Friday, February 24, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: 'Psychomania'

A vicious gang of bikers who kill themselves in order to return from the grave even more badass. What’s not to like about the plot of Don Sharp’s 1973 horror joint, Psychomania (also known as The Death Wheelers). Already a sleazy cult classic, Arrow Video just released a fantastic new special edition Blu-ray, which, if you have any inkling or proclivities towards this sort of fare, you should pick up.

Cards on the table, I definitely own a Psychomania t-shirt, just in case you wondered where my heart lies. But that doesn’t make this package any less rad. The film is goofy and strange and chaotic. It’s a kind of Gothic horror Wild Ones.

Psychomania revolves around Tom Latham (Nicky Henson, Witchfinder General), the psychopathic leader of a gang of dope ass motorcycle mods called “The Living Dead.” You can tell he’s a tough guy because he loves his goody-goody girlfriend, Abby (Mary Larkin), and his mother (Beryl Reid). They spend most of their time terrorizing their small town, and by terrorizing, I mean harassing shoppers at the local supermarket, sticking their tongues out at truck drivers, and hanging out in a Stonehenge-looking spot called the “Seven Witches.” Tom’s mom and their spooky (maybe Satanic) butler, Shadwell (George Sanders), are way into the occult and black magic. When Tom figure out how to kill himself and come back, he entices the rest of the gang to follow suit, and the undead bikers continue to wreak moderately inconvenient havoc.

Psychomania is a weirdly paced film. It meanders around, and the whole thing ends just when if feels like shit can finally take the flying leap into insanity that is so desperately wants to. But it’s blend of American biker movie tropes, swinging mod energy, and general weirdness makes it impossible to look away. The enduring image of a motorcycle leaping out of a fresh grave, combines with eerie atmosphere and solid stunts.

With his background in Hammer horror flicks like Kiss of the Vampire, Don Sharp gives the film a classic horror feel in low-budget, warped exploitation trappings. A stripped-down, fuzzed-out guitar score from John Cameron adds a psychedelic flair. 

Through it never digs deep into the demonic angle—it’s more of a free-wheeling 1960s holdover take on the dark arts—it’s a gleefully strange slice of cult cinema, unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere. And what the hell, there’s a joyously chaotic suicide montage as the gang members up the ante one after another.

The Image and the Extras

This isn’t he first Blu-ray release for Psychomania (Severin Films gave it a fantastic edition back in 2010), but the Arrow Video version is top notch. Restored from a 35mm print, with a subsequent 2K scan, the movie has never looked this good. I first saw this on a warped bootlegged VHS tape, and it’s like g a different movie. The colors pop, down to Tom’s flaming pink leather jacket nametag. But even with the upgrade, it’s grainy and frazzled enough to make it feel like you’re watching the backend of a drive-in double feature or tucked away in some seedy, hole-in-the-wall, almost arthouse theater munching popcorn.

And of course, Arrow crams as much into this release as physically possible. It contains the half-hour documentary “Return of the Living Dead” that was originally produced for Severin’s Psychomania release. This contains interviews with Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, and Denis Gilmore, and other cast members, as well as stunt performers. It’s an engaging look at how the cast and crew view what has become a cult classic, the low-rent production, and the film’s unexpected (mildly) popular endurance.

“Sound of Psychomania” interviews composer, and Collective Consciousness Society founder, John Cameron. “Riding Free” talks with Harvey Andrews, who penned the folksy funeral dirge played at Tom’s funeral—and the now-aged singer/songwriter even takes the tune out for one more spin. “Hell for Leather” gets into the distinctively era appropriate costume design. There’s even a feature about the restoration process, as well as an illustrated booklet.

Should You Buy This?

Yes, you should buy the hell out of this Psychomania Blu-ray. Pick it up for the picture. Like I said, it’s never looked this good—probably not even on a pristine print rolled right off the production line. The extras are all well and good, but it’s the movie itself that’s the true selling point. If you’re a fan of cult horror, Psychomania needs to to sit on your shelf. A ‘70s swinging mod vibe wrapped in a gothic horror aesthetic, it’s an off-kilter genre gem.

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