YEAR RELEASED: 1973
DIRECTOR: Don Sharp
CAST: George Sanders, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Ann Michelle, Roy Holder, Beryl Reid
ANDREW GARVEY reviews the most 70s of horrors, Psychomania!
Sometimes known by its alternative title, Death Wheelers (which at least makes some kind of sense) and directed by Don Sharp, who helmed a pair of Fu Manchu films and Hammer classic Rasputin the Mad Monk in the mid-1960s, Psychomania is about as 1970s as a film can get.
Biker gang the Living Dead (all eight of them) are led by Tom Latham – effectively a low-rent Alex from a Clockwork Orange – the posh son of a medium, who lives at home with his weird mother and her mysterious butler. Obsessed with the idea of dying and coming back, Tom decides to kill himself and when he does so, and inexplicably returns, he convinces his gang to follow him to the other side and back.
One thing that stands out immediately is a fantastic instrumental soundtrack by John Cameron (responsible for the Top of the Pops’ intro music throughout the ‘70s) that fits the film perfectly. It’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to say Cameron’s soundtrack does as much, atmospherically, for this film as Italian prog-rockers Goblin did for Dario Argento’s films in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The opening three minutes of slo-mo fog-shrouded biker antics in a stone circle are the perfect set-up for such a wacky film.
But there’s more than just music. We also get a séance. And a magic mirror. And a mysterious black-walled room. Bikers, well, obviously we get bikers. And frogs. And ritual magic. And murders, lots of them (even if practically everything takes place offscreen). And a spate of quite silly suicides. There’s also one of the most ridiculous burials in cinema history.
We also get some great, cheddary dialogue. Tom certainly gets the best, throwing out corkers like “we blew a fellow’s mind. He went right through the windscreen. It was great fun.” He also at one point announces “well, I’m dead mother – but apart from that I couldn’t better” and tries to convince his reluctant girlfriend of the virtues of suicide, telling her “you can only die once. After that, nothing and no one, can harm you.”
A surprisingly bloodless film (most of the biker gang’s rampages involve driving really, really fast very close to pedestrians) for one with so many murders, the gruesome stuff is almost all implied or takes place offscreen. There’s never any real explanation of what’s going on, or why the gang can come back from the dead and the whole lot of them could ride side-by-side through some of the film’s gigantic plot holes.
Psychomania is not a scary horror film. But it is entertaining, ridiculous, trashy and funny, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. And it’s very, very British.