Tuesday, July 7, 2009


PSYCHOMANIA (1973). Directed by Don Sharp. Starring Nicky Henson, Beryl Reid, George Sanders, Ann Michelle.

There are certain films in the world that are more than the sum of their parts, films that somehow manage to transcend their limitations to become something really quite staggering.

One of the best examples of this is the early 70’s British horror romp, Psychomania.

Slightly camp, cheaply made and with a plot that doesn’t bear too close an analysis, Pyschomania is a film that almost, but not quite, defies description. Its ‘bikers back from the dead’ storyline would at first glance promise great things, after all, what’s better than the undead… why, the undead on wheels, of course.

Posh boy rebel Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) is head of a chapter of Home Counties Hell’s Angels who go by the convenient moniker of The Living Dead, a name that becomes literal once Tom discovers the secret of returning from beyond the grave. Aided and abetted by his witchy mother (Beryl Reid in fine, better-performance-than-the-film-deserves form) and the sinister Shadwell (George Sanders, who wanders through the whole thing looking slightly puzzled and embarrassed) Tom sets about to persuade the members of his gang to take the plunge with him. Most do, and they set themselves on a course of rather gentle mayhem that is mostly on a par with Richard E. Grant leaning out of his car and shouting ‘scrubbers’ at some passing ladies.

Things take a turn for the worse when they begin to up the stakes, killing assorted lorry drivers and policemen and generally making a nuisance of themselves until Mother Beryl revokes the pact that she has made with the Devil (who may or may not be George Sanders, even he isn’t sure) and the gang literally turn to stone. Or something like that.

Actually, the plot of Psychomania is largely redundant, particularly since it makes no real sense – the secret of coming back from the Great Beyond, for instance, is wishing really, really hard and other than a few off-screen murders, the gang’s hi-jinks are limited to frightening some dolly birds and driving their motorcycles rather fast (‘doing the ton’ is, I believe, the correct term).

But its very flaws and lack of logic are the things that make Psychomania so hugely enjoyable, combined with some brilliantly kitsch interiors in the home of La Reid and a soundtrack that manages to be both atmospheric and inappropriate all at the same time. This is given its finest expression when Tom is laid to rest for the first time (upright on his motorbike and in a grave that’s just a little bit too shallow for him) and one of the gang sings him a farewell song that contains the lines ‘the world never knew his name, but the chosen few know of his fame’.

The montage of the Living Dead finding different ways to shuffle off this mortal coil is, quite simply, one of the most hilarious sequences ever committed to film (drowning, throwing themselves off tall buildings and overpasses et al) and there’s a trainspotter’s delight in recognising some of the supporting characters such as June Brown and, in a very early role, Robert Hardy.

Directed with workmanlike efficiency by Don Sharp and with a script by Julian Zimet & Arnaud d'Usseau (who also penned the cult favourite, Horror Express) Psychomania is one of those films for which the term ‘guilty pleasure’ might have been coined.

Unfortunately they don’t make ‘em like this anymore - brisk, silly and unintentionally hilarious.

No comments:

Post a Comment