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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Psychomania (1973) Biker Zombies

Psychomania (1973) - If there is one thing that the Internet has shown me it is that there is an audience for absolutely everything. So when I was looking for obscure biker films to cover and saw this film and the very loyal following it had I had to cover it. Severin films did a very nice release of Psychomania recently and its print and extras were just what was needed for viewing. Searching down the actors for interviews, profiling the score composer and even tracking down the English folk singer who performed the one song in the film made for some real added pleasure in reviewing this film. Now I had thought I was about finish with my run of biker movies. My work as a QA engineer at a software company has been particularly busy.  I just was not finding the time to view and write about films. I have seen a few but just did not have the energy after a long day in front of a computer to spend more time typing away on a keyboard. Psychomania showed up on my door thanks to the great people at Alternative Cinema and I have to say I was excited, not at the two week delivery time but more that I had forgotten I had ordered the film. They may be a bit slower than Amazon at processing orders but the variety and scope of the films can't be beat if you like alternative cinema. They also do an entertaining podcast once a month that is worth looking up at iTunes, "The Alternative Cinema Pocast" SO lets dive again into the biker genre and maybe it will energize me enough to get to "Dear God No!" which is the film I was originally getting ready to see with this biker movie background viewing.
   There is not a traditional zombie in this film, but instead each of the bikers commits suicide and comes back as an immortal undead person gaining the added strength and invincibility. The appropriately named gang, "The Living Dead" are a rowdy bunch two women Abby (Mary Larkin) and Jane (Ann Michelle) and six men, Tom, Bertram (Roy Holder), Hatchet (Denis Gilmore), Chopped Meat (Miles Greenwood), Hinky (Rocky Taylor) and Gash (Peter Whitting) who cause trouble in small town England. Lead by Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) they are a group of apathetic youth who have no purpose other than to rile things up. They are at the age where they don't want to fit into society and through the bike gang roar through life creating risks to heighten their suburban doldrums. Now how they become the undead is most of the story.
  We see Tom's Mother (Beryl Reid) in an early scene performing a satanic ritual at a place called in the film "the seven witches"  a collection of stones in a circle like a mini Stonehenge. She is visited there by the devil (maybe) in the form of Shadwell (George Sanders) and signs a contract her little baby tom offered in as well. It is this magic that seems to be behind things. Shadwell stays on with her as her butler and Tome grows into a young man wanting for nothing. Sanders at the end of his career was a great find for Director Don Sharp. He is a veteran actor of such great films as Rebecca (1940), All About Eve (1950), Village of the Damned (1960), but his career was winding down by the time he took this role. It turned out to be his last as shortly after this final performance he was found dead in a hotel room in Barcelona Spain. He had taken five bottles of Nembutal and left a suicide note that read.  Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck. It is a strange coincidence that the primary driver in this last film was also suicide.
  Tom is definitely the disaffected youth who is acting out having never come to terms with the death of his father. His Mother through her witchcrafted deal is wealthy and not needing anything acts as a medium for purposes only known to she and Shadwell. There is a secret about the late Mr Lathan and Tom wants to know what it is. After a freaky trip in the room where he died Tom comes out of the magic of the place knowing that the secret to immortality is knowing with all your heart that you will come back. His father who was also in the magic circle was trying just this feat and must have had doubt because he never made it back. Now Tom is the worst kind of mean biker, he is a mean biker because he can be. It is not the freedom of the road he is looking for. He is just a spoiled kid looking to make his boring British life more exciting. Now with the secret of eternal life (after death) he is determined to make it happen.
  After Tom is successful at killing himself by driving off a bridge we have a hilarious scene where the gang gets permission and then buries him at the stone circle. He is propped in his riding leathers and sitting on his bike. The folk singer Harvey Andrews sings the song Riding Free as they have their quite nice ceremony. The setup of the corpse on the bike is great when he is reborn and roars from the ground on his motorbike, like a bat out of hell. When he returns his invincibility is quickly shown as he murders several people. When he comes back to his gang and convinces them to join him is his life after deah each has to come up with a way to die and know that they will come back. A good chunk of the film is the creative death scenes the riders choose. Soon the gang is truly the Living Dead and they now feel they can't be stopped and start a killing spree the police can not ignore.
  There is also an internal gang story. Abby does not want to die and is pressured repeatedly by Tom and the gang to do it. I think she knows that if her heart is not in it she will just be dead and that is not her desire. Tom pushing harder and harder as the overly controlling boyfriend gets to the point where he threatens to end her life if she does not join the gang. This scene culminates with the gang pushing a gun into her hand. At the same time...
Mrs. Latham knows the power of immortality has gone to Tom's head and he scares even her. She being older asks appropriately, Well what are you going to do now that you have what you want? His answer is all about the chaos of doing whatever he wants. She finds this just too unbearable and with Shadwell breaks her contract with the devil for her and her son. So since the film has to end we see the gang turned to stones as the Mother breaks the contract. It leaves Abby staring in amazement alive and well. Then the final shot as Shadwell arrives at Abby's location to offer a contract to her. This was a very well put together story. By no means is it great, the acting is a bit muggish and Sanders somewhat sleepwalks through his role. Still there is something to be said for the film. The cool helmet design for the biker gang, the excellent psychedelic influenced score by John Cameron. It is not hard to watch and more it has a story worth watching.

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