Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers) (Don Sharp, 1972)

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A gang of motorcycle hooligans terrorize the population of a small English town. Upon discovering the secret to eternal life, the gang proceeds to off themselves one by one – returning as invincible biker zombies in the process.vlcsnap-2013-02-21-20h52m29s126

This is a tale of misguided youth led by an over-privileged and under-disciplined young lad by the name of Tom. Tom is a complete dick, not unlike Carl. Tom (Nicky Henson; Witchfinder General) likes to ride his motorcycle with his mates in his gang called The Living Dead. See the gang ride around and be a nuisance to those around them… they disrupt traffic, push people over, grab the asses of young ladies, thumb their collective noses at authority figures and generally cause chaos in their rebellious wake! When young Tom coerces (read: whines enough about) the secret behind his father’s mysterious death from his aged psychic mother he also learns the secret of returning from the dead. Being the smarmy young bloke that he is he sets out to try it straight away. When Tom returns from the grave a cockier nitwit (only now invulnerable), the rest of the lot set out to try their luck. Who will stop this gang of undead murderous thugs? And what is the secret behind the butler with the silly frog ring?vlcsnap-2013-02-21-20h58m15s183

Ever since I first saw Don Sharp’s (Kiss of the Vampire; Witchcraft (1964)) Psychomania I’ve admittedly had a bit of a soft spot for it. It’s an entertaining albeit exceedingly tame bit of British filmmaking with an amusing storyline that gets kind of ridiculous at the end, but somehow manages to hold one’s attention for the duration. This is due in part to the excellent soundtrack (sort of a psychedelic/creepy organ/rock mishmash) which will stick in your head for days after watching, and some really amusing motorcycle shenanigans.vlcsnap-2013-02-21-21h02m04s212

The film is peppered with some very amusing quotes as well as some gallows humor (example: when a police officer asks one of The Living Dead  to come down from his flat some 15 stories up, the lad replies with “I’ll be right down” and jumps to his death) that makes the vapid plot a lot more interesting to take. There’s really not much violence, gore or nudity at all – in fact I don’t even recall any profanity – and almost all of the killing occurs off screen with the viewer being lead back to the scene only to find a bloodless aftermath of bodies remaining. That being said, Psychomania makes up for it with its enticing atmosphere and off-kilter action sequences (slow motion motorcycles wind ominously through an old graveyard, impudent biker teens invade the police station/jailhouse and proceed to tear through it on their motorcycles only after after turning themselves in… you get the picture). Indeed one could surmise that at its root Psychomania is a sort wake up call against an unruly generation of snot-nosed youth in dire need of disciplinary action that is probably more relevant today than it was in 1972.vlcsnap-2013-02-21-21h02m23s190

Having been behind the lens of such classics as The Face of Fu Manchu and Hammer’s Rasputin: The Mad Monk (both featuring Christopher Lee), Don Sharp’s competence is certainly never in question and the cast of Psychomania are certainly well put together and entertaining to watch. As previously mentioned, there’s no nudity or sex to speak of and you’ll probably thank Mr. Sharp for that once you see the poor selection of young chippys on offer here. Filmed in (mostly) rural England, the set pieces here are lush and atmospheric, lending a certain flavor to the film that would likely not have worked as well anywhere else.vlcsnap-2013-02-21-21h05m26s215
Purportedly the negative for Psychomania is considered “lost” so Severin has re-released this from an uncut 35MM print that to be honest isn’t very impressive at all. Faces are often blurry and scenes are washed out or muddied which I did find to be a bit of an annoyance at times. It makes me want to dig out my old VHS tape to compare picture quality. Incidentally the previous US release of the film was missing the opening 5 minute séance scene, now thankfully restored here.  Other than the at times sketchy picture, the Severin DVD is your best bet to enjoy this quirky little gem, loaded with exclusive extras such as the über rare theatrical trailer remastered in high definition. Recommended for genre fans who can appreciate more sanitized fare.

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Official COSDS Nunspank Rating:

 

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Duane co-founded The Church of Splatter-Day Saints in 2005. When not immersed in film he's enjoying good whiskey, smoking meat in the backyard or thinking about sluts. He makes a damn fine habanero fire sauce.

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