Our October theme of the month, Bump in the Night: Horror Tropes, continues with Tales that Witness Madness (1973).

PAUSE IT: What do you see? A fiery blaze engulfs a sinister-looking portrait in Freddie Francis’s Tales That Witness Madness (1973). In “Penny Farthing,” the second tale of four short episodes in this horror anthology, the proprietor of an antique store, Timothy (Peter McEnery) is tormented by a distant relative “Uncle Albert” (Frank Forsyth), an evil spirit living inside a photograph. October’s theme of the month is “Horror Tropes.” Simply put, a trope is a commonplace feature, device, or theme native to a medium or genre. As it applies to horror films, this can often mean cliche jump scares, creepy children’s songs, and the unkillable monster that keeps coming back to life no matter how many times you think you finished it off. We’ve seen each a million times in a million different movies. At their worst, these cliches can frustrate and bore us to the point of tears, but not all tropes are as easily dismissed. In fact, some continue to persist due not to the hackneyed laziness of filmmakers, but because they tap into some deep-seated emotion buried within our psyche. In these cases, there is something ineffable and mysterious that dates back to long ago in human history and evolution. Our collective frightened response, then, is not contrived, but rather is reactive and instinctual. Such is the case with fire. As humans, the element of fire is tied to our life cycle. Fire warms us, cooks our food, and lights our way. It also, as a destructive force, threatens us. Forest fires, lightning, molten lava, and explosions, all activate the fear locus of our brain. The deterrent of hell’s eternal damnation has appeared in many of the world’s great religions serving as the ultimate judgment to would-be heretics and blasphemers. Is this, then, why so many horror films–including The Wicker Man (1973), The Thing (1982), and perhaps most famously Carrie (1976)–end in fire? In fire are we not reminded of our own undoing, of our own torment and suffering, of our own mortality? Is fire not the very deepest of human emotion set ablaze?

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)
Director: Freddie Francis
Cast: Jack Hawkins, Donald Pleasence, Kim Novak
Cinematography by: Norman Warwick

Available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.