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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest IV

Hell Plaza Oktoberfest IV

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Psychomania (DVD)

1973 (2010) - Severin Films
Released on DVD on October 26th, 2010

We've had to face a lot of fears so far and there will be many more to come before this year's Oktoberfest returns to the grave. But Psychomania, the cult British zombie-biker movie from 1973, may well have the scariest premise of them all. What if the dead returned to life, but instead of wanting to swallow your soul, drink your blood or eat your skin, they were really just a bunch of assholes?

Nicky Henson stars as Tom Latham, leader of a biker gang called The Living Dead. Like all good biker gangs at the time, they spend their days riding dangerously around hairpin turns and hassling the squares. But Tom's mother (Beryl Reid) is harboring a secret.

She knows how to become one of the undead. All you have to do is really and truly believe that you'll come back and you will. Frankly, I can't believe that of all the zombie movies I've seen, this is the first time someone's used the Peter Pan method of resurrecting the dead. Anyway, Tom commits suicide and sure enough, comes roaring back as an immortal. It's not long before he convinces the rest of the gang to join him and, after a series of biker suicides, The Living Dead are living up to their moniker. The bikers then do what anyone would do armed with superhuman strength and invulnerability... hassle the squares.

Psychomania is without a doubt one of the strangest movies I've seen in quite some time. It makes almost no sense whatsoever. Legendary actor George Sanders appears as Mrs. Latham's butler, Shadwell, and it's never really clear if he's supposed to be the Devil, the undead leader of some frog-worshipping cult or something else entirely. This was also Sanders' final film. He took his own life before the movie was released, reportedly not long after watching an early cut of the film (and I wish I could say I was kidding about that but I'm not). And I don't know if there was a Karo Syrup shortage in England at the time or what but despite a double-digit body count, there's nary a single drop of blood on screen.

Even so, Psychomania remains a uniquely entertaining picture and some of the reasons are even intentional. The stunt-work is admittedly impressive and the image of the newly-resurrected Tom exploding from his grave astride his motorcycle is undeniably cool. John Cameron's score is as groovy as they come. Any fan of 70s fuzz rock is going to want to add this soundtrack to their collection. Of course, like all of the most fondly remembered schlock, Psychomania has plenty of "what-were-they-thinking" moments. Tom's biker funeral is pretty hilarious, as is a frog-vision he has early on that was probably meant to be creepy. At least, that's what I assume. The movie has a thing for frogs, OK?

Severin must have really and truly believed that Psychomania would cross over to the other side because this DVD resurrection is pretty terrific. A disclaimer before the film informs us that the original negative is believed lost, so we'll have to forgive the hissy audio, print damage, occasional faded colors and other problems. Given what they had to work with, the results are surprisingly decent. Extras include a trio of featurettes, two of which focus on the music (hardly surprising since that seems to be the one aspect of the movie everyone agrees is pretty good). John Cameron discusses his work on the film and his career in general, while folk-rock singer Harvey Andrews reminisces about recording the oddball biker anthem "Riding Free". In the third featurette, actors Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor discuss their experiences on Psychomania, each of them expressing bewilderment that anyone even remembers it. I enjoyed all three of these quite a bit. It's a refreshing change seeing actors and crew members admit that a movie was just another job that they have no particular fondness or displeasure toward. Great stuff and kudos to Severin for tracking these folks down. The disc also includes the original theatrical trailer and an enthusiastic introduction from Fangoria editor Chris Alexander.

I don't know if there's a long history of British biker movies. Until this one came along, I had assumed that biker gangs were referred to as "motor-cycle enthusiast organisations" in the UK. Regardless, I'm pretty confident there isn't another one quite as out there as the occult lunacy of Psychomania. Give this one a spin and let the good times roll.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/C-/B

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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