And now its over to Meathook Cinema’s Liverpool correspondent, Mr Colin Cooper who has been to revisit the filming locations of the masterpiece Psychomania…
”I first saw Psychomania when I was about 13 years old in the early 80s, back in the day when there were only three TV channels, and long before we could afford a video recorder. It was a film that always stuck in my mind and it felt like something I had never seen before. I can still recall my mother looking on disapprovingly as I laughed out loud as a screaming mother and her baby’s pram are sent crashing down a supermarket aisle due to the evil actions of the said film’s biker gang; ‘The Living Dead.”
Some years later it was shown on TV again, in a late night slot (its spiritual home), by which point the VHS recorder had been acquired. This remained my main source to introduce the film to friends, and one night in particular went down in memory, as five friends and myself watched it together in my flat. It was fair to say we were all suitably ‘enhanced’ to fully appreciate everything Psychomania had to offer. The howls of laughter when our deceased gang leader explodes from his grave, still riding his motorbike, which was rewound a number of times for repeated views. Then the very next night as luck would have it, occupying its late-night TV slot, to our astonishment was Psychomania. Cue the sound of numerous VHS cassettes being prepared for its impending broadcast to the nation. Which I’m sure was in itself a message from beyond the grave, from the Living Dead.
For the uninitiated Psychomania is a 1973 British biker occultist zombie horror (in the loosest sense) movie. However it is much, much more (or should that be less?) than that. It is unintentionally hilarious, with a ludicrous plot in which the protagonists discover the secret of immortality. This involves their own willing suicides by various farcical methods to return as the actual living dead. Add to this Beryl Reid as mother to the bike gang’s leader, with a mean sideline as a spiritual medium. Alongside George Sanders in his last movie, given star billing for his minimal role as the family’s somber butler. All delivered with total sincerity, despite the clear ridiculousness of the script. Psychomania was never intended to be a comedy, but a low budget exploitation horror film that would do the rounds, usually as part of a double bill, making the studio some easy cash, then be forgotten. Thankfully due to its screenings on late night TV, no doubt licensed at minimal cost to fill out the schedule, it has gradually gained a cult following.
Motorcycles and their associated gangs / dropouts / rebels were no strangers to the cinema screen. From the counterculture blockbuster Easy Rider (1969) and its psychedelically tinged cinematography and panoramic landscapes. The monochrome cool of the Wild One (1953) starring Marlon Brando, which was only granted a certificate in the UK, some fourteen years after its original release. To The Leather Boys (1964) a rare British addition to the genre, with its kitchen sink realism coupled with a controversial gay subplot. Not to mention the glut of late 60s biker spinoffs from America and beyond.
So what does Psychomania bring to the table? A bunch of predominantly middle class, well spoken, spotlessly clean ‘hell raisers’ terrorising the good people of Walton on Thames. Storming around on a motley collection of ‘heaps of shit’ motorbikes, much to the dismay of actor and keen motorcyclist Nick Henson. His main motivation to sign up to the movie was the thought of leading his band of reprobates atop a Harley Davidson. Needless to say Psychomania’s budget could not extend to such esteemed machines, and a team of mechanics were required to keep the scrap heap bikes running throughout filming. Henson is still somewhat embarrassed and astonished that out of his extensive career as a professional actor, Psychomania has fittingly come back to haunt him from beyond the grave.
Not to mention the dialogue, after another blood free bloodbath, surrounded by bodies, a police inspector when informed of the culprits declares, “That lot!” being one of many highlights. Throw in a stone circle, frog fixated occultism, driving through brick walls, a psychedelic nightmare scene, some natty threads all accompanied by an eerie semi progrock soundtrack. What’s not to like?
Psychomania has only recently been issued on DVD (and Blu-ray) in the UK. I had obtained an American import some years ago, which itself had long been out of print. As always the BFI have made an impressive effort to bring this masterpiece to your living room in all its glory. Beautifully remastered, loads of extras with a well-researched booklet.
So to go the extra mile, heres some photographs from my recent pilgrimage to the film locations around the Walton on Thames area.
Many have long since been redeveloped as it was always a dream of mine to go shopping in the featured supermarket whist pushing a pram. Sadly no longer possible, life sucks!”
Psychomania has now been given the loving treatment it deserves and is released on Blu ray by the BFI. According to sources the transfer is beautiful. Buy it here for a classic slice of British biker death wish greatness.