Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Psychomania (1973)

... aka: Death Wheelers, The
... aka: Death Wheelers Are... Psycho Maniacs!
... aka: Der Frosch (The Frog)
... aka: Living Dead, The
... aka: Psicomania
... aka: Psycho Maniacs

Directed by:
Don Sharp

This very bizarre British B flick centers around a violent motorcycle gang called "The Living Dead," whose favorite pastimes include running motorists off the road, terrorizing people in public squares, smacking baby-carriage-strolling women on the ass as they pass by, stabbing tires with switchblades and treating graveyards like cheap hotel rooms. Gang leader Tom (Nicky Henson) is obsessed with crossing over to "the other side." Luckily for him, his mother (Beryl Reid) is some kind of clairvoyant who makes money holding séances and is somehow in cahoots with Satan. She also may have killed his father years earlier and claims to know the secret to eternal life. Eventually, mum grants Tom access to her knowledge via some portal in a locked room of the house and a special medallion. Tom kills himself by running his bike off a tall bridge, is buried in a grave sitting upright on his motorcycle (!) and soon comes roaring back to life in a memorable scene driving right out of his grave. Zombie Tom then decides to share his secret with his biker buddies, who start killing themselves so they can be brought back to life as immortals.

It's hard to believe that once upon a time someone out there thought this was a good idea for a movie. I could never quite put my finger on just what this was trying to accomplish. Black magic elements aside, this doesn't quite work as a horror film, as it never once attempts to be scary or creepy. It also doesn't work as an exploitation film because it's far too tame. There's no sex or nudity and hardly any violence or foul language. Hell, I don't even remember so much as a drop of blood being spilled and the "zombie" bikers look no worse for wear than they did prior to ending their mortal life. However, this does somewhat work as a gimmicky, silly piece of brainless entertainment. Clearly made to cash in on the big biker movie craze of the 60s and 70s, which took off after the success of Easy Rider (1969), this is seldom boring and pretty lively, amusing and fast-paced. The score and stunt work are good and there are some genuine laughs along the way, such as a hilarious montage of bikers offing themselves in a variety of ways, such as driving out into traffic and leaping from tall buildings, bridges and even airplanes!

There's definitely an attempt at an anarchic youth appeal here, with rebellious long-haired drop-outs doing their thing regardless of what any adult has to say about it. Also to appeal to the younger crowd, the film eventually becomes less chaotic toward the end in favor of a 'doomed love' subplot where Tom's girlfriend Abby (Mark Larkin) can't decide whether to live her mortal life or kill herself to join her boyfriend for all eternity. Needless to say, with all of the silliness going on, that aspect of the plot is not very compelling. The story is all over the place and confusing in spots, incorporating things like 100 year old toads, magic mirrors and George Sanders in a weird role as a cross-hating butler who never ages and may be Satan himself... though I'd like to think Satan has more exciting things to do than cater to an old psychic and her delinquent son for decades!

Though many of the people involved in this hokey, dated film (which received terrible reviews upon release) would just soon forgot their participation in it, it's certainly worth a look for fans of strange minor cult flicks. Is it good? Well, no. Not really. But it does offer a freewheeling, quirky change of pace to some of the stuffier British genre films of the time being offered up by Hammer Productions and other studios. The cast also includes Ann Michelle (previously seen in The Virgin Witch) as a biker chick, Robert Hardy as a police inspector, Patrick Holt and Shakespearean actor Roy Holder. It has also benefited from some very cool poster art over the years, though some of these distributors clearly attempted to sell it as an action flick...

Shot as Psychomania (a rather nonsensical title given the premise) and shown in the UK under that title, this was given the new and, in my opinion, much better title The Death Wheelers here in the U.S., where it received a PG rating and played on the bottom half of a double bill with Horror Express (1972). Both films were written by Arnaud d'Usseau and Julian Zimet and made by the short-lived Benmar Productions.

If you're thinking about purchasing a copy, there are several good ones on the market, but your best bet now is probably the Severin "Collector's Edition" DVD release. Though the original negatives for the film are believed to no longer exist, the Severin release offers up a very decent print of the uncut version plus some good extras, including new interviews with many of the surviving cast members (Henson, Larkin, Holder, several others) and composer John Cameron. The Image release (part of their "Euroshock Collection") also isn't bad. However, there are several releases on budget labels you should avoid, including the Geneon release, which is missing 4 minutes (most of which is the séance scene at the beginning) and offers no special features.



crow said...

This has really grown on me. I was a bit disappointed upon first viewing because I had read the description of the movie and it seemed so awesome. There was no way it could live up to its description and those posters.

After the initial downer, I thought this could be a nice little late night movie to enjoy annually. It isn't anything great, but there's just this cult quality about it that appeals to me.

Sadly, though, I think this was a potential catalyst in Sanders saying "enough is enough" to life.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Yes, a true shame poor Sanders' career ended with a number of "paycheck performances" in genre films like this, Doomwatch and the bland Endless Night. Hi suicide note ("Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored....") makes sense once you see him in these flicks.

David Tymon said...

Possibly my all time favourite film... not because it's good (it isn't, well, it is... erm.) but because it's been with me since childhood. I first saw it when i was young enough to find the bikers intimidating and not realise just how trashy it was. When i was old enough to realise how trashy it was, i was taken by the soundtrack so the film still managed to resonate on that level at least.

It's comical to watch... the awfully middle class bikers aren't threatening in the least... and their antics are laughable; pulling out their tongues and going 'ner ner ner', knocking over cereal displays in a shop, trying to run a truck off the road with a piddly little jack-knife (which amazingly works)... then the lovely little musical interlude during Tom's (ridiculous) burial, and his subsequent rise from the dead (which is a great scene). Another cracking scene is when the bodies disappear from the morgue; the camera slowly pans 360*, the music is spooky. We'll never now how the police guard was overpowered, but we know where the police ended up ;).

I love the DVD extras... not a single member of the cast seems to have a good thing to say about it, and appear completely bemused that it's become a cult flick. Some of those posters are awesome, if ever so slightly misleading :)

Great film (IMO). Great post!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Thanks David. Never underestimate the power of nostalgia! There are quite a few not-so-great movies I saw as a kid that are impossible for me NOT to enjoy now. Had I seen this one when I was younger it probably would have been one of those.

Unknown said...

Good entertainment. Not a great movie but I'd like it to get the Svengoolie treatment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...