1973 saw the release of the biker gang movie Psychomania (also known as The Death Wheelers). Arrow Video is releasing a special edition Blu-ray/DVD with a booklet. Will you take it for a spin or will it leave skid marks on your heart?
Psychomania is the age old tale of a delinquent biker gang called “the Living Dead”. They are causing all types of trouble on the British roads and making out in cemeteries. The biker gang leader has a mother that is into the occult and he forces her to reveal her secrets. He finds out that if you really believe that you are going to live again that when you die you will come back and be stronger than ever. Using this information he wants his gang to literally live up to the name “the Living Dead”.
Taken as a more serious film (it is filmed rather straightforward) not only is the premise ridiculous but the plot is all over the place. Does the film want to be about rebellious youth, ever-lasting love, the occult, the freedom of being a biker, anarchy, or even a police procedural? There is no blood/gore, no nudity, and no language. The hodgepodge of ideas almost makes the film seem like a television edit. However if you take the film as something with dry, dark humor, almost a Benny Hill sketch, then I think the ideas work for entertainment.
Psychomania is directed by Don Sharp (Kiss of the Vampire, Witchcraft) who you may remember did some late Hammer films. Surprisingly George Sanders plays a major role in the film. He was in quite a few Hollywood films, even lending his voice for Shere Khan the Tiger in the Jungle Book. Nicky Henson plays Tom (the main biker) and he only agreed to do the movie for extra money outside of his stage performances. He picked films that he thought no one would ever see. Oops.
There are some decent stunt pieces. The bikes have a couple races, they go through a grocery store and do a couple jumps. There are also some nice practical falls. There are no big budget special effects here and it seems like most of the budget went to maintaining the motorcycles and keeping them running. A great deal of the film is shot on location or one sparsely decorated sets. I do think the costuming and motorcycle helmets are fun and memorable.
There are a lot of ideas tossed around in this movie. Instead of making any clear point with the film though it just seems silly. It’s right at the fringe of being so bad that it’s entertaining. There are some interesting concepts at work here and some fairly original smashing of ideas together. Zombie bikers would have made an interesting film if gone in a different direction. These are the kinds of ideas that should be remade in my mind. I think this may be the kind of movie where you needed to have seen it late at night when you were 8 years old to get the most out of it.
The audio and video looks very good considering the age, budget and what Arrow had to work with. There is a special feature that explains how the only 35mm prints that existed of the film were in black and white. So Arrow had to digitally combine the colors from lesser prints to get it to an acceptable transfer. The transfer is not perfect and if you have a keen eye you can see imperfections, however considering the state of the transfer of Psychomania it is really amazing that the film is even on Blu-ray.
There is a nice layer of natural grain to the film and the colors look and feel like the era. Sometimes the colors can be a bit washed out. This film does not always show the sharpest of details but it didn’t take away from my viewing experience. Audio comes through crisp and clear from the original Mono. The soundtrack is a psychedelic funky mixture that really seems to fit. English subtitles are included.
*Note – Severin recently released Psychomania on DVD, this new Blu-ray/DVD release from Arrow includes all of the special features from that release with the exception of a brief introduction from Fangoria editor Chris Alexander.
Brand new 13 minute interview with star Nicky Henson
Return of the Living Dead – archival 25 minute featurette with interviews of Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder, and Rocky Taylor.
Sound of Psychomania – archival 9 minute interview with Composer John Cameron.
Riding Free – archival 6 minute interview with singer Harvey Andrews.
Hell for Leather – brand new 7 minute featurette on the costuming company for the film.
Remastering Psychomania – a quick look at the restoration of the film.
Booklet (first printing only) containing writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts.
Psychomania Final Thoughts:
There aren’t very many occult biker movies on Blu-ray. It’s amazing that Arrow was able to piece together a workable print from what existed of the film. I’m happy to report that if you are a fan of the film that this is the definitive version. Fans can purchase it here on Amazon.
Psychomania is most certainly a B-movie and one that not everyone will love or find interesting. I suggest for those who are not already fans perhaps a rental would be valuable in determining if the flick is right for you. The film was almost universally blasted by critics upon its release. One reviewer for the London Times wrote that the film was only fit to be shown at an “SS reunion party.” I don’t feel it deserved such treatment. I have no idea if it was meant to be intentionally bad or not, but I was entertained by it.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process