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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...