While not particularly gory nor gruesome, Psychomania (1973) is the grooviest undead biker gang movie you will ever have the opportunity to see. Director Don Sharp and screenwriters Julian Zimet and Arnaud d’Usseau mashup hoodlum biker and witchcraft/satanism genres to create a unique film. The leader of a motorcycle gang discovers that he can be resurrected if he simply believes that he will at the moment of his death. After successfully testing this theory, he convinces the rest of his gang to join him in an undead state so that they may partake of murder and mayhem with impunity. Firmly rooted in the early 1970s, Psychomania features a groovy soundtrack and far-out fashions. The motorcycle and car stunt driving is top notch and really gives a sense of speed and danger. The story itself blends its two genres seamlessly, and the filmmakers trust the audience enough to allow them to put the pieces together without having to be spoon-fed conclusions. Plus, there are lots of frogs.
Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) is the leader of the British motorcycle gang The Living Dead. He and his gang spend their time either riding through town and causing general mayhem or hanging out around the local Neolithic stone circle known as the Seven Witches. This is not enough for Tom, and he wants the freedom to create more havoc. Speaking with his spiritualist mother (Beryl Reid) and their butler Shadwell (veteran actor George Sanders in his final screen role), Tom convinces them to give him the key to the mysterious locked room that is related to his father’s disappearance 18 years prior. In the room, Tom has visions, including one where his mother has him at the stone circle as an infant. While there, his mother signs an agreement with a mysterious man in a black cape. After Tom awakens, he overhears his mother relating the secret to eternal life: one must die fully believing that one will come back, and one will be resurrected, never to die again. Tom takes this news and promptly kills himself by driving off of a bridge. After his friends bury him astride his motorcycle, he comes back to life fully restored. He is not a zombie; he appears to be like everyone else, but he is immortal and possesses inhuman strength. Reuniting with his gang, he tries to convince them to kill themselves and live again like him. This appeals to all of them except Tom’s girlfriend Abby (Mary Larkin), who is not so sure it is a good idea. Also, she is growing disturbed by Tom’s increasingly violent behavior, including cold-blooded murder. Oh, and somehow frogs figure into this whole things.
Some films bear the fingerprints of the times in which they are produced. Psychomania is one such movie; it is infused with the aura of early 1970s Great Britain. This does not mean that it is dated; it is simply a super groovy film that evokes that time period. The seriously funky soundtrack is by noted composer John Cameron, who is also the musical supervisor and arranger for the original West End production of Les MisÃ©rables. While hip, the score does not feel out of place; instead, it works well within the scenes. Not every horror movie gets its main theme released as a seven-inch single like Psychomania. (By the way, John Cameron is credited as “Frog” on the single. I told you that there are lots of frogs involved.) The fashions in the film also firmly are of their era. Many of the women sport mini-dresses and go-go boots while the gang members favor jumpsuits and tight leather pants. While not necessarily “1970s fashion”, the gang also sports iconic motorcycle helmets with goggles painted to look like skull and crossbones.
The motorcycle and automobile stunt work is pretty spectacular. The stunts themselves are not particularly flashy, but they are exceedingly well done. There are numerous sequences where the motorcycles are weaving in and out of traffic along tightly twisting and hilly roads, often coming within a hairsbreadth of oncoming vehicles. This looks to all be shot at-speed, without altering the speed of the film to make it appear faster than it actually is. One sequence is thrilling in particular, with a cop’s eye view of the chase from a camera mounted on the side of a police car as they pursue the gang members. Tom’s resurrect provides for another standout motorcycle moment. He is buried sitting on his bike, so when he comes back to life, he guns his engine and burst out of the grave with the motorcycle running at high speed. It is a pretty amazing little sequence. With the fantastic stunt driving, it is no wonder that the filmmakers list the motorcycle team (Marc Boyle, Jack Cooper, Cliff Diggins, Romo Gorrara, Roy Scammell, Jack Silk, Jeff Silk) in the opening credits.
Sure, there are other films that mix biker gangs and the supernatural, Werewolves on Wheels (1971) among others, but you would be hard pressed to find one quite as groovy, nor one that has quite as many frogs, as Psychomania. The supernatural elements are handled in an understated and matter-of-fact manner that make them seem a natural part of the film’s world. The filmmakers trust their audience to pick up on what is going on, and so they do not saddle the film with unnecessary and awkward expository dialogue. Tom and his mother’s joint backstory is conveyed wordlessly in his vision in the locked room. There is no need to elaborate upon it; the audience gets all that they need from that brief sequence. It really is a good case of “show, don’t tell”. That said, I am still a little unclear as to how the frogs figure into all of this.
Psychomania is a fun time capsule of a movie that evokes its era without feeling dated. A funky score and hip fashions give it a decidedly groovy feel. The motorcycle stunt work is excellent, conveying a real sense of speed and danger. The supernatural elements are woven into the story in a naturalistic manner, feeling organic to the world of the film. Those looking for a far-out biker gang/witchcraft mashup should check out Psychomania. Oh, and did I mention that there are lots of frogs?
Psychomania (3.5 / 5)