Thursday, November 18, 2010

Psychomania (1973)

The Living Dead are a biker gang in a small English town. They wile away their days riding their bikes in circles around what might be the solidified rock remains of witches and hassling local shop keeps and food vendors. But their leader, Tom, is fed up with his mortal soul and decides to kill himself and come back with the indestructible power of Satan coursing through his veins. This is apparently accomplished by worshipping frogs and entering a room in his folk's manor that no one has entered since his father died there 18 years previous. Upon his return, Tom sets about convincing the rest of the Living Dead members to off themselves so that they make reek unholy havoc together. Be warned local grocers, your end cap display of canned vegetables will never be the same again.

I may be coming off as a bit harsh within the synopsis, but Psychomania is actually pretty great. There is hardly a dull moment and it is readily apparent that the filmmakers were not taking themselves too seriously. Chalk it up to poor research, but I was expecting a far more dire and bloody event.

It is very much a film of its time (not that I am all that well-versed on 1970's Britain) as the set and costume designs quite clearly illustrate. I almost half expected The Kelly Affair to show up at a local club on their European tour. This plays well with the underlying dark humor as it would be difficult to take Psychomania seriously had it gone for a more somber tone. While it starts quickly enough, the movie really gets going once Tom plunges to his death. The funeral itself has great flair as Tom is buried upright on his bike while a fellow Living Dead member regales us with a cheesy folk song about "riding free." It doesn't take long after that for Tom to burst screaming out of his grave (always a great scene made even better by the inclusion of him atop his deathcycle).

I made light of the gang's crimes in the description above and there remains a rather strange dichotomy after they return as ghouls as they continue to ride their bikes through shop aisles and create what can only be described as a mild nuisance, but then they also take to compiling a pretty hefty body count along the way. We see almost none of this action as the movie routinely shows just the bloodless aftermath which again was likely the right choice considering the overall tone throughout.

There are also a few choice chase scenes that considering the budget are insanely well done. Interesting camera angles coupled with the weaving of the roadways and some pretty heavy traffic make it all the more exciting and in contrast to the rather pedestrian camerawork that is presented during the non-action scenes. Kudos, as well, to a rather hilarious montage of the lesser gang members doing themselves in; my favorite being the one stripped to his skivvies and dragging a thick chain and weights around his ankle to the local riverbed.

Now, I can't say that I totally understood how returning from the dead worked here. Apparently, one just has to really believe they will return so don't go crossing your fingers at the last second if you decide to give it a go. This invariably made me think of another slightly better known film about the power of belief and of Dorothy clicking her heels together, "I will return from the dead, I will return from the dead...Hail Satan!" But then, that particular movie might not be quite so esteemed as it is had they gone that route.


  1. Weird. I just posted a review of Psychomania earlier in the week. I like yours better. I must say kudos for 'mild nuisance', it's the perfect despcription of the Living Dead's antics. Great review.

  2. In the universe in which Psychomania operates, you can return from the dead simply by believing you'll come back after you kill yourself. Pretty simple, really and something I've never heard before. Also, I guess it helps if your corpse is buried sitting upright on your motorcycle before it is lowered into the ground. Best burial ever! And if you worship the frog cult and are the son of Satan.

    Lots to love here! And I always enjoy a biker flick with a supernatural element. See Werewolves on Wheels and Blood Freak for more of that goodness.

  3. Jinx: Yeah, I sent Psychomania to the top of my Netflix queue after reading your rather intriguing review. Who knows how long it might have languished at the bottom without it? Much thanks.

    Jenn: Also found it interesting that the gang returned to life looking no worse for wear, not even dark circles under the eyes. Satan takes care of his zombies, I suppose. Pretty sure Werewolves on Wheels is in the queue, will have to look into Blood Freak. Appreciate the recommendations.