanteau horror films that did good box office business in the decade 1965-75.
Man from the ministry Dr Nicholas (Jack Hawkins) arrives as a high-tech (i.e. white and minimal decor) asylum to be greeted by his psychiatrist chum Tremayne (Donald Pleasance) who leads in through a succession of four patients in an effort to illustrate some cock-eyed new theory, a 'breakthrough' in criminal psychology. What a load of balls.
The first story is Mister Tiger. Tremayne introduces Hawkins to a boy named Paul, the youngest patient, in a case that is purportedly the simplest due to the child's uncluttered mind. I like to imagine that Paul grew up to be our comrade Mr Unmann-Wittering, who is known as Paul to his close friends and carers, and shares the character's gentle demeanor and psychotic tendencies.
Paul Patterson seems like a sensitive friendly kid with a cosy toy-filled bedroom in a nice big bourgeois 70s house. Unfortunately his nouveau riche parents are total bastards, at war with one another in a marriage that appears doomed to implode sooner rather than later. Paul holes up in his bedroom each night to avoid their venomous bickering, which still penetrates the walls, and he comforts himself by talking to an imaginary companion who comes and goes via the bedroom window. Hmmm.
Paul's mother Faye (Georgia Brown) is a textbook frustrated housewife of the era and it soon becomes apparent that she's not really the maternal type, entrusting most of the parental duties to her husband (Donald Houston), who is rarely home, and Paul's affable private tutor (David Wood). She complains to Wood about her son's imaginary friend and he reassures her that it's very common and healthy for only children to invent a playmate. Only Paul's pal isn't another child; it's a tiger. Grrrrr. Oh yes.
Paul's mum doesn't react well when he starts pinching bones from the kitchen and stashing them under his bed. But of course they're not for him - they're for Mister Tiger.
The next evening brings another row between the parents. Mister Tiger slinks around the house eager to make a meal of them as Paul tries to dissuade him, and the elusive Mr T remains defiantly off-camera.
The next morning brings an art class home-schooling session and the tutor softly quizzes Paul about Mister Tiger, asking why he can't meet the parents. Paul states flatly this is not advisable; "He HATES them".
|Ah, what a lovely little...|
|Neon meat dream|
Paul continues pilfering fleshy parts from the fridge for his feline chum, leaving bones and a meaty stench around the house. Mumsy reaches the end of her rope and after one last slanging match with the husband the pair go to Paul's room to have it out with him.
|A flash of her pussy|
No sooner have they entered the room than they are attacked and eviscerated by the man-eating beast. Unfortunately this occurs in the most outrageously cheap and un-special effects sequence ever committed to celluloid, a combination of stock footage from Gerry Cottle's circus performing moggy, some mangy stuffed tiger limbs and a few half-arsed splashes of Kensington gore. If you are in the right mood - drunk or otherwise self-medicated - the result is mildly hilarious; if not it's just godawful shite.
|"It wasn't me"|
The story sequence ends and we return to Paul plonking away on his toy piano in Tremayne's asylum before moving on to the joyous tale of Uncle Albert. Paul's tiger is obviously trite wish-fulfillment and why he's in a maximum security hospital rather than social care isn't explained.
I have to admit that, shonky as it is, this film has a place deep in my heart. It's one of the first 'period' horror films I ever saw, back in the early '80s when British tv still finished around midnight and one had to switch the box off before the little white dot appeared. I was more acquainted with Freddy Kruger and the contemporary slasher films readily available on vhs tape at the local video shops. The design aesthetic of films such as TTWM and the Amicus portmanteau films took me back to my early years, a richer and more personal environment than the superficial '80s cinema could provide.
One item in particular caught my eye in this story: the alphabet frieze decorating the walls of Paul's classroom. It's designed by Dutch artist Dick Bruna, creator of Miffy the rabbit and countless kids books. As a young child I was plied with his stories and had exactly the same frieze in the bedroom I shared with my brother. Or so I thought.
Watching the film again recently for the zillionth time I noticed something strange. Look at the image above. Top left. See O is for owl, right? Well it shouldn't be. The copy that hung in my 1970s bedroom was O for OCTOPUS. I remember. I bought another copy a few years ago at some expense (damn you, 'collectors'!) to hang in my kids bedroom. I went to check it and as this photo shows it's definitely OCTOPUS.
|2013. No owl|
An Octopus in a mask!
|W is for WTF?|
I'm not one for conspiracy theories, the unexplained or Arthur C. Clarke's House of Mystery and the Unexpected, but something's fucking wrong here. Owl not octopus. What does this mean? I'd ask Dr Tremayne but he's not talking. Paul, what have you done to me?