Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bikers seek immortality through Satan!

Psychomania (aka "Death Wheelers", "The Living Dead" and "The Frog") (1973)
Starring: Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Robert Hardy, Ann Michelle, Beryl Reid and George Sanders
Director: Don Sharp
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When Tom (Henson), the spoiled blue-blood leader of a small-town British motorcycle gang, discovers the secret of eternal life after death from his spiritualist mother (Reid) and her strange butler (Sanders), he and his fellow thugs truly come to resemble the name of their gang... The Living Dead.

"Psychomania" (also known under the far more sensible title "Death Wheelers" or "The Living Dead") is a general round-up of popular early 1970s movie genre cliches (we got anarchistic bikers, sinister cultists, vaguely corrupt authorities, and more ugly fashions and go-go boots than you'd think could ever be featured in one movie) and a spoof that's played so straight that it goes over the heads of many viewers. It's a B-movie that satirizes B-movies with such subtlety that most watchers don't get it.

I can see why many viewers might miss the fact that this is a comedy. The only overtly funny moments are the various suicides the bikers commit so they may rise again as undead, and the scene where a bystander asks a desk Sergeant at the police station if he wants her to close the door on her way out... after two bikers just drove their motorcycles through the doors and into the lobby. The rest of the humor arises from the hodge-podge of the various cinematic cliches that are paraded before us.

On the other hand, this could be an example of "accidental art", but if it is, then this is one of those films that's truly "so bad it's good". I don't this is the case, though, as there are too many things about the movie that are clearly done very competently. The film features a few nicely done cinematic flourishes and tricky camera pans, such as when Tom enters the mysterious room in his mother's house and finds himself trapped; and when the police inspector (Hardy) sets a trap for the Living Dead at the morgue. It also has a surprisingly well-done musical score for its soundtrack. Most British horror films of this type had awful music... but here, we have a nice rockin' guitar-driven theme that captures both the biker motif and is creepy enough to also underscore the horror aspect of the film.

Whether it's a horror movie gone awry, or a subtle spoof that most viewers don't get, I think this film would be a great addition to any Bad Movie Night line-up. I also think that anyone who enjoys low-budget British horror and suspense movies from the 1960s and 1970s will get a kick out of it as well.


  1. Brilliant! I saw Psychomania about a hundred years ago as a kid and much later told my husband about it and he honestly though I'd made it up: zombie bikers, Beryl Reid, an evil frog and folk singing, it does kinda sound like something I'd make up. Eventually managed to track it down and made him watch it and apologise. It really is British B movie gold. Great review.

  2. Yeah, this is one of those movies that has to be seen to be believed. Rarely have we seen bikers as bad-ass as this bunch... the traffic cone kicking scene is the height of action and terror! :D