Psychomania (1973) AKA The Death Wheelers
Gotta love the folks at the British Film Institute for restoring this little beauty. At one time Psychomania would have been dismissed as a piece of British half-arsed 70s trash exploitation, emulating better films from the USA and fair enough it probably is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a charming relic of British film history or a whole lot of fun either.
Riding the wave of US biker flicks that peaked with Easy Rider in 1969, (still putting bums on seats in British cinemas even in the late 1970s when I finally got to see it) and sensationalist tabloid headlines about out of control motorcycle gangs the producers of Psychomania decided it would be a winning idea at the box office to combine a biker flick with that great standby of the 1970s, the Horror Movie.
So Nicky Henson is Tom the leader of motorcycle tearaways the Living Dead, who terrorise the local town. Fortunately Tom’s mum (Beryl Reid) is not only the local lady of the manor (with the most appalling taste in psychedelic interior design), she’s also a devil worshiper who imparts to Tom the secret of eternal life. Basically you just have to believe that you will come back as you kill yourself, so soon Tom’s away over the bridge into the river. True to his word as soon as the gang bury him at the local stone circle, sitting upright on his bike, Tom comes roaring out of his grave.
Buoyed up by Tom’s remarkable come back the whole gang top themselves (some in quite hilariously funny ways) come back and proceed to run riot. Only Tom’s girlfriend Abby who botches her suicide attempt stands in the way of the gang’s mission to commit mayhem.
In common with most early 70s films dealing with British youth culture, Psychomania just gets it spectacularly wrong with the gang’s ‘hip’ clothes and music not to mention the received pronunciation dialogue – ‘We call them the Fuzz mother!’, which of course is all part of the movie’s charm. By today’s standards these undead bikers are really reborn to mild and much of their ‘wild’ behavior seems quite tame in an understated English sort of way. Despite that the motorcycle stunt work is excellent (director Don Sharp’s had been second unit director in charge of the action sequences on Alistair MacLean thriller Puppet on a Chain) and as you would expect film veterans Beryl Reid and George Sanders as Shadwell her creepy butler sidekick steal every scene they appear in. Robert Hardy hams it up too as the local police inspector who is out to get the gang.
A whole bunch of fun and worth the price of admission just for Tom’s spectacular comeback I give Psychomania a 555/666
Trivia: this was the last movie George Sanders made in a long career playing suave and often villainous Englishmen including Jack Favell in Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950), Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert in Ivanhoe (1952), Mr Freeze in TV’s Batman (1966) and the voice of Shere Khan is Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967). He also played Simon Templar in a series of films featuring ‘The Saint’ in the 1940s and 1950s. Sffering from dementia he overdosed on barbiturates in a hotel room in Barcelona on 25 april 1972 leaving a suicide note that said
I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck’
Ann Michelle who played Jane Pettibone is the sister of Allo Allo‘s Vicki Michelle and appeared with her in Tigon’s saucy The Virgin Witch (1972)
Yes that is Eastenders actress June Brown (Dot Cotton) in the church.
Tom’s resurrection clearly influenced Motorhead’s Killed by Death video
Psychomania has been beautifully restored from preservation negatives and is out now on a dual format DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from BFI Flipside
Wilson Bros Trivia Track (2016 onscreen text): a subtitle trivia track by the horror expert siblings.
Return of the Living Dead (2010): interviews with stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore. Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor.
A new interview with Nicky Henson.
Sound of Psychomania (2010): interview with soundtrack composer John Cameron.
Riding Free (2010): interview with ‘Riding Free’ singer Harvey Andrews.
Hell for Leather (2016): documentary about Lewis Leathers who supplied the film’s biker outfits (and my old black leather jacket!).
Remastering Psychomania (2016)
Roger Wonders Why (1965): amateur film about two Christian bikers who visit the 59 Club and meet its founder the pipe smoking leather jacketed Reverend Bill Shergold