Saturday, August 4, 2012

Stream a Little Stream: Tales that Witness Madness

Thanks to the 1973 British horror anthology Tales that Witness Madness, I no longer have to refer to this lovely method of transportation as "that bicycle with the big front wheel":

It is called a penny farthing bicycle, FYI.

Also thanks to this Freddie Francis-directed movie, I know that Freddie Francis has directed at least one idiotic movie.

It has a strong opening story, "Mr. Tiger", that involves a boy of about six who is apparently so troubled by his parents' near-constant fighting that he becomes obsessed with the imaginary titular figure, who the boy describes as a red-meat-craving, bedtime-storytelling, parent-loathing best friend.  Mr. Tiger turns out to be quite real, and dispatches of the boy's annoying family in a delightfully nasty sequence that shows the boy providing musical accompaniment to the bloodletting on his toy piano.

If Schroeder had been created by David Cronenberg.

Any sense of foreboding that was stirred up by "Mr. Tiger" is forgotten when we get to "Penny Farthing"...

...which has the audacity to believe that shot after shot of the expression of the subject of a portrait changing from blandly crotchety to aggravated to grumpily inquisitive (complete with side-eye as it observes someone's actions) is going to scare the audience. Everything about this segment, from the overbearing evil spirit of a hapless antique store owner's uncle, to the ludicrously constructed flashback scenes, to the fiery poltergeist blowout at the climax, is unintentionally funny.

"You kids get off the grass!"

Now the wheels are greased (pun intended) for the offensively stupid third segment, "Mel".  Mel is a possessive (and possessed?) felled tree that attracts the attention, and I mean ATTENTION, of Brian Thompson (Michael Jayston), who comes across as a fourth-rate Michael Caine. 

This is just depressing. 

 He stands the tree in his living room and calls it art, then inappropriately dotes on it, to the chagrin of his affection-starved wife Bella (Joan Collins). For all its faults, this movie has the distinction of being the (I assume) only film in which a man caresses a tree's boob. 

"There's a ribbon in my hair, for Christ's sake. You can't give me ten minutes?"

Bella eventually loses the meager patience she had with Mel and tries to lay the smack-down on her with a machete, but is killed for her effort.  One might expect a "death by evil tree" scene to be Evil Dead 2-riffic, but all carnage takes place offscreen, in silence.  Not one drop of blood appears. If an ending sucks in the forest and no one is there to hate it...

The fourth and final segment, "Luau", is about two Hawaiian-god worshipping gentlemen who kill the virginal daughter of a literary agent and serve her roasted corpse at a luau as part of a ritual. The god's name is pronounced "Mammaloo" and hearing actor Michael Petrovich (sleepwalking through his role) passionlessly announce it again and again is a scream.  

"Can I get some extra pineapple with my stabbed teenager?"

The wraparound story involves Donald Pleasance as a psychiatrist trying to convince a colleague that the aforementioned stories are real, and failing miserably. The doctor is declared insane and dragged away, right before his colleague is killed by Mr. Tiger. Tales from the Darkside, this isn't.  Grade:  D+


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