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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Psychomania (Blu-ray)
Psychomania (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video // PG // February 21, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted March 1, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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Not so much a horror movie as a biker film with supernatural elements, Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers, 1973) has a peculiar naïve charm, fusing violent, Wild Angels-type mayhem with something only vaguely resembling the iconography of early-‘70s British horror. It doesn't even try to be scary. Instead, Psychomania plays by its own unique set of rules, and the results are an entertaining if pretty terrible B-movie.

Arrow Video Blu-ray combines a new, sparkling transfer with a glut of supplements culled from a 2010 DVD release (by Severin Films) and a 2016 Blu-ray edition in the U.K. by, of all labels, the British Film Institute.

Hell-raiser and all-around sociopath Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) is the leader of a motorcycle gang known as "The Living Dead." From his black magic-dabbling mother (Beryl Reid), a medium hosting séances from her lavish estate, Tom learns the secret of eternal life. According to the film, one merely has to commit suicide committed with the unflinching certainty that he or she will in short order return from the dead, ageless and immortal. Without hesitation, he drives his bike off an M3 Motorway overpass, and soon after springs back to life, none the worse for the wear.

Elated, he urges his fellow gang members to "cross over into the other side," including girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin, very appealing). She's understandably reluctant, but the others gleefully comply. One of the gang, momentarily uncertain it'll work, dies in the process; the rest see their impervious immortality as little more than the means to commit even greater, more violent mayhem, murdering the citizenry of their suburban London community with impunity.

Psychomania may be more than a little ridiculous, but it holds the viewer's interest with its unusual, quirky charms. Most striking is the gleefulness in which these none-too-bright hoodlums opt to off themselves ("Oh man!" says biker Jane [Ann Michelle], "What are we waiting for?!"), unconcerned about such matters as painful death and the potential drawbacks of resurrection as the living dead. One of the bikers, for instance, opts to drown himself, which would seem unnecessarily painful, while others, showing a little flair, opt for spectacularly shocking ends, seemingly unaware of the consequences should they survive injury.

Indeed, Psychomania makes suicide look so desirable that it's surprisingly it didn't result in a lawsuit or two from parents of gullible teens inspired to do likewise.

Emboldened by the newfound immortality, the gang brazenly run down pedestrians, stab others, and in one bloodless but still fairly shocking moment, Jane plows into a pram, baby and all. The movie suggests the entire story takes place in a single community where the gang appears to maim and murder innocent civilians by the dozen, and yet not only does this not become headline news across the country, a single inspector (Robert Hardy) is assigned the case, and his lack of any sense of urgency (they're easily tracked down and make no attempt to elude arrest) adds to the picture's surreal quality.

Equally unreal is Abby, Tom's girlfriend, who is so sweetly innocent one cannot fathom why she'd ever attach herself to such murderous thugs. And yet she never objects once to their murderous rampage, or questions the wisdom of mass suicide.

The movie dodges numerous other obvious questions. What if the gang were captured and sentenced to life imprisonment? What would happen if one lost an arm or a leg, or were severely burned, quite possible given their perilous cycle riding? Tom is stabbed in one scene but laughs it off.

After Tom commits suicide the gang decides, apparently without any assistance or authority from undertakers, morticians, or the graveyard, to bury Tom atop his motorcycle, without a coffin. But in the movie the grave clearly isn't deep enough, stopping at about Tom's neck.

Filmed in 1971, Psychomania was the final film of George Sanders, who plays Mrs. Latham's butler, also immortal. The once-great character actor had been slumming for the last decade, and was in the early stages of dementia, though he's steadier on his feet and stronger of voice here than he was in Doomwatch (1972), which conceivably might have been shot immediately after. In the supplements accompanying the movie, Nicky Henson relates a sad final indignity: When Sanders arrived to film his part, the canvas chair provided to the Oscar-winning actor had "George Saunders" written on the back. He committed suicide the following April, famously leaving a suicide note that read, "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." One apocryphal story claims Sanders was prompted after seeing an answer print of Psychomania, but this seems unlikely given his waning health (or the fact that he made far worse films). And, unlike the biker gang, Sanders didn't come back.

Psychomania's palatability partly is the result of the screenplay disconnect with logic and realism, partly the almost wholesome look of the gang, less threatening in their appearance than Eric von Zipper and his rats and mice in AIP's Beach Party movies. And partly it has to do with the film's professionalism, despite its obviously low budget. Don Sharp (The Kiss of the Vampire The Face of Fu Manchu, Bear Island) often provided direction superior to other filmmakers working at his budget level, and the stunt work is unusually ambitious and well executed for a movie in this price range.

Video & Audio

This reviewer's old DVD of Psychomania had a terrible looking Reel 1 and while the rest of the video transfer looked better, it can't hold a candle to Arrow's 1080p Blu-ray. The original camera negative was missing, but the original B&W color separations were located, and combined in a 2K restoration they rendered a sharp image with the original hues. The film is presented in its original 1.66:1 widescreen, with strong Dolby Digital mono audio, with optional English subtitling. The disc is region A encoded, while a DVD disc, also included, is region 1.

Extra Features

Supplements include "Return of the Living Dead," a 2010 featurette with members of the cast and crew; "Sound of Psychomania," an interview with composer John Cameron; "Riding Free," an interview with singer Harvey Andrews; and new interviews with star Nicky Henson and the company that provided the original costumes. A thick, full-color booklet includes essays by Vic Pratt, William Fowler, Andrew Roberts, and Christopher Koetting. A brief restoration demo and trailer round out the extras.

Parting Thoughts

Not good but goofily enjoyable, aided and abetted by a sparkling transfer and good supplements, Psychomania is Highly Recommended for receptive audiences.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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