Director: Don Sharp
Screenplay: Julian Halevy and Arnaud d'Usseau
Starring: Nicky Henson, Beryl Reid, George Sanders, Robert Hardy
Duration: 90 min
BBFC Certification: 15
I have fond memories of the 1990s - I was in my early 20s and was spending my weekend nights hanging out with my friends in the local rock club drinking watered down bitter and "dancing" to grunge and punk. Returning home in the early hours of the morning, I would usually switch on the TV and surf the channels looking for anything to grab my drunken attention. It was during this time that I discovered many low budget movies that have since gone on to be regarded as cult classics - The Wicker Man, Abominable Dr Phibes, Killer Klowns From Outer Space and my favourite, Psychomania. I was fascinated by 60s/70s acid rock, biker culture and the occult, and Psychomania had the perfect blend of these, albeit in a slightly polite English way.
The film follows biker gang, The Living Dead, terrorising middle England, which mainly consists of playing ‘Chicken’ with cars and riding their bikes through shopping centres – not quite the sex and drugs rampages seen in US biker films of the time! Opening with a beautifully shot slow motion sequence of the gang riding through the mist surrounding an ancient stone circle known as The Seven Witches, we are introduced to the gang’s leader, Tom (played by Nicky Henson), a frightfully posh young man with a fascination with death. After discussing the idea of ‘crossing over to the other side’ with his girlfriend, Abby (who doesn’t seem too keen), he returns home to be greeted by butler, Shadwell (played with gusto by George Sanders in his last film – he committed suicide shortly after completing filming) and his clairvoyant mother (Beryl Reid). After questioning them about the finality of death, they allow access to a mysterious room in which he experiences nightmare visions and loses consciousness. Upon waking he realises that if he commits suicide but truly believes that he will return from the dead, then he will. Shortly after, Tom kills himself by driving off a bridge and plummeting into a river.
The gang bury Tom at The Seven Witches, rather bizarrely, in full leathers and sat astride his motorbike and then have a rather hippyish service for him, including one of the gang singing the rather catchy folk song ‘Riding Free’. That night, in a scene that was later copied by Motorhead for their Killed By Death video, Tom bursts out of his grave at full throttle on his bike running over a late night visitor to the stone circle. He then persuades each member to kill themselves and return from the dead, although Abby takes some convincing. Newly revived from the dead, the gang go on a murderous rampage with police inspector, Robert Hardy, on their tail.
Although a bit cheesy and dated, Psychomania is a gripping and genuinely creepy film with a fantastic cast obviously have a great time. It includes some truly great stunt and bike riding work, and John Cameron’s fuzzed-up funk-rock soundtrack is outstanding.
Psychomania is released in dual format DVD and Blu-Ray set. I was sent the DVD to review, and the restored picture is very crisp with excellent detail. Sound quality is rich and clear, with noticeable clarity of the dialogue.
BFI Flipside are distributing Psychomania on dual DVD/Blu-Ray. The set of extras include:
An Interview with Nicky Henson
Return of the Living Dead
The Sound of Psychomania
Hell for Leather
Wilson Bros. Trivia Track
Discovering Britain with John Betjeman
Roger Wonders Why