Riotous British biker horror classic Psychomania gets the deluxe treatment from Arrow Video
As the 1960s wound down and turned into the 1970s, British horror cinema – like most international genre fare – shifted to cater to the more visceral needs of a new generation. And while for a decade, the U.K., had been known and lauded primarily for the Gothic horror films coming from Hammer Studios, several smaller entities popped up and tried to shake the foundations of the formula.
Released the same year as Stanley Kubrick’s landmark adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Don (Kiss of the Vampire) Sharp’s ludicrous and awesome 1971 undead biker romp Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers) stood alone. Blending the tropes of the British “angry young man” movie and the post-Easy Rider angst of the American biker romp by way of a quasi-Night of the Living Dead zombie film, Psychomania was about as nutty and unclassifiable a film as one could imagine and, after it faded from theaters, it became a staple for UK kidlets growing up in front of the boob tube. Later, at the dawn of the home video boom in the 1980s, many fledgling US imprints thought the film to be in the public domain and because of this, it became one of the most mass-produced and easily available titles on the market, a bootlegging trend that continued with hard media’s shift to DVD.
Now, seven years after Severin Films remastered the movie for their own gorgeous, feature-packed DVD release and a year after its Blu-ray premiere via BFI Flipside, Psychomania is getting the Arrow Video treatment and, as one has come to expect from Arrow, the results are superlative. The film has been restored from three monochrome interpositves blended with a 35mm print and then given a 2K scan and the movie looks better than it’s ever looked. The black leathers are inky and slick, the reds scream from the screen and the detail is sharp, grainy and wonderfully cinematic.
For those who have not seen Psychomania, the movie stars Witchfinder General’s Nicky Henson ans Tom Latham, the spoiled brat leader of the ramshackle, hell-raising motorcycle gang The Living Dead. Tom lives with his medium mother (The Beast in the Cellar’s Beryl Reid) and grinning, possibly Satanic butler Shadwell (Hollywood legend George Sanders, who killed himself after the film wrapped!) and he’s long been obsessed about the fate of his long missing father, a seeker who went looking for the secret of eternal life and paid a deadly price. Tom pushes his mother and his sinister, patriarchal manservant into giving up the keys to the netherworld and they do, telling the cocky lad that in order to cheat death, he must commit suicide and, at the moment of death, be absolutely confident that he will return from the dead. Soon Tom is staging his wild demise and, after his pals have buried him, he does indeed come roaring out of his grave, committing all manner of murder and mischief. And when the rest of The Living Dead get wind of this, they too begin taking their own lives in various ludicrous, grandiose ways.
Psychomania has a vibe that is entirely its own. It’s never quite convincing and never really mines some of the darker devilish subtext and perversions that simmer under its surface, but its lean, tough, violent (but not gory) and tons of fun. And the score by Led Zeppelin associate John Cameron is a legendary slab of psychedelic fuzz rock extraordinaire.
Arrow packs the back end of their Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with the usual embarrassment of riches, including a riotous interview with the still dashing, self-deprecating Henson who reflects with humor and candor the making of the movie and explains its goofy appeal. He also calls attention to one of the movies more eccentric moments involving a massive baguette sandwich. There’s an amazing archival interview with Cameron breaking down the score, a ported-over featurette with the rest of the living cast a wonderful short feature detailing the restoration of the movie and much, much more.
Psychomania isn’t a guilty pleasure. It’s a great one-shot horror movie filled with weird, sometimes eerie atmosphere, crazy stunt work, cheeky performances, mild kink and a unique charm all its own and it’s truly exciting to know that it’s getting the respect it has long deserved.