Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January and the “31 Days of British Horror” in March , Jules is at it again in May, treating us to the continuation of his chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.
You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.
Starring: Nicky Henson, Beryl Reid, George Sanders
Director: Don Sharp
British cinema never really got to grips with the counter-culture of the 1960s and even by the early ’70s, they hadn’t really found their mojo. Crazy young people letting their freak flag fly always felt like another world that the square older generation responsible for the U.K. film industry just could never quite get right and noting more illustrated that gulf than the biker movie.
It’s a concept so rooted in Americana that, even though Britain had its fair share of Hell’s Angels and their ilk, was even harder for folk to get their head around than some groovy happening in a nightclub.
1973’s Psychomania then, is all the more ambitious for its attempts to capture the idea while marrying it to a tale of black magic and reanimation. The fact it works though, is down to one thing- it’s funny. It takes a while to realise it, but when it stops taking itself seriously and runs with its outrageous concept, Psychomania becomes a lot of fun.
Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) is the leader of a violent gang of bikers called The Living Dead, who share their interest in black magic with his seemingly ageless mother (Beryl Reid) who conducts seances at her stately pile with the aid of her sinister butler Shadwell (George Sanders).
Tom’s father disappeared through a door in their home twenty years previously and when Tom follows in his footsteps, he comes back out with the secret to his mother’s lack of aging – if you kill yourself but genuinely don’t want to die, you can come back as one of the undead, indestructible and young forever.
Turning his gang onto the secret, Tom and the Living Dead begin a campaign of terror against the locals, but his girlfriend Abby isn’t so sure she wants to take the plunge…
Every time I watch Psychomania I spend the first half wondering why I like it so much. It’s quite leaden and clumsy in its appropriation of the youth culture of the time, though Of without a certain amount of charm.
Nicky Henson straddles a fine line between vulnerability and macho medallion man quite brilliantly, while his gang are gloriously over the top with names like Hatchet, Gash and Chopped Meat. Oh and Bertram, but we don’t talk about him.
Director Don Sharp has a fine eye for the otherworldly too, filling this polite Home Counties world with atmospheric fog and slo-mo shots of The Living Dead cruising around on their machines, though his idea of “stunts” in the early parts of the film leave a lot to be desired.
Tom’s funeral with his body sitting atop his motorbike in the grave with his head and shoulders above ground level is the first sign of a U-turn in mood, but it’s when the gang buy into Tom’s idea to kill themselves that Psychomania really steps up a few gears.
A gloriously OTT scene has Tom and glam undead sidekick Jane drive their bikes right into the police station where the gang are locked up, much to the annoyance of the desk copper (Dr Who’s Sgt Benton himself, John Levine), there’s a cut and the next shot is Robert Hardy’s Chief Inspector standing in an empty station, save for his two dead officers. Brilliant.
Immediately, the gang are all jumping off tower blocks, out of planes with no parachute and into ponds weighed down by chains, all with a smile on their faces and accompanied by funk soundtrack. It’s gallows humour at its best and instantly gives a wink to the audience that lets you know in no uncertain terms that they’re in on the joke.
Sharp has another stunning bit of bravura directing to be proud of with the morgue scene, where the camera starts a 360 degree pan around that starts with a dead body and police guards and comes back to find the body gone and the slabs filled with newly murdered coppers. It’s another classy touch in a film that you wouldn’t expect anything of the sort.
The only real criticism of the second half of Psychomania is it would have been nice to see some more of their undead rampage on middle England, but there’s so much fun to be had here it’s not a major loss.
Sure, it’s trash but it’s beautifully shot and knowingly hilarious trash too. Once it gets revved up, it’s pretty out there.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy