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Writings on film. Shock and art. There may be blood.



Vital data
Alternate titles:

The Death Wheelers


Year:
Genre:

Horror

Biker

Director: Don Sharp
Stars:

Nicky Henson

Mary Larkin

Co-Stars:

George Sanders

Beryl Reid

Written by:
Country: England

Psychomania

Mr. Toad's wild ride

Psychomania turned up in the TCM Underground lineup a few years back. This was in the middle of a zombie craze, and the movie got some buzz as "zombies on motorcycles." The reality is not nearly that awesome: the film involves resurrection through a pagan ritual and has no elements that one would traditionally associate with the zombie genre. It's a rather polite supernatural biker film that has a touch of punk attitude and some moments of humor, and it only technically qualifies as horror.

A gang of serial annoyers

Psychomania was made in 1973 but feels much older. Most of the "mayhem" committed by the motorcycle gang involves things like tipping over traffic cones and knocking groceries out of people's hands. They could only be scary to a society that is so conformist as to be shocked at the sight of a motorcycle riding down a stairwell instead of the street. That seems like a quaint attitude for 1973, the film could just as easily have been made ten years earlier.

Tom, played by Nicky Henson, is the leader of a motorcycle gang, The Living Dead. His well-to-do mother (Beryl Reid) and her butler (George Sanders) have a secret, an occult ritual that resurrects the dead. The participant dies and, once resurrected, becomes invulnerable to death. Tom is ready to go for it, so he leads the gang out for a fun day of harassing mothers who push strollers. In the ensuing police chase, Tom plunges off a bridge some 20 feet to certain death. I'm pretty sure I've jumped off taller bridges and swum away just fine, but we'll play along here. Tom is buried mounted on his motorcycle.

Give that toad some airholes!

A little while later Tom revs his engine and rides out of his grave. He's much meaner now: already dead, he has no fear of consequences for his actions. His first action is to run down an unlucky passerby, who falls dead. What did they make British out of in those days, anyway? Porcelain? If this movie's any indication, they broke very easily. Were the British all made in China? Maybe that's why they like tea so much. Anyway, Tom's on a killing spree and has progressed from nuisance to menace. The gang wants in on this action, and before long, The Living Dead are literally living dead and are ready to go out and really mess up some people's days.

Tom's mother is upset at the resurrection of the others, as she is concerned that they will be evil. Because Tom's five murders in one evening is within acceptable evil limits. The bikers, meanwhile, celebrate their death by inflicting more grocery-shed. This is a British film, however, and order must be upheld. Count on Mum to put her foot down.

The fun side of death

Psychomania was George Sanders' final role before terminal boredom set in. Maybe this is what killed him? Or was he trying to perform the toad ritual in real life? This is an odd film. There is some mood, thanks mainly to the soundtrack's Pink Floyd-ish organ chords. The movie is tame but has some moments of humor. Many of the gang's offenses come off as little more than a childish thumb of the nose, but their actions have an element of un-civil disobedience that hints at the punk movement soon to come. The bikers launch into their petty harassments with the enthusiasm of the "let's go commit some crimes" punks from Repo Man. There is a nice touch of black humor as the gang members come up with creative ways to off themselves. It's not a great film by any means, but it has some fun moments.

 

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