This one’s for Mr. Bruno, who asked how this 1973 British “horror” flick was. Here’s your answer in the form of an opinion, sir. While it’s got a cult following, is fun as hell to watch, has some striking imagery, Psychomania (aka The Death Wheelers) is very much a “meh” genre flick overall that hasn’t aged well and isn’t even remotely scary. It has some fine ideas and even a solid John Cameron score holding things together. But a lack of “edginess” or even a true sense of danger doom it as a “serious” scare flick.
That said, it’s got that cult following that adores it for a few key reasons such as a brilliant opening sequence, those GREAT skull painted motorcycle helmets worn by The Living Dead cycle gang, a killer shot of a formerly deceased biker bursting from the grave on the bike he was buried on, and a bunch of hilarious demises as most of the gang kills themselves in order to return as immortal bikers… from helllllll!
The plot goes like so: Death-obsessed cycle gang leader Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) discovers he can die via suicide and come back as an un-killable death-obsessed cycle gang leader with the aid of his frog-cult worshiping mum (Beryl Reid). Once risen, he lets his gang, The Living Dead in on his secret and they follow suit, save for his girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin) who doesn’t want to join the ranks of the undead. There’s a bunch of bloodless murders and pre-Mad Max road crimes and chases, a lot of talking and a very weird finale that may baffle you if you weren’t paying attention to the kooky story and just wanted a more brainless flick to chill out to.
For all its excesses, grand stunt work and mystical frog-centric semi-satanic psychobabble-mania, the film just feels very dated to this weary writer. Even when I saw this on TV as a kid (Either on WPIX’ Chiller Theater or WOR’s Fright Night, I believe), something seemed “off” about the movie.
Maybe it was the oddball fact that the “violent” biker gang stuff The Living Dead gang does pre-suicide was more or less public nuisance nonsense and hooligan property destruction shenanigans as opposed to the undead killing sprees they tackle once they’re invincible. Maybe it was the ironic goofiness of Tom’s funeral scene where a guitar playing hippie type warbled out a gentle flower power type song instead of some early heavy metal or hard rockin’ doomy-gloomy tune for the dead tough guy. Maybe it was George Sanders playing his final role a wee bit too aloof here, knowing full well that he’d take his own life for real not too long afterwards? Who knows?
There’s certainly nothing wrong with Don Sharp’s direction, as the film gets to its points with ease and all the actors do what they need to in their roles. The problematic Abby does come off as a wee bit too goody-goody to be a biker chick. But then again, the only other gal in the Dead is the lovely Jane (Ann Michelle) who’s only distinguishing characteristics are she gets some snappy lines and wears a standout red leather jacket. The biker gear here is tops, mind you. Perhaps the film is a wee bit too professionally made, if that makes any sort of sense?
I can’t put a finger on exactly what’s “wrong” here, but the moving finger writes (ha and ha) that this one just feels it’s missing something… “special” to thrust into the land of more infamous horror flicks. After all, Kubrick’s classic A Clockwork Orange was made before this, yet the best Psychomania can do is give us Latham’s weak Tom aping Malcolm MacDowell’s Alex to lousy effect. The Living Dead may look cool (yeah, I give the film an A+ for those distinctive helmets, leather gear and the good looking, too old to be teenage delinquent bikers), but the campy comical manners in which they snuff themselves out make the laughs come at the film’s expense.
Still, for all my complaints the movie makes enough of an impression to recommend if you grab the now out-of-print Severin Films version or if you’ve a region-free player the recently released (9/16) UK-only Region 2 BFI/Flipside Blu-Ray that has what I hear a stellar 2K restoration the older disc doesn’t. Of course, your mileage may vary based on your taste for this sort of flick that straddles a few lines, doesn’t cross many and at the end of the day, is more an oddball curiosity piece with a somewhat loyal following.
Or: Dude, I think you’d actually dig this chunk of aged Stilton. Go check it out and dig it for what it is.