Reader, I suggest you strap yourself in with like five seatbelts because I am about to tell you the very exciting saga of how I chose today's chosen.
So there I was, perusing the list of your favorite horror movies when my eyes fell upon something called Tales That Witness Madness, which earned a single vote in 2020. "That sounds like some Lovecraft something or other, I will pass," I thought. Then my eyes literally screeched to a halt (and I do mean literally--there was the noise and the blue smoke and everything) when I saw that it was directed by Freddie Francis. You mean Freddie Francis, director of Dr Terror's House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt, and Torture Garden Freddie Francis? Freddie Francis, Amicus anthology king Freddie Francis?
"That sounds like it's probably not some Lovecraft something or other, I shall not pass," I thought. That last bit was thought in a Gandalf voice, obviously.
So then I watched it!
See, aren't you glad you had all those seatbelts on?
This is indeed an anthology film, and given the Freddie Francis of it all and the 1973 of it all, you would not be remiss to think that this is an Amicus production. But trust me, you will be availed of that idea fairly quickly. You'll see some blood splatter and think "That's surprising!" Then you'll see some bare breasts and you'll think "WOWZEE WOW! HONK HONK AWOOOGA! WHOA MAMA HUMINA HUMINA BOIYOIYOING!" Finally, you put your eyes back in your head and you remember that you didn't see the word "Amicus" over the delightfully groovy opening credits. You put all three things together and at last get it through your thick skull that this is not an Amicus anthology film!
I always have a good time with anthology horror flicks, and this was no exception, although it's decidedly on the "Huh?" end of the spectrum as far as these things go. But that's something I admire in bite-sized storytelling: the ability to answer "But...how does this make sense...?" with "It doesn't, who cares?"
Even the framing narrative had me scratching my chin: Donald Pleasence is a doctor at a futuristic insane asylum (I say "futuristic" because doors open with buttons, Pleasence uses a chemistry set to make drinks, and the whole place looks like Upson Pratt's apartment in Creepshow) that houses four very special cases. Why they are famous or what the point is, I'm not really sure. He says he's "solved" the cases but they're all still patients...? Eh, who cares! The cases provide the stories, what else do you need to know?
In the first, "Mr Tiger," a young boy has a tiger for an imaginary friend. Only it's not really imaginary, I guess, because it shows up and kills the boy's asshole parents who do nothing but scream at each other. Then the tiger leaves. That's it!
I liked the close-ups of the tiger attack, because you could see that its "paws" were clearly just big gloves on a human.
The second story, "Penny Farthing," is about a young man who inherits some stuff from his dead aunt, including a penny farthing and a photo portrait of a man that's labeled "Uncle Albert." The portrait changes expression and can do some light telekinesis. It compels the young man to start pedaling the penny farthing, which takes him back in time. The young man is then a young Uncle Albert, but a gross zombie-looking old Uncle Albert is also there. The young man's girlfriend, who looks just like Uncle Albert's girlfriend in the past, ends up dead. That's it!
The third story, "Mel," was the best, and I'm not just saying that because it's the one that starred Joan Collins (who famously worked with Francis in the Tales from the Crypt story "And All Through the House", though that's certainly a big part it. A man brings home a giant chunk of tree and plops it in his living room, perhaps as some sort of art. His wife doesn't like it. The tree, which is vaguely woman-shaped and has the initials MEL carved in it, doesn't like the wife. Things escalate!
"Mel" was so fucking weird and funny--how could anyone not love a story that has Joan Collins and a sequence wherein we get to watch a tree's murder fantasy? If Tales That Witness Madness was only this fifteen minutes, I would have been fine with it. "Mel" rules, and the rest of the movie is just an enjoyable bonus.
The last segment, "Luau," features a young man whose mother's dying wish is for her son to complete an elaborate ritual sacrifice so that she will go to Heaven (or some other nice afterlife place) and he will be granted supernatural powers. The young man stays at his agent's house and has designs--sacrificial designs--on the agent's daughter. It all comes to a head at a luau. It ends abruptly an it's never made clear if the man gains his supernatural powers...? Oh well.
I'm sure the whole ceremony and all that is rather yikes, but it's 1973, so some yikes is not entirely unexpected in a story centered around a luau. What's more surprising is that Kim Novak came out of retirement for this shit! What's even more MORE surprising is that she replaced Rita Hayworth! Madness, indeed.
Tales That Witness Madness was written by actress Jennifer Jayne (under the pseudonym "Jay Fairbank"), who previously worked with Francis in Dr Terror's House of Horrors. In my mind, when she wrapped up her segment in that film ("Vampire"), she said to herself "Ooh, you know what, lemme write one of those" and then she did. She also penned another Freddie Francis film, the reportedly nutso (I have not seen it to attest!) Son of Dracula, a musical starring the likes of Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, and Peter Frampton. Clearly she just wrote whatever she wanted without a care in the world, and to this I say thank you, Jennifer Jayne. Does any of her work make sense? It doesn't, who cares?